A point-and-click adventure, The Cameron Files: Secret at Loch Ness takes place in Scotland during the early 1930s. You take on the role of the Chicago based private detective Alan Parker Cameron, who is hired by Lord Alister Mac Farley to investigate strange events occurring around Devil's Ridge Manor. Upon arrival in Scotland, Cameron quickly discovers that his patron has disappeared.
The Secret at Loch Ness utilizes the same 360-degree game engine seen in other DreamCatcher adventure titles like Necronomicon, Dracula Resurrection, The Messenger, and Dracula: The Last Sanctuary. As you move the cursor around the screen, it changes at specific "hotspots" to indicate when an action can take place or an item can be acquired or used.
Installation of the game is quick and uneventful, but intermittent problems crop up during animation sequences throughout the adventure. Often, animation simply stops or the sound skips, making important conversations between characters difficult to understand and follow. The DreamCatcher web site offers a few ideas on how to fix the problem, but none of them are guaranteed to work, and, in fact, none had any positive effect. Animation sequences can't be replayed, and since they contain key plot elements, the problem affects gameplay to a certain degree.
The game opens with an animation sequence of Cameron after he returns to Chicago from Scotland in which he does his best Sam Spade imitation while talking to himself about the case. This idiosyncratic method continues at various points throughout the game, offering you a few clues before being taken back in time to Scotland, where you must find the Lord of the manor Mac Farley and discover the secret horror that is taking place on the shores of Loch Ness.
The use of a diary, penned while Cameron is in Scotland, serves much the same function as a hint file. The detective writes notes regarding possibilities of how to solve certain puzzle situations and where he should go next to search for clues. Saving becomes important, since Cameron can die at several points during the game.
The puzzles are mainly average in difficulty and are solved by using found items. A few plot points hinge on having particular objects in your inventory at specific times and you must explore thoroughly to find them. A unique feature of the game engine is that the cursor turns into a red circle with a slash through it if you can't explore an area or pick up an item until later. This function serves as a major clue, since you know something will take place at that hotspot at a future point in the game.
Although the game doesn't have the "spook" factor of some other DreamCatcher titles, the sounds certainly have their moments as evidenced by creepy background noises in the apparently haunted Mac Farley manor. Outside the castle, the wind howls and the landscapes of Loch Ness are bleak. A few memorable pieces of background music serve to set the mood when the character is in obvious danger.
The interiors of the manor are rich and detailed, leaving many nooks and crannies to explore. Unfortunately, many of the NPCs in the game look and talk as if they were caricatures, Cameron included. Banshee, a Mac Farley family friendly spirit, offers a chance for some creativity, but the game designers fail to capitalize on the opportunity.
Graphics: The manor house is beautifully done with an atmosphere exuding privilege and wealth. The characters are too cartoon-like and spoil some of the realism. Animation sequences may freeze or skip, leaving you without critical knowledge of the plot.
Sound: Background sounds set the mood for each area and some of the music is truly inspired. At certain points, sound mimics real life via directional proximity (left or right, downstairs, etc.) Voice acting is sketchy, with female characters sounding similar, and none of the Scottish characters have convincing accents.
Enjoyment: Despite some flaws, gameplay is engaging, moves along swiftly, and puzzles and mazes are not overly difficult. The casual player who enjoys the detective genre or adventure games will find something to like.
Replay Value: The linearity doesn't offer much in the way of replay, especially since puzzles have only one solution.
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