Mountain Crime: Requital
Year Published: 2012
Publisher: Alawar Entertainment
Developer: Alawar Stargaze
Sometimes you can appreciate what a game's developers were aiming for and still be dissatisfied with the end product. Such is the case with Alawar's Mountain Crime: Requital, a game whose every attempt at innovation in its storytelling is hindered by its ultimate shortcomings.
The strangely abandoned hotel lobby.
Dr. Philip White is called to the White Wolf Hotel on a stormy night when he learns one of his patients is staying there and has had a heart attack. After he arrives, the storm (conveniently) knocks out all the roads and bridges leading to the hotel, effectively stranding him there. Even worse, his patient is nowhere to be found, but the victim of a snake bite is dying on the second floor. While the hotel's staff also seems to be missing, a handful of other visitors have arrived for the grand opening, including a triggerhappy sheriff and a female reporter who seems to know a little too much about snakes, considering the situation. It isn't long before more of the hotel's attendants start dropping like flies and it's apparent that a serial killer is on the loose. It's up to you, as Dr. White, to solve the mystery by exploring the hotel and its surrounding area.
One way in which Mountain Crime excels more than many of its contemporaries is in the way the characters actually move around their environment (albeit a bit stiffly), as opposed to popping up onscreen as still images. When you suspect the reporter of being involved in the snake attack, the sheriff runs into the room with his gun drawn. Animations like this would become more common in later HOG's, and they really give you a feeling of interacting with actual people instead of cardboard cutouts.
Why do squirrels always steal stuff in these games?
Unfortunately, Mountain Crime's story, though ambitious, is often murky and ends on a sour note that seems hardly a reward for your efforts. The biggest problem is being saddled with a character who is remarkably unlikable. As a doctor, he seems rather unconcerned when he learns someone tampered with his bag, and though he is there to treat a heart attack victim, his bag seems to only contain various snake bite antidotes - how weirdly convenient. He then continues to wander about contaminating more and more crime scenes, all the while uttering dialogue with voice acting that breaks any kind of mood.
I need to talk about that "mood" for a moment. The game takes place at the "White Wolf Hotel", which has wolf decorations everywhere and wolves howling in the distance and written legends about the "White Wolves (aka Polar or Arctic Wolves)", which admit that they aren't actually supernatural. My question is, why? Why set up all this mythology only to have the story have nothing to do with wolves? I suspect it's meant to be symbolic, as your character is Dr. White and the main villain is Mr. Grey (as in, another type of wolf - Grey Wolf). But this seems like a lot of wasted misdirection, especially when even the items you pick up are trailed by wolf pawprints as they move across the screen into your inventory. If you're gonna put this much wolf imagery and lore into your game, I wanna see a damn wolf.
The first victim.
The second biggest (or perhaps third at this point) problem is the way you are given dialogue choices that ultimately have no effect. As someone who has played the game more times than anyone should, I can confirm that the different options often elicit the same exact response from the character you're talking to. Why not have choices that matter? Imagine if you could save some (or even all) of the victims through your actions? How about multiple endings that are influenced by your decisions?
And about that ending...The game needed a bonus chapter or sequel to resolve it, but the devs are not interested in making any. I don't know their reasons, and maybe it's because the game didn't sell very well. But some things about the story make so little sense, I'm wondering if it was simply unresolvable. Seriously, why does Dr. White not remember his past?
Repairing a faucet.
After spending so much time on story, it would be prudent to mention something about the game itself, which is typical "find item/use item/solve puzzle" HOG fare with one major exception - in the hidden object scenes, you do not find random items from a list. Instead, a ring of circles appears around something in the background and within each circle is an item that must be found on the scene. When all items are found, they are used to repair or operate the object they're encircling. Examples are fixing a broken lawnmower or opening a wall safe.
While it's nice for people who don't like random object hunts and want to know that everything they pick up has a purpose, some HOG players may miss the novelty of the traditional style scenes. At least Mountain Crime's items are mostly still recognizable. I've played Fragmented Object Games (FROG's) in which everything is a tiny abstract piece of something and you're not even sure what it is you're building. Here, everything is clear.
Visually, the game is competent. The weird, skewed angles at which many of the hotel rooms are viewed evoke an uneasy feeling that would've been well-suited to a game with true supernatural elements. The music, however, cuts in and out at seemingly random times. It's just strange to be 3/4 of the way through a hidden object scene and have some "action" music start up out of nowhere.
So much wolf decor, so few wolves.
I would imagine that its small innovations and visual style account for many of the positive reviews of Mountain Crime, though the ending is commonly detested. Unfortunately, this game from the early years of HOGs has not stood the test of time very well, and with the devs so uninterested in resolving it, I'm not sure why anyone should still be terribly interested in playing it.