The 7th Guest - Brutal Backlog
Brutal Backlog is a semi-regular feature where the JDR team plough through some of the unplayed games on their shelves (both digital and physical), disregarding their age or the technical limitations of their era. Only the very best games will stand up to scrutiny today.
The 7th Guest was released in 1993 as one of the first wave of FMV games which became possible with the introduction of CD-ROM technology to PC gamers. It was meant to usher in a new wave of photo-realistic gaming and interactive movies. This didn’t really happen but this particular game sold over two million copies and spawned a sequel, The 11th Hour. Personally I’ve always wanted to play it but was never lucky enough to have it on CD-ROM. It came to Steam some time ago and I bought it — as you do — in 2014. It’s been sat there on my digital shelf ever since just waiting to be played…
Ten Minutes In
Oh my word, what have I let myself in for? So far it is utterly awful. I’ve watched an introductory cutscene with acting worse than in 1970s porn (as I’ve been led to believe). It’s truly awful. The story as well is just...I’m nearly lost for words. A chap was desolate and homeless, flailing through life when he has a dream vision. He makes toys and everyone wants them. He becomes wealthy. Kids then die. So he builds himself a big mansion...and I’m the 7th guest one day.
I then tried to enter a door, got taken to a menu screen instead and the game restarted.
I need to go through all of that again. Bollocks.
Thirty Minutes In
Well, forty in real time thanks to that replay but hey, who’s counting? Anyway, I think all the other guests are ghostly images of them when they were in the mansion. This suggests I’m the only person in there...aside from whatever ghouls await I guess?
The aim of the game is to move around the mansion, see a clip from the night the six guests were there and then tackle a puzzle, unlocking something else later in the game. I just had to divide a cake into six pieces so that everyone got the same. Not exactly hard, but it’s teasing me now as two people have agreed to meet in the lady’s bedroom. This game has adult themes. I’d assumed it was some horror but now I’m wondering if it’s a little bit sexy too?
Not that it really matters. The video is proper grainy FMV and it’s utterly awful. The mansion itself and the rooms and puzzles within are just bad 90s graphics. For a game out around the same time as The Day of the Tentacle, it’s pretty damn bad to look at. I’m also struggling with moving to where I want to go as well. It’s point and click but the cursor is context sensitive (changes to a different icon for different tasks), which is nice, but in a way that it is hard to intuitively work out what the new context is!
One Hour In
This game is insufferable hell. Each puzzle is entirely obtuse. For instance, I found myself in the kitchen, opening the pantry door to be faced with a wall of tins with letters on each. I could swap some around but only some. The positions were fixed. There is no context. The game ultimately provided a clue in amongst the multitude of random voiceovers telling me I couldn’t do it — even when I was actually working towards the solution. The clue was as follows:
“Bashful nomad, craftily, agilely, meet secretly near my underground vault.”
Which was meant to explain that I needed to use the cans to spell the following sentence:
“Shy gypsy slyly spryly tryst by my crypt.”
Looking at the clue, and the solution, there is a logical step from one to the other. But come the absolute fuck on, how is any reasonably sane and intelligent individual supposed to work that out? And what if you hadn't gotten the clue? There is literally no way to solve the puzzle aside from pure luck until you get the clue which enables it in some small corner of the mind. Oh my.
Six Hours In
I’m nearing the end now. I have not enjoyed one iota of the previous five hours. I’ve done puzzle after puzzle to unlock cutscene after cutscene to try and piece together what’s been happening. I have seen the six guests do all manner of things, and I have seen many of them die. I know what’s happening now (i’m not quite that 7th guest I thought I was) and I have to say, I’m not in any way sure why I stuck around for it. I wish now I’d just gone to the internet around five hours ago and read up on this game. I don’t know why I thought more ridiculous puzzles would result in an enjoyable time and help me learn the full — “brilliant” — story.
I came to The 7th Guest full of romantic reverence, eager to finally experience this game which I had longed to play for twenty-five years. I very quickly realised I was in a place where in my head all I could hear was Scooby Doo saying “ruh-roh” to Shaggy, over and over again. Nothing about this game is good. It’s a pathetic narrative played out by over-the-top acting by am-dram acting talent. The puzzles are obtuse and you spend each one hearing yourself, and the mansion’s owner, Henry Stauff, speaking one line each repeatedly. The payoff is not worth it. There is no historical benefit to playing what was one the first PC CD-ROM games. There is no reason for the code to even be maintained anywhere other than an archivist’s storage, be that a library or vault. Just...don’t touch the bloody thing — please.