The Hand of Glory Review

December 16, 2020
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A globetrotting point-and-click adventure, The Hand of Glory takes cues from classics like Broken Sword — and it’s shockingly successful at emulating their success with its AAA-like quality; an impressive feat for an independently developed video game. It sometimes gets lost in its convoluted conspiracy story, uneven voice acting and audio, and illogical puzzles. However, these aspects still can’t hold back The Hand of Glory from being a refreshing adventure experience, with innovation and scale not often seen in the point-and-click genre.

San Leo’s piazza is one of the locations in the game’s second part.

Lazarus Bundy is an Italian-American detective from Miami and one of two controllable protagonists in the game. And he is on the trail of a serial killer when the heir to a rich and influential family goes missing, plummeting him — and you — into international intrigue, full of ancient cult conspiracy. The other character who is along for the ride is Alice, who works with Bundy and acts as his sidekick throughout the adventure. 

One of the big plus points for The Hand of Glory is its fleshed-out cast. Bundy is a technophobe who prefers to live a techless life, evidenced in the game by his ownership of a late-’90s brick-like mobile phone. Alice, on the other hand, is a technophile who uses an electronic tablet and laptop throughout the adventure. This isn’t just for style either, as you get to use these devices in your investigations; searching the internet for articles about relevant items, for example. But it isn’t just the main cast this applies to either. Almost every character has an interesting, stylised trait or appearance, like the forgetful priest who doesn’t get your jokes or the Polish hunter who has mummified her father. One scene has Lazarus getting excited about finding a pistachio. “I couldn’t believe what I saw… and it was mine. All mine,” he says, to paraphrase. It’s these little touches that bring the world and characters to life.

The Hand of Glory is divided into two parts: the first based in Miami and the second based in Italy, with other minor locales sprinkled throughout. The Miami section is, like many areas of this game, stylised, and it doesn’t quite feel like real-life Florida. The section in Italy, however, is spot on, capturing the gritty ancient-modern dichotomy of the country — the run-down tabacchi flanked by medieval churches and fountains in San Leo’s piazza being a great example of this. 

The art is gorgeous.

Which brings me to my next point: this game is beautiful. Seriously. Hand-drawn art is common in adventure games, but The Hand of Glory takes it to the next level and is reminiscent of series’ like Broken Sword or Runaway; the days when adventure games had the backing of mammoth studios and their equally large art budgets. Madit Entertainment — the game’s Italy-based developer — is an independent studio with none of the aforementioned games’ perks, making this a seriously impressive feat of skill. 

Gameplay-wise, The Hand of Glory mostly avoids the pitfalls of the genre in its puzzles. Things are generally logical and not explained away via convoluted means. The gameplay usually makes sense and is grounded in real logic. Like when you have to work out how to cross — or not cross — a rickety rope bridge to get a bag. If you pay attention, the game hints at what to do, as you can move forwards or backwards once you’ve stepped onto it. And when you eventually reach the other side, the game’s humour comes into play as Lazarus comments on how well he did, only for the bag to fall onto the area where you were below anyway. 

This leads us to the title’s humorous nature. It’s an adventure game that’s funny in a way that your favourite TV shows are — it takes the time to set up the gags both visually and in the dialogue, whereas a lot of other games of this ilk skip this so they don’t have to animate more scenes. Take a scene, for example, where Alice says to herself, “Think, Alice, what would Lazarus do in this situation?”, only for a thought bubble to pop up of Lazarus knocking out a lady.

Alice is an interesting and fleshed-out protagonist.

Another positive is that The Hand of Glory’s puzzles are mostly modernised for convenience.  One example of this is when you’re required to distract a bird with a smelly concoction, but you have to identify the bird on a form first to get the correct concoction. After the first time you get this wrong, you skip the cutscene in which you make it, and it places you right where you need to be, avoiding the frustration of backtracking over and over again. This is the way forward for the modern point-and-click formula, and I hope more adventure games take note.

While we’re talking puzzles, there is another that hammers home the effort that was put into The Hand of Glory. It takes place in first-person and requires you to undo rivets on a square-shaped object. As you undo the rivets on each side, the relevant side falls off. It’s a small and simple but thoughtful and unexpected animation, which emphasises the AAA-like quality with which the developers have imbued the game on the whole. It does stray from this quality at points though, as we will see later.

There are quick time-like events, too, where you have to work out which items to use and on what before the time runs out; and yes, your character can die. Whereas in other genres this is a tiresome relinquishing of player agency, The Hand of Glory uses them to inject action into what is traditionally a slow and adrenaline-less experience. If you do die, you start over right away in the same scene, allowing you to experiment with different approaches quickly and without frustration. Again, The Hand of Glory makes subtle innovations that feel like the way forward for point-and-click adventures.

The Hand of Glory has a dark side too.

Even though The Hand of Glory is impressive, it does have some downsides. The plot about ancient cults and conspiracies is somewhat convoluted overall, with many plot points leaving you confused about certain characters’ motivations, or events that take place along the way. In a similar vein, for all its forward-thinking in some areas, The Hand of Glory still occasionally falls into the point-and-click trap of requiring the player to suspend their disbelief in far too prominent ways — avoiding a bullet by mere inches when fired upon at point-blank range, in one instance. And even though its quality is AAA for a lot of the experience, the indie-developed nature of the title still creeps through the cracks. Some voice actors aren’t quite up to the high standards set by the main cast, some sound effects are also of a lower, incongruous quality, and sometimes animations — though brilliant on the whole — can come across as having too few frames for hand-drawn graphics. And as good and logical as most of the puzzles are, there are still some that require obscure solutions that are hard to realise because you just wouldn’t do them in reality — using a gun to chip a piece of stone by hitting it rather than shooting it, for example.

On the whole, though, The Hand of Glory is a fantastic experience with a lot of content (playtime clocks in at between ten and twenty hours depending on how fast or slow you take it). And although humorous, the game deals with some serious topics, events and circumstances along the way. There is also a tease for a possible sequel. If Madit Entertainment iterates on what they’ve brought to the table with The Hand of Glory, and iron out the unevenness, then we could be looking at the harbinger of the rejuvenation of the AAA-quality point-and-click space. As it is, The Hand of Glory feels like a love letter to the greats; one that innovates on their formula to bring those experiences into the modern world. It isn’t perfect, but it’s seriously impressive, and the best traditional point-and-click adventure in years.

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As dark and poignant as it is humorous, The Hand of Glory is a not-to-be-missed, but at times incongruous, adventure full of intrigue and innovation.
Jesse Gregoire

Starting with the Sega Mega Drive, I’ve been playing those video game things for what seems like an eternity. Anything with a good narrative is my passion, but you can also find me clicking the heads in FPS games, living a second life in a sim, or looking for those elusive objects in adventure games. I’m still trying to workout what happened in Metal Gear Solid.