The Watchmaker Review

In The Watchmaker, you play as both an private investigator and a lawyer assigned to check out some phenomena called laylines -- channels in the earth which sort of act as highways for paranormal activity. In a particular, the game centers on a one such layline that passes through a castle in Austria. Apparently, some men have gone to this castle and set up a pendulum-like device in an effort to tap the layline and use it for nefarious purposes. All of this is spelled out in the opening sequence of the game, and your characters are dropped off at the castle.

It is at this point where one of the main problems of the game quickly arises. That's all the plot development you'll really get for the first half of the game. Instead, you're basically given the entire castle to explore, right from the start. While this sort of freedom can be nice in a game if put to good place, you'll quickly discover that the castle is not a very interesting place. It's filled with lots of doors and cabinets to open, and a number of characters with which you may carry out extensive dialogue, but you'll find very little in the early game which helps you on your quest, or is even relevant to the game at all. Nothing is really done to progress the story until the latter half of the game. In the mean time, you complete tasks which don't seem very significant, and carry out elaborate conversations regarding character's irrelevant opinions of one another.

This extraneous dialogue is made all the more painful by some of the worst voice acting I've ever heard in a game. It should be noted that this game was originally Italian, and most of the translations are quite good. However, the delivery of the dialogue for every character you'll meet lacks any sort of emotion, and for some characters, it can be borderline ridiculous. The groundskeeper, in particular, speaks in a high-pitched, hoarse voice that sounds absurd, while the supervisor's wife seems to be making a conscious effort to sound as bored as possible. The music isn't much better, either -- it consists of what sound like a bunch of cheesy MIDI files that often don't fit the action in the game.

If you're able to get past the slow start and put up with the horrible voices, though, you'll find that the game becomes fairly entertaining. Like most adventure games, this one has a couple puzzles whose solutions seem illogical and unnecessary. (One in which you have take a very circuitous route to get something from the bottom of a pool comes to mind.) However, most of them are often quite creative, and their solutions equally rewarding. One element that factors into some of these puzzles is your ability to switch between the two different characters any time you choose. Sometimes, only a particular character can solve a puzzle, and occasionally, you need to use both. While this gameplay element isn't entirely unique (it was also featured in LucasArts' Day of the Tentacle and a couple other games), it does add a refreshing twist to the typical adventure game formula. Unfortunately, this two-character system isn't used often enough in the game. In fact, you'll find that it mostly just serves as a convenience, since inventory can be instantly beamed from one character to the other. This allows you to quickly jump around the castle to try out items in various situations.

While not state-of-the-art, the game's graphics are certainly decent and can even, on occasion, be breathtaking. Furthermore, they run well on my low-end system, a plus for any adventure gamers out there who have seen no need to keep their machines up-to-date. The game uses a semi-fixed camera system, which pans to follow the character as he moves through one location then jumps to another fixed point when he/she passes into the next. You can also look around in first person at any time, which is necessary for a few puzzles, though the game can't be played from this perspective.

Overall, I found myself enjoying the game once it picked up, and even getting into the story. Almost every non-player character you meet in the game has at least a tangential significance to the events at hand, and fishing this information out of them can be quite fun (even with all the extraneous dialogue). When you begin to uncover some of the shadier recesses of the castle, you'll find them to be much more interesting than the castle you're initially presented with. And by the end, the game can sometimes be pretty memorable, assuming you're able to put up with the voices of everyone you come across along the way.

-- Chris Garson