Using an old-style interactive verb/noun command interface and featuring over a dozen characters to interact with, successful game play in The Colonel's Bequest relies on observation and being in the right place at the right time, as critical events unfold at times and locations outside of your character's presence, requiring re-examination of rooms and searching for clues in previously 'clean' locales. As a pre-90's entry in the then fledgling genre of adventure games, the game holds up fairly well, although at times it seems that you're watching a play more than participating in a mystery game. Perhaps that is the reason designer Roberta Williams refers to it in those terms. Characters are well defined but somewhat predictable and the use of the early system of a verb/noun parser is more nostalgic than effective by current (late 90's) standards. The so-called eight Acts (episodes) each end with a clock striking the hour which is a signal to the player to note the location of Laura Bow, what events caused the act to end and serves as a handy place to save the game (to disk). Once this happens, all bets are off and you may have to re-examine rooms and locations and converse with all characters again to pick up any clues or hints which eventually lead to the ultimate solution of the mystery.
The story is not entirely riveting and seems disjointed at times, probably due to the deja vu experienced by the player in going over old ground again and again to ferret out more clues. In some aspects, the game takes on the tone of the boardgame Clue in that solving the mystery depends a great deal on the process of elimination. Animation is understandably dated by current standards but was state-of-the-art in 1989 when released. The interface is keyboard simple with the use of a mouse optional. Common commands have keyboard shortcuts and the game is menu driven. As in many older games, player actions include drawing your own map (pre-automapping days), taking notes (a small notebook is provided by Sierra), clock watching, looking, exploring, talking, listening (eavesdropping, actually), picking up and using various objects and saving the game at any conceived danger point.Extremely simplistic music is optional as the game was designed for computers with or without sound cards. The Colonel's Bequest is best viewed in it's important role as a building block to today's (1998) adventure game industry or even as a starter game for young novices (along the lines of Loom).
Graphics: State-of-the-art in 1989, terribly dated by today's (1998) standards.
Sound: Simple music, limited sound effects
Enjoyment: Not enough character action to rate high as an adventure game. Repetitive movements and dialogue, simplistic plot.
Replay Value: Nothing worth doing twice.
A murder mystery, taking place at a spooky plantation in the 1920's. College student Laura Bow is invited by her friend Lillian to come along to what has to be the most dysfunctional family gathering ever. The only problem is, various members of the family begin to mysteriously disappear! Done in the traditional Sierra adventure game style.
In Laura Bow 1 - The Colonel's Bequest, you play young Laura Bow, the only likeable character amongst a group of unsavoury types who seem to pretty much despise each other. It is just as well that you, the player, can't become attached to any particular character, as they each become corpus mortuus rather quickly.
Your quest is to investigate these grisly goings-on and discover the culprit. But as the murder victims soon disappear after you find their bloodied bodies, it's a difficult job to convince the remaining house-guests and servants (ever dwindling in number) of impending danger.
In the setup, the only sound option that would work for me was the AdLib. I have an SB Live card, but I didn't notice any drivers for this card amongst the files. Using the AdLib option, the sound effects were fairly primitive, but the music was enjoyable. For graphics, I selected the EGA 16-colour option. Even though the graphics are only EGA, they're still very colourful and atmospheric, as the screenshots show.
I'm not going to kid you and say I flat-out loved the game, but this is mainly because of a personal bias. Murder mysteries aren't my thing. And in this game you do spend a lot of time spying on people and asking what they think of others in the group, only to receive a lot of negative feedback. However, for those who enjoy a bit of sleuthing, this game will be something you'll enjoy. Judging by the rave reviews I've read around the net, many, many people have been captivated by the clever and intriguing gameplay, challenging puzzles, surprising twists, and the original incorporation of real time. The game has been divided into eight acts, and at the beginning of each, a clockface is shown illustrating the current time. If you do not visit certain locations before it's too late (for example, if a character has retired for the night or has gone out) you will have to replay if you want to get information or inventory items from that character.
There are a few echoes from the early King's Quest games, and this is not surprising, as both games had the same creator, Roberta Williams. (Yay! Girl Power!) Like King Graham of King's Quest, Laura can easily drown in a few feet of water or become a victim of the beasts that lurk there. However, unlike in those first few KQ games, the player can use a mouse, although you still need to type in most commands.
To sum up, I think the fascinating and rich storyline will intrigue and compel most players to persevere through the many deaths that will befall them and the other occupants of Misty Acres. If you can avoid that swamp, evade that bloodied knife, dodge that chandelier and, of course, solve those perplexing mysteries, then you'll achieve super-sleuth status in the end.
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