It's been a while since Absurdus amused us with Eye of the Kraken so it's good to see what they have been working on since then.
Well this is it — Carte Blanche! It's a tale set on the seedy side of Montreal in 1924. It's the first in a series of detective games featuring the educated and earnest Edgar Delacroix, who is dispatched by his parents to the big city to make a man of him.
You meet up with Edgar on the train. Clearly this is a really big move for him and he wonders why he couldn't have become a man back home. He has a naivety rating of 11 when he starts out (which hopefully he'll reduce) and he'll need to accumulate some 'competencies' as he goes. For now, though, it's all organised, he's staying at the apartment of his taxidermist uncle in Montreal.
Uncle Albert has left him the keys to his mail box and car, and some stuffed animals to keep him company. Now all Edgar needs to do is find a job.
As luck would have it the very thing is advertised in the employment pages of the newspaper. Edgar phones for the address and lands a position of private investigator's assistant. Naive and inexperienced, clearly he's the best man for the job! After a quick test he's given two cases to work on. One is the PI's bread and butter — gather incriminating evidence proving adultery for a divorce case. A couple of candid snapshots should do the trick. The other case involves the theft of an artefact from an antique shop. Petty cases, maybe, but it's not long before Edgar is involved in a murder investigation.
Of course there are twists and turns as the story progresses but it would spoil the plot to discuss them here — so I won't.
I will say that the story is told in a parody of the film noir style. It's a little like stepping into a grainy black and white film with a cast including some strange and, sometimes, grotesque characters. If you think Edgar's landlady is a dragon, wait until you meet Jeannine — the chain-smoking androgynous secretary with a pet iguana. Her characterisation is completely over the top and she intimidates everyone. She gives Edgar nightmares and scared the pants off me. There's an array of other characters too, a few blatant stereotypes with an assortment of dodgy accents. Edgar, who is from Quebec, is concerned that he doesn't speak good English but he soon learns that "everybody in Montreal has a terrible accent".
Carte Blanche is a first person perspective adventure game with a third person view for cut scenes and some conversations. It's fair to say that the whole game has a deliberately pared down — almost minimalist — feel, as there are no visual transitions, no panning or scrolling, nothing but the barest of essentials. As you learn about new locations they will appear on your map of Montreal. Exit your current location and the map pops up, click on the new location and with the sound of a few footsteps, you are there. Simple, but effective.
The point and click interface is also slick and simple. Left clicking on an object or character will bring up appropriate options such as examine, talk, take, open, exit, etc. All conversations are voiced and subtitled, and you can click through them if you get a repeat.
Right clicking accesses a menu of all other essentials: inventory and resume which lists Edgar's competencies; a list of cases; game options, and saving and loading files. Your inventory contains a list of the items collected and you can select each one for a detailed description and possibly clues to its use. You can't, however, select an item to use it. If you have the necessary item in your inventory the option to use it will automatically appear.
And there are also Edgar's competencies to attend to, including such things as observation, persuasion, taxidermy, spying, searching, etc. Although they didn't come to the fore in this preview build, they do have potential for adding a layer of fun and diversity, especially as Carte Blanche is the first part of an adventuring series.
According to the developers, Edgar will accumulate different competencies depending on the players style of play, thus making each investigation unique. It's an interesting idea. I'm not sure about the usefulness of taxidermy, but you could conceivably end up with a blind detective (low on observation) but able to wheedle crucial information out of suspects (high on persuasion). Food for thought!
If you've played Eye of the Kraken then you'll know what to expect with the quirky character art in Carte Blanche. Much of the same humour is back again too. It's irreverent at times and probably wouldn't pass as politically correct. And beneath some of the 'innocent' conversations lurks a biting social and political commentary.
For this preview I played Carte Blanche for a few hours and I must say it's offbeat and intriguing.
Copyright © Gordon Aplin 2006.
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