"Solve an all-new mystery inspired by the Master of Suspense." So states the box containing Alfred Hitchcock Presents The Final Cut -- one can only surmise that had the Master of Suspense himself seen the results of this "inspiration," he'd be rotating most uncomfortably in his earthly confines, shrieking with horror. Hitchcock 101 it isn't. This "nail-biting thriller" has more plod to the plot than most Agatha Christie novels, and use of the psychic abilities of the protagonist, Joseph Shamley, is sorely needed to make sense of some of the baffling leaps in continuity.
The designers (or is it the publishers?) promise that the world of millionaire Robert Marvin-Jones will be "brought to life with graphics and sound in Hitchcock's signature, spine-tingling style." Don't believe everything you read. After hearing the same short, insipid tune repeatedly while you investigate the first stage of the mystery, you'll be ready to embrace silence as a viable alternative and leave the haunting heart-thumpers to masters of the macabre-background like John Carpenter.
If only the problems ended with the music, the entire production might be palatable. Make no mistake, there's obviously a very good mystery enshrouded in this mish-mash of poor animation, ugly sound, and absolutely Psycho-like controls. Unfortunately, fleshing it out becomes so tedious and boring that you'll want to toss the whole thing out your Rear Window. The plot plods as a result of Shamley's shambling gait as much as the difficulty in piecing the mystery together, and gameplay becomes Notorious for leaving you less than Spellbound with its penchant for requiring inexplicable and unrelated goofy actions.
An example or two of the Rope the game uses to hang itself is in order. While investigating the property, looking for clues to unravel the Family Plot surrounding the millionaire, his daughter, and the vanishing act of the crew making a film, Shamley stumbles across a cove, complete with rowboat. While it's no Lifeboat, it does becomes a death boat after Joe finds a diver's mask, dons it, and suddenly finds himself underwater, swimming in a lagoon in red swimming trunks. There's no transition between scenes. He quickly finds a body, weighted down by some kind of belt with a combination lock on it.
Fortunately, Joe had just found a combination of numbers covered by a tarp on the dock prior to his dive, which happened to be a woman's measurements, which happen to be the numbers on the combo lock used to loosen the weight holding her down in the water. Presto, just like The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Joe solves the problem, drags the body up to the rowboat, and horror upon horror, leaves it laying there. Poor Joe says wistfully as he departs: "Can't just leave her laying there like that," but then does precisely that, since the interface cursor gizmo that allows you to perform actions doesn't let you put the tarp over the body.
The game is riddled with incongruities. Joe at times morphs between The Man Who Knew Too Much to someone whose lack of intuitiveness obviously makes him The Wrong Man for the job. If you think Max Payne looks constipated, imagine a cross between Michael Meyers' mask (from Halloween) and the blank stare of two Strangers on a Train suffering from Stage Fright. To make matters worse, Joe walks like Max Payne looks. All too often, path finding demands such precision that you won't find the entrance to a room, nook, or cranny until you happen to stumble on it after getting Vertigo from fiddling with the arrow keys to make Joe follow directions. Getting stuck behind furniture or swimming in place while standing up is normal, and oh, to have an axe to break down just one of the dozens of locked doors!
The puzzles are either atrociously simple or so complex you'll want to Dial M for Murder. Approach each puzzle with Suspicion, not borne of difficulty but of foolishness. At times you'll have to take The 39 Steps approach to solve what should be as simple as sipping Champagne. A typical puzzle: enter kitchen, talk with mynah bird, take glass from shelf and put it on the table, open freezer, get two ice cubes, put them in the glass. Take a bottle of 20-year-old brandy from the cupboard (not the five- or 12-year-old brandy), pour it in the glass, let the bird drink it, get the Topaz stopper from the brandy bottle for your inventory, and put the brandy back on the shelf. Then, go outside to a gate that requires the 20-year-old stopper to open it.
If the puzzles aren't ludicrous enough to make you tell the game Bon Voyage, the sheer awfulness of the controls and cursor system will have you in a Frenzy. Deduction isn't so much a rite of passage as it is Sabotage in the hands of the designers. It would be easier to learn Waltzes from Vienna with a Foreign Correspondent than follow the out-of-whack logic presented in this Rich and Strange tale -- rich because of the nicely done artwork, but strange in nearly every other aspect, including unrelated actions that have nothing to do with the plot.
The adventure is huge, with good backgrounds and locales built around the mansion, which bears an uncanny resemblance to Norman Bates' mom's house. Yet you'll be disappointed and surprised after coming down the two tiers of steps and not finding the Bates' Motel at the bottom. The plot itself is a wonderful idea, combining elements of Blackmail, The Lady Vanishes, and The Secret Agent, to name just a few twists. The nostalgia element is a come-on for Hitchcock fans and Murder has never been so foul. Unfortunately, neither has the control scheme in a graphic adventure of this type, from both first- and third-person perspectives.
Rather than going North by Northwest, Alfred Hitchcock Presents The Final Cut goes south for a lot of reasons. Do yourself a favor and go rent a weekend worth of the thrill-master's better works. Without a Shadow of a Doubt, this one is for The Birds.
Graphics: Definitely the highlight of the game, the backgrounds and locales are extremely detailed and pleasant. The layout can be confusing at times, but the control scheme adds to the problem.
Sound: Voice acting ranges from dumb (the mynah bird) to fairly good, but some dialogue is simply puzzling. Music is tedious and does little to build suspense.
Enjoyment: The mystery behind the game is a great idea, but implementation suffers with stiff movement, a horrible control system, and inexplicable gaps from one action to another at times. Puzzles range from the contrived ridiculous to the absurdly easy or difficult. Patience (and possibly a walkthrough to help with the more bizarre puzzles) is a must for anyone who stays until the end.
Replay Value: Not a good idea, unless you like punishment.
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Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None, 9: The Last Resort, Black Dahlia, Al Emmo and the Lost Dutchman's Mine, Barrow Hill: Curse of the Ancient Circle, Aliens: A Comic Book Adventure, AGON
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