The 11th Hour: The Sequel to the 7th Guest
Well, I'm bedraggled and my head is spinning, but I've finally made it through to the end of this game. It's wonderful, almost perfect for those who like to ponder for hours over mind-bending puzzles. In a nutshell, it's a 'thinking' persons game so if you favour exploring creepy old houses with lots of puzzles and games to keep you occupied then you simply can't miss this one.
As the title clearly states, it's the sequel to The 7th Guest -- and it's better. Quite a few years have passed since the time of the first game and Stauf's mansion is considerably more dilapidated and even more intriguing. There have been a number of dreadful murders and strange disappearances in the quiet little town of Harley on the Hudson and, of course, the sinister mansion is implicated. You play the part of Carl Denning, investigative reporter for a television series named 'Case Unsolved', and you are drawn into the mystery because the producer of your show, Robin Morales, joined the list of missing persons when she visited Harley to look into the murders.
Along with your trusty laptop that is mysteriously delivered into your hands to point you in the right direction, you set out to rescue the damsel in distress.
The gameplay in The 11th Hour is very similar to that of The 7th Guest in that you must wander around the mansion and solve puzzles in order to progress. However, this title has an added bonus in the form of a kind of treasure hunt. During the course of play you are presented with numerous cryptic clues pointing you to items you must find, around 40 in all (I lost count after a while). It is much like tackling a cryptic crossword puzzle. At the start these clues indicating your targets are fairly straightforward anagrams but they do become progressively more varied and more difficult until they are eventually intermingled with numerical and letter codes which must be deciphered.
This 'treasure hunt' adds a deal of complexity to the game, and it is great fun. Working out the clues will keep you busy, but if you are stuck the help button on your laptop will give you some lessons in the logic of following cryptic clues, and if you beg for enough help it will eventually solve your problem for you. But be sparing in your use of this button, not only because it will spoil some of your fun, but also because the clues do get trickier and, according to the manual, there is only a limited amount of help available. Your life-line might just be severed right when you need it most.
I enjoy crosswords with cryptic clues, so this aspect of the game was particularly enjoyable for me. But don't be too deterred if you haven't ever tackled one, indeed, you will get some good lessons here in their logic and maybe it will inspire you to try one on your own. Still, cryptic clues aside, just searching for the various items adds a lot to the game. You really do have to be alert and 'look' at everything -- it is even advisable to make a list of the weird objects that are scattered around the house just in case you need to locate them again.
As with The 7th Guest this is not a traditional adventure game because the puzzles aren't exactly in context with the story or directly related to your adventuring. You are not trying desperately to find the key for that locked door, or looking out for that hidden safe that the caretaker of the mansion told you held some important information. You don't, in fact, have an inventory. Instead, the puzzles in this game are all as described above as well as logic puzzles and board games.
If you have already played The 7th Guest then you will know what to expect in the puzzle department, but if you haven't then here are a few examples. Some require you to manipulate objects on a partial chess board or around points on the circumference of a circle, whilst others require books to be sorted in a particular order in a specific number of moves, or panels to be slid around to make a complete picture. There are also a number of board games where you are pitted against the devious Stauf and he doesn't make many concessions.
There are 20 or so of these puzzles/games. Some are relatively easy, others I would rate as agonising, although which ones are which very likely depends on how you personally 'think'. A couple of the puzzles that I know have caused other players lots of torment, I worked our relatively quickly, and I am certain that many players had no bother with the ones that stumped me. To my mind the one worth mentioning is the mouse maze where you are pitted against Stauf and must manipulate your pathway on a turn basis in order to 'win'. This one took me more hours than I care to admit. Though serious chess players will undoubtedly disagree, I found it to be something like a chess game and I made precisely the same mistakes as I do when playing chess. I could plan out devious moves -- and look ahead to open the pathway home -- but one simple move by my opponent and my strategy fell to pieces.
To be honest I'm not keen on this type of 'adventure', I prefer the puzzles and problems to be in context with the story. I would rather a logic puzzle game to be just that. One that presents me with one such puzzle after another without the fancy bits of a plot woven around them. But, regardless, this series has captured my imagination and the design team have engineered an ingenious way to incorporate the puzzles. Accordingly, your host, Stauf, has devised them for you as a test of your intellect. They almost become part of the story. Still, I wouldn't call it an adventure game as such, it is essentially a puzzle game. Even though there is a story, for me at least, it definitely plays second fiddle to the games and the logic puzzles.
As noted above, progression in this game depends on solving a puzzle, winning a game or finding a particular item. Success will sometimes open doors for you, sometimes it will allow you to access a puzzle or a game, or maybe the items in a room. At other times it will initiate a video sequence to give you a glimpse of the sinister story behind the mysteries of the house. Now I am no expert on movies (confession: I'd much rather play a computer game) but I thought the video sequences in The 11th Hour were of a very high quality. Compared to other titles the acting was very good.
The story itself is standard horror movie stuff and discussing it here will ruin your fun. You will, however, witness a couple of murders, see a rather grizzly sequence with an arm severed at the wrist, and one of a head exploding -- so you've been warned. If you don't find such sequences 'entertaining' then you will have to steel yourself I'm afraid. Also, if you are like me, and get too involved in the puzzles and forget about the story, don't panic. You can replay the video clips and at certain stages during the game you will see a long sequence putting together all that you have seen and more. As I said, for me the story slipped into the background, but you do need to pay some attention so that you can make the right choice at the end of the game and live happily ever after.
All in all I thoroughly enjoyed this game. The puzzles truly are gripping and the house is wonderful to explore. It is a title that is bound to take many long hours to get through so it is very good value for money. Also, both the graphics and music are perfect -- that eerie tune from The 7th Guest returns and it creates an equally eerie atmosphere. Apart from a couple of the gory video sequences which I, personally, could have done without (I prefer subtlety and the opportunity to exercise my own imagination), the only other comment I have is that the play is a bit slow at times. A couple of the puzzles, in particular, took their time in responding to my instructions, and it was a long wait if I slipped up and wanted to refresh the screen and start from scratch. Your exploring is also at a constant leisurely pace which did not bother me so much, but you may have a different opinion.
I can only repeat that this is an excellent game for anyone who loves puzzles and games, and quiet contemplation, with a bit of story thrown in for good measure. But if you like your games with a bit of zip about them then maybe it's not for you. And it may not be for you if you can't take a spot of criticism -- Stauf has a limitless supply of insults up his sleeve to fling at you if you fall short of expectations.
Copyright © Rosemary Young 1996.
All rights reserved.
486DX2/66, 8MB RAM, 4MB hard drive space, 2xCD-ROM, DOS 5.0+, Local bus video, soundcard, mouse.