Well… Here’s a game I wouldn’t shake a screwdriver at. The cocktail that is.

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When it comes to point and click adventures, darkness works. With a genre that features such simple gameplay, a strong narrative is hugely important, and the interplay between light and darkness is a narrative theme that has been explored throughout the history of storytelling. Grim Fandango, Dropsy, The Charnel House Trilogy… All these games balance dark and light in different measures. The Slaughter: Act One is the first part of a gritty noir detective story, set in Victorian London, being released in three parts over the next year or so. It’s also one more example of the darkness/light recipe being used to great effect.

I’ve never been a keen fan of episodic games. Often, these games feel as though they are simply breaking up a larger story, so that they can sell it off in chunks, with no thought given to effective pacing or storytelling. The Slaughter seems to be different however. The story progresses to a sound climax that really rounds off the narrative, which left me eagerly anticipating the next instalment.

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You take control of Sydney Emerson, a hard drinking, hard living private detective who’s currently going through some hard times. Most of his jobs involve finding and returning lost pets, and he hasn’t paid his rent in a while. When the game opens, he’s flat on his back in an alleyway, receiving a sound thrashing from a henchman, on the order of a mysterious child in a top hat.

Soon, you’ve been sucked into the hunt for a serial killer, and you’ll be using all the powers at your disposal to track them down and bring them to justice. You’ll interrogate people, put on disguises, and even break into a mortuary. There’s an air of finality to Sydney’s story, which implies that this is a tale that probably won’t have a happy ending.

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The cardinal sin of point and click adventures is frustration. So often, these games have an artificial sense of difficulty, to try and pad out a weak narrative. Ever played an adventure game that made you take the money to the snack machine to get a sandwich, which you need to throw at the monkey to make it move off of the tree branch, so he’ll knock down the bird’s nest, which hatches the eggs, causing the birds to fly into the power lines, overloading the generator so it knocks out the power and shuts down the security system, allowing you to sneak past the guards and enter the amusement park? If you’ve taken part in this kind of quest, you’ll know how convoluted point and click adventures often get, featuring far too many items that need random dragging and dropping all over the place. None of that happens here. It’s always simple to figure out what to do next, which allows the plot to keep on rolling throughout the game.

It’s an ensemble cast of whores, drug addicts and alcoholics, who are all flawed and broken in equal measures.

The game doesn’t shy away from showing off the dregs of Victorian society. It’s an ensemble cast of whores, drug addicts and alcoholics, who are all flawed and broken in equal measures. Of course, without light, darkness becomes dull very quickly, and the developer has managed to balance the character’s dark traits with some charming humour. It gives the characters plenty of personality, which really brings the story to life.

There’s also a healthy dash of surrealism in the mix, which come in the form of anarchic dream sequences. If not used with a deft hand, surrealism can feel forced; chaos for chaos’s sake never adds anything to effective storytelling. Here, the developer has used surrealism to enhance the tone of the game, and break up the action, which stops the narrative from growing stale towards the end.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 20.42.28With it’s minimal, simple and sparse sound effects, it’s clear the developer studied at the Limbo school of sound design. The game deftly steers clear of overbearing pretention. In fact, many of the sound effects are charmingly comical – the sound of a man being booted in the stomach somehow sounds remarkably similar to a ball being bounced. That may sound like a criticism, but it actually helps emphasize the light-hearted elements of the game.

The music features a nice blend of traditional Victorian instruments, and modern electronics, without trying to mimic authentic Victorian music. A major irritation of mine is when music attempts to ape period music, but uses instruments that weren’t available at the time. The Victorian era is rife for this kind of thing. I find the propensity for the harpsichord to appear like an unwanted dinner guest utterly infuriating, and I’m glad to report that I didn’t notice any harpsichord in this game’s soundtrack.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 20.44.33Possibly the most interesting location you’ll visit throughout the game is The Crimson King, a small pub where you can drink until you vomit, or pump the bartender/patrons for information. The bartender is somewhat inconsistent in his bartending knowledge – he knows more about each and every pint on tap than any bartender under the sun, and yet he also shakes a screwdriver cocktail. (And you never shake a screwdriver, as excessive shaking or stirring will over dilute the cocktail, as the melting ice cubes will water down the drink. I mean jeez… It’s not hard.)

All in all, The Slaughter: Act One represents a strong opening for this story. It has all the makings of a game that, in its entirety, could join the ranks of point and click classics, like Grim Fandango. The groundwork has been laid, and I personally can’t wait for the next episode. Then again, I guess that’s to be expected. I was really engrossed in the story, and it ended on a cliffhanger.

So, yeah, I guess the most important thing to take away from this game review is this…

Never shake a screwdriver.

  • It seems funny to read “whore” in this context. Probably prostitute would read better. It may be a British English thing. Also the whole cocktail thing, it’s not really on artists to be authentic like this. That’s not their job. Please don’t hold it against them.