Lovecraftian Games, part 4: “Miskatonic: The Inhuman Stain”

Our exploration of Lovecraftian games continues with MISKATONIC.  (Read part 1, The Secret World, part 2, Anchorhead, and part 3, Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Landif you missed them.)

A video game review by Brian M. Sammons

MISKATONIC is and old school point and click adventure video game, the kind made famous by game makers LucasArts and Sierra. This type of entertainment were THE computer games back in the day, but for a long while they all but disappeared, thought of as quaint little things in the era of multimillion dollar first person frag fests. Thankfully over the past few years, point and click adventures have made a comeback, thanks to the emerging downloadable game market that allows smaller companies to make cheaper games (as in production costs, not quality) and sell them directly to the fans. This is nothing but a good thing in my book. So grab your books, pencils, and Elder Signs, we’ve got a late night class of Medieval Metaphysics 101 to attend as we take a look at the first chapter of a new multipart game.

In the first episode of MISKATONIC called THE INHUMAN STAIN, you play as Aurinda, a young woman new to the creepy college as a just hired professor. Before long Aurinda is warped up in a mystery involving strange animal attacks in the nearby woods that leave limbless corpses, her predecessor who went mad about something and is now locked up in the nearby asylum, diaries full of mystical ravings, creepy artifacts, and more trappings that would be right at home in a Lovecraft tale.

That said, the game isn’t scary in the least. Now it’s very hard for video games to properly evoke fear, most of the time the best they can do is the occasional jump scare. I can only imagine that has to go double for point and click games. However, all is not lost, as what the game lacks in horror it more than makes up for it with humor. Not whack you upside the head slapstick, or dirty locker room and/or bathroom humor, but subtle, sly, and clever references and nods for both fans of Lovecraft and classic video games to enjoy. And if you’re a fan of both, like I am, then this game is sure to hit your funny bone again and again.

As for the gameplay, its typical point and click fare. You move your character, Aurindia, over largely static but good looking backgrounds, moving your mouse’s cursor all around, looking for hidden hotspots that you can click on. Once you find such an item, person, or area you can examine it, try to talk to it, or sometimes pick it up and take it with you, so that you can use it in some obscure, sometimes very random way to further you game. Case in point (and this is by far the easiest puzzle in the game) you find a garden trowel and pick it up. Later you come across a freshly tarred road, so in typical point and click gameplay, you try all your items on the tar until you find out you can get some of it onto your trowel. Later on you have to cross a lake, but the only boat around has a hole in it. Using the garden trowel with the tar on it with the boat fixes the hole and off you go. That right there is probably the most straightforward of the puzzles you must solve in this game, so if thinking outside the box is not your strong point, you should probably avoid this game as you are sure to hate it. I, however, love these types of brainteasers and the puzzles here can get fiendishly clever. No joke, there are some real toughies here, so consider yourself warned.

Perhaps the only drawback I had with this game was the sometimes ridiculously hard to find hotspots for you to click on. On more than one occasion they were very tiny and only be slowly dragging the mouse cursor over the entire screen did I find them. That’s not fun, challenging, or exciting, that’s just tedious. Yes, that’s also par for the course for point and click games, but it doesn’t mean it was any good way back then or good now. By all means, keep the clever writing and the devious puzzles, but let the players find the things they need to find in order to progress the story without having to closely inspect every pixel on the screen.

Still, that was a minor, if somewhat frustrating, quibble at best. By and large the first episode of MISKATONIC was an old school joy filled with funny and offbeat characters, well written dialog and jokes, nods to various Lovecraft stories, and some dastardly difficult puzzles. It has everything a good point and click adventure should and if you have a hankering for those types of games, then MISKATONIC more than makes the grade. If you would like more information on this title, or to order a copy for yourself, you can do so here: MISKATONIC: THE INHUMAN STAIN.

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