East Side Story - A Carol Reed Mystery

Developer/Publisher:  MDNA Games
Year Released:  2007

Review by Steve Ramsey (December, 2007)
East Side Story If it's Norrkoping it must be Carol Reed. Lolling in a hammock, staring at the sky, the most pressing matter being watering the cucumbers. Until a letter arrives with a dead body inside, and the cucumbers have to take a back seat.

Fresh from Time Stand Still, East Side Story is the 4th in the Carol Reed series of independent games from MDNA. If you have played one then you will know what to expect. If you haven't, the first thing that will likely grab you is the way in which the real life locations have been touched up to look like watercolour paintings. It creates a very pretty gaming environment, brightening up even the most mundane and decrepit warehouse. And there are a few of those in East Side Story.

All 4 games are gentle adventures, and would suit a variety of players. The game claims it's suitable for ages 11 and up and that is pretty right. Getting started is easy, but a short but quite complete game manual is included on the disc if help is needed. Although don't look for it there, look in the program folder where the game is installed.

A real world
East Side Story is first person perspective point and click. It's a lot like Anacapri, with photos of real environments providing the game world, albeit these ones have had the watercolour treatment. Each scene is a still photo, and icons will indicate what can be examined, picked up or manipulated. Directional arrows indicate where you can go, and each location has exit points which will take you back to a map. Choose your next location, and like many games these will increase as you progress, and keep exploring.

East Side StoryEach new location commences with a black and white photo of the particular environ, which provides a nice counterpoint to the watercolour version that follows. The other game characters and their environment have also not been touched up. Choose your conversation options from a little pop up note pad, and whilst you won't hear Carol speak, you will hear the character speak. It's in Sweden, but all the language is English, and subtitles are available for all dialogue. Although the characters are still photos, as a conversation progresses so the photos will change, with posture and facial expressions indicative of a real life conversation. It's simple but fairly effective.

The puzzles are not difficult, and most of the time you will be looking for the right items in order to open doors, boxes and on, and to trigger progression. You may occasionally get lost roaming around, especially in the couple of locations in the dark. Search carefully, and search again, as some paths will only open up to you at certain points. So too some items will only be able to be taken once you have achieved the right trigger.

I confess to not being too enamoured of puzzles that behave like this. The forest path that opened up was explicable given what I had just learnt. But why an item should sit mute and behave like any other of the myriad pieces of scenery until a particular trigger is tripped, when there are numerous things you pick up throughout the game that you don't use until much much later, and which you have no reason to pick up other than you can? If they all behaved the same way, then fair enough, or if there is something that refers you back to the item in question then it is more forgivable. However it's very artificial if you simply have to look at things you have looked at before in order to try and find, not what you missed, but what wasn't findable.

East Side Story is by no way Robinson Crusoe in this regard. But it's an irksome characteristic whenever it's encountered.

Anything going on?
East Side StoryOne more whinge. Randomly dropping in on locations in the hope that something relevant is going to happen is in the same boat. Carol's apartment is a case in point.

But enough of the minuses. There are plenty of plusses. Many of those have been mentioned. The ambient sounds have not, which in a still game are important and were fine, and a nice touch was the capacity to turn the background music on and off with a roll of the mouse wheel. Voice work is a little hit and miss, some characters better than others. Only once might you meet a sticky end, and whilst it requires an action before its all too late, the game automatically returns you to that spot if you don't manage it. It isn't a dexterity issue, just a question of having and using the right item asap.

Load times are short and there are (apparently) 200 save game slots. You will probably only need one or two. It's a reasonable length, certainly the longest of the 3 I have played, and kept me entertained over the two weekends I played it.

Carol Reed and MDNA have developed a faithful following, and they and other players looking for a quite wander and ponder will be undoubtedly head to the East Side.

You can purchase East Side Story at the MDNA Games Website. rating:  

Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2007. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Win 98/2000/XP/Vista, 1 GHz processor, 128 MB RAM, 16 MB video card, 800 MB free hard disk space.