Although the lead character of this first-person puzzle adventure is not really a thief, he is recruited for his skills in the art of quick and clandestine infiltration. Players take the role of a top security expert, hired by a family whose patriarch has just passed away. It seems the wealthy eccentric left the details of his last will and testament hidden away in a series of locked safes. The player's job involves investigating an opulent mansion and breaking into a series of 35 safes, all unique and each more challenging than the last. Players navigate the mansion through a point-and-click interface, and crack each safe by solving a different puzzle.
The original 1996 Safecracker was a puzzle game with an adventure veneer. The player, in the role of a security expert applying for a job with Crabb & Sons Safe Company, had to audition by cracking every safe in the company's headquarters within 12 hours. As a witty final touch, when the player got to the end, the game provided a printable version of that employment contract. (There was also a video walkthrough of the developer's offices revealing that creating digital entertainment takes place in a glamour-free zone.)
While I am as fond of the original Safecracker as I am of other puzzle/adventures, such as Jewels of the Oracle, Gems of Darkness, Karma: Curse of the Twelve Caves, and Cassandra Galleries, I'll be the first to acknowledge its shortcomings. The 12-hour time limit stymied some players, and in-game glitches stalled others. Turning away from a safe without removing everything in it meant losing whatever was left in the safe. And as PCs grew faster, the inventory system scrolled too quickly to allow players to select needed items.
Though time has not been kind to the technology of the original, the premise - Safes in a Place - remains as engaging as ever. And Kheops Studio has done a terrific job of developing intriguing challenges with which to fill that house. (I'm going to attempt to save time and avoid confusion by referring to Safecracker: The Ultimate Puzzle Adventure as Safecracker 2006. I like that better than referring to is as STUPA.)
The justification for cracking safes in Safecracker 2006 is a study in minimalism. Duncan W. Adams, a fabulously wealthy old coot who designed, restored, and collected safes as a hobby, has died. Since no will has been found, the family assumes it must be somewhere in one of his many safes. Good assumption. You, as the safecracker, must follow the trail of clues left in the old man's safes to find the will. All of this is conveyed in the voiceover that kicks off the game. Oddly enough, the game never states its title. There is a title sequence, but the title, Safecracker, never appears.
Once the title voiceover ends, it's time to start opening safes. No pressure, though, because there is no time limit in Safecracker 2006. The game does keep track of how long a player takes to get to the end, but there is no penalty for taking as long as one pleases.
After cracking the first safe, the player will discover there are now three safes, which can be cracked in any order. Crack one of the three and others become available. Eventually, all safes will need to be opened to complete the game. (There may be one or two that could be skipped, but where's the fun in that?)
Once a safe is open, it remains open. It is possible to leave items in the safe that contained them and return for them later. The inventory system is a clean series of images along the bottom of the screen that indicates when a clue has been used with a red X. If a key or other mechanical item is used, it disappears from the inventory.
The mansion is rendered in the lush 360-degree panning style that has become one of the house characteristics of Kheops Studio. If you've played Return to Mysterious Island or The Secrets of Da Vinci: The Forbidden Manuscript, you'll know what to expect in terms of visuals and game play mechanics from Safecracker 2006.
Since I cannot imagine myself opening safes by the dawn's early light, I have chosen to believe that the gentle beams coming into the mansion are from a pink sunset. And the objects upon which those beams fall are given a believable heft and solidity by the outstanding sound design. The safe in the loft may be just a pile of pixels, but when its massive door swings open, I'm convinced its hinges need oiling.
The measure of a puzzle game is not, of course, how pretty it looks or how convincing it sounds. The measure is how well it plays. I am happy to report that Safecracker 2006 plays beautifully. There are some familiar puzzles, some unfamiliar puzzles, and some very clever twists on the whole idea of what constitutes a puzzle.
Among the familiar puzzles, players will find a slider, a variant of Sudoku, a magic square, a warehouse puzzle, and a parking lot puzzle. The unfamiliar puzzles include a combination based on light frequency, an interior decorating puzzle, and a puzzle based on repeatedly being in the right place at the right time. And then there are the puzzles that require players to refrain from punching keys and twiddling knobs long enough to really see and study what is before them. These puzzles are among the most compelling in Safecracker 2006 because, other than endless random fiddling, they can only be solved by scrutiny.
As one moves from room to room, picking up clues, keys, and combinations, one will also find notes and diary entries that provide modest insights into the sort of family the billionaire left behind. This information will prove useful once the final safe is opened.
The only design choice I have a quibble with is the use of a voiceover narrator as a form of in-game hint system. When a puzzle appears, a male English voice, purportedly the voice of the safecracker, muses about how the puzzle might work. Unlike the subtitles, which can be turned on or off, the voice cannot be silenced without silencing all music and sound effects in the game. And, to quote the off-screen narrator, "That's a bit much."
Those familiar with the original Safecracker will remember that it provided more than an in-game hint system: it provided pretty much everything a player needed to solve the puzzles. Those looking for that kind of support in Safecracker 2006 will be disappointed. While the unseen narrator will identify several of the puzzles by type, there is no further information available in the game on how that type of puzzle works.
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