Adventure at the Chateau D'Or Review

Adventure at the Chateau d'Or has the potential to be not only a great adventure game, but an outstanding edutainment title, as well. A good part of the game focuses on the history of Paris, and of France in general. There is encyclopedic detail on many of the key people and events in France's past. But the implementation of the game is severely hampered by poor design, a lack of story, bad video integration, and incredibly non-intuitive gameplay. The only saving grace is that it is a short game.

The tag line from the game manual is initially eye-catching: "A modern day princess finds herself caught up in a mysterious adventure when she receives a cryptic letter summoning her to the palace of her deceaseed uncle, the Duke. Your task is to help the princess unlock the secret of the Chateau d'Or and claim her inheritance." And, in fact, as the game begins, it shows a lot of promise. But the promise is never fulfilled, and I was left feeling terribly short-changed.

The graphics in Chateau d'Or look, at first, like most other good adventure games -- with fairly well-rendered buildings and landscapes. However, as you begin to traverse the game, you find that they are very "seamy," and often even confusing. And the farther into the game you go, the worst the rendering is, often resulting in "flat" 2D appearances.

The background music is primarily soft jazz or classical music, which suits the environment very well. As the player moves around the game -- particulary from room to room of this gigantic chateau -- the music changes to suit the mood of the environment. There are also occasional ambient sounds, such as doors opening and closing.

Gameplay is perhaps the first, and foremost, shortcoming of Chateau d'Or. It is, as has already been said, a very short game. Playing with one other veteran gamer, we finished the game in 3-4 hours. But given the other problems in the game, its brevity may have been its salvation, as well.

There is no smooth movement from scene to scene; the scenes move from still shot to still shot, in much the same way as Myst. There are no panoramas, something becoming increasingly popular in current games and obviously missing from Chateau d'Or. Additional confusion was caused by the inconsistent manner in which the user moved from one scene to another. In some places, clicking on the right side of the screen caused a 90-degree turn to the right; in other places, it resulted in a complete 180-degree turnaround. And in all cases, a definite vertical seam moved across the screen, as the new scene replaced the old.

Working with the inventory was also frustrating. In some places, the game required the user to select an item from inventory, then click somewhere in the current scene, to make use of the object. In other places, simply selecting the correct item from the inventory caused it to be "used."

A map showing the layout of the chateau was essentially useless. There was no indication of orientation as I moved around the game. I frequently found myself looking at the map and not being able to figure out which way I was facing, then having to move in some random direction and check the map again just to see which way I moved. Another thing that would have enhanced gameplay tremendously would be the ability to "warp" to a previously-visited location by clicking on it on the map -- an option that many adventure games provide. Not so with Chateau d'Or; to move from one location to another involves traversing whatever lies between the two points.

At the very beginning, the only way to progress beyond the most elementary stages of the game is to answer five random questions (presented to you by an apparition of the dead Duke) about the history of France. The answers are contained elsewhere in the chateau -- in books that must be read (roughly 50 pages of reading!), video tapes that must be watched, and computer programs to run. However, none of the information presented in these media could be saved or carried with the user; everything had to be remembered, in the hopes that when the next question was asked, you might have the correct answer. Furthermore, once a question was asked, you had to answer immediately; you could not go back to research the answer, since by the time you returned, a new question would be asked.

There are really almost no puzzles to speak of. The developers would, I am sure, point to a couple of instances that they might interpret as puzzles. However, they all involved virtually no logic, no forethought, almost no reasoning, and tons of trial-and-error. And in some cases, these "puzzles" had to be repeated frequently, such as to gain access to a particular room that was required to be revisited often. Thus, tedium became another outstanding characteristic of these puzzles.

While playing the game is fairly "safe," there is one -- and only one -- spot where, if you do not do things precisely correctly, and within a very limited time frame, you will die. Now, that's not completely unusual for a game of this kind, although timed puzzles do tend to be rare. However, what made it entirely unacceptable was the fact that a) you could not save a game immediately before the situation in question, but had to save it a bit earlier (resulting in a lot of replaying once you died); b) it was actually impossible to do everything that was required in the time limit given, and you had to revisit the situation several times, just to take it all in; and c) once you died, the game provides no restart or return to anywhere prior to the situation, so saving games regularly becomes critical.

Throughout the game, there are video clips that allow the princess to speak with you. Not only do her dialogues rarely provide any help at all in terms of pursuing the game's end, but she is also a very annoying character, and I was beginning to wonder if I really wanted to save her at all.

I also encountered several bugs in the game. In one spot, there was no sound for a video clip in which the princess was talking to me. In several other spots, system error messages came up, and terminated the game.

Finally, the game has a fairly disappointing ending. Because it is so short a game, the ending comes almost unexpectedly. And when it does, you're not quite sure that the game is over! Only after waiting for some time and eventually seeing the credits roll on the screen, are you sure that was, indeed, the end of the game.

Adventure at the Chateau d'Or provides an interesting graphical landscape, as well as a great deal of historical information about French history. However, these are not enough to prevent it from being a poorly designed game with minimal challenge, and little to hold the interest of an adventure gamer.

-- Frank Nicodem