Reviewed: May 11, 2002
Released: April 1, 2002
I like nothing better than a good horror movie, and Alfred Hitchcock is still the undisputed king of suspense thrillers. When I heard there was a creepy new adventure game coming to the PC and it had the Hitchcock name attached to it I was excited to say the least.
Hitchcock: The Final Cut is a 3D adventure game that looks and plays like many other adventure games in the horror genre. It uses gorgeous 2D painted backgrounds with 3D characters. Those of you familiar with Resident Evil or Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare will know exactly what I’m talking about.
The premise for The Final Cut is sound enough. A reclusive billionaire wants to make a movie at his creepy seaside estate. The mansion itself looks just like the Bates Motel from Pyscho. His film runs into a snag when members of his crew start turning up missing, or even worse, dead.
Enter our hero, Joseph Shamley, a private detective with some unusual and unpredictable psychic powers. You would think such powers would help in the private-eye business, but Joe’s powers are usually random and of dubious value. The thrilling opening movie has our hero involved in an almost-fatal car wreck with the niece of our aspiring film producer that ultimately leaves him on the doorstep of the creepy mansion/movie set.
Despite the excellent quality of the CGI movie, the story told was a bit convoluted and by the time I was actually playing the game I was a bit disjointed from the quest before it had even started. I found myself wandering around the mansion trying every door and playing with everything that wasn’t nailed down. Apparently this was the right tactic as it only took a few key discoveries for the plot to get rolling.
Final Cut tries desperately to imitate all the survival horror games that have come before it, as evident with the traditional 2D static backgrounds shot at unique camera angles. As you move your character around the screens using the keyboard your view will change to something that is often creepy and always cinematic.
Movement is clunky with the keyboard proving that games like this were meant for consoles or at least a gamepad for your PC. You are unable to use your mouse to move around, but you can use the mouse to navigate menus and the PDA. Oddly enough, these menus are designed such that the keyboard is just as easy to use to navigate through the options and inventory as the mouse.
Unlike other horror games that have you fighting all sorts of undead or mutant creatures, Final Cut tests your brain with a series of mind-numbing puzzles that are challenging only in their irrelevance. Friendlier games allow you to scan each screen with your mouse and an icon will indicate something of importance. In this game, Joe must actually walk around every square inch of the screen and wait for an icon to appear that indicates further action may be taken.
At times I would have the magnifying glass icon on the screen and I could actually highlight objects anywhere in the current view, but if that item was too far away I would still be forced to walk closer before I was allowed to investigate further.
Your best friend in this game is your handy PDA that lets you manage your inventory, game options, messages, and other important information gathered within the game. If found the PDA interface a bit confusing at first, but once I learned my way around the various buttons it turned out to be a fairly innovative feature.
The puzzles in Final Cut are a major part of the game and there is a good selection that will tease your brain or stump you to the point where you seek out a strategy guide or snap the CD in half. Many of the puzzles are quite annoying as they have you trekking across large parts of the game to get an item only to return to the other side of the game to use it. And with no random zombies popping up along the way, you simple find yourself walking…a lot!
The world of Final Cut is huge with hundreds of pre-rendered backgrounds to explore. You are guided through the story through locked doors and inaccessible areas that only become open when the story dictates. This takes away from some of the non-linear feel and makes the adventure seem more like an interactive novel than a game. But once you have taken in all the scenery, you will find this to be nothing more than a puzzle game with good graphics; a creepy version of Myst if you will.
Graphically, Final Cut stands out among its peers. Each and every screen it gorgeous and well detailed. The movies and rendered graphics all share a dark and brooding color palette that creates and maintains a sense of suspense (or is it depression) during the entire game. When something of color does appear on the screen – like the shiny red sports car – it really leaps out at you.
There are creepy lighting effects and the CGI cutscenes are stunning. As good as the 2D backgrounds are, the 3D characters that populate them are surprising bland. They have little color or detail and they move in a stiff mannequin fashion; a stark contrast that can often spoil the overall illusion.
There are some interesting FMV clips that crop up during the game. Hitchcock fans will recognize many of these all-too-brief clips from movies such as Frenzy, Psycho, Saboteur, and many others. These brief clips serve as the psychic flashbacks of our hero, yet they often have nothing to do with the game. They only lay the foundation for a sense of déjà vu when the game is finally over.
The dialog in Final Cut was rather dry. The open movie attempts the classic narrative of a detective movie, but the voice actor just can’t pull it off. The conversations that take place during the game are few and far between and when they do occur they are also of dubious quality. Conversation trees allow you to vary your line of questioning but you always end up at the same conclusion. And often the characters will be lying (another type of puzzle) so pretty soon you don’t even care what they are saying.
The soundtrack is neither good nor scary. I found it rather repetitious and boring most of the time, and since there is little conversation you have nothing else to really listen to during the game. There are a few ambient sounds like the wind, the ocean, insects, etc. but they don’ seem to add anything to the atmosphere of this game.
Hitchcock: The Final Cut took me about 12 hours to get through, but I must confess I used a strategy guide after the first hour or so. The mind-numbing puzzles really started to wear thin and I just wanted to finish the game, experience the story, and get this review out the door.
For those of you who enjoy puzzle games set in a spooky atmosphere, you can probably expect over 20 hours of brain teasing adventure over the course of this 6-chapter game. Just don’t expect to be scared while doing it.
Perhaps it was my mistake to assume that when the Hitchcock name is used on a game that game is going to be scary, or at best suspenseful. The Final Cut never once elevated me to that sense of fear or chills I got while playing other horror adventure games. Most of the time I felt like I was playing a puzzle game set in New England rather than a fantasy world like Myst.
The dialog is poor, the story confusing, the controls awkward, and the puzzles, which constitute the meat of this meal, are trite and often annoying. Even diehard Hitchcock fans will have trouble appreciating this game, as the references to the classic filmmaker are few and seldom relevant.