The 11th Hour
|Review by Ugur Sener
Investigative reporter Carl Denning Jr. sits in his living room staring at the TV. The news report is speaking of Robin Morales, the producer for his TV show Case Unsolved. Morales had mysteriously disappeared while conducting an investigation into the strange happenings at a mansion in upstate New York. Bizarre tales of disappearances surround the mansion that was constructed by the toy manufacturer Henry Stauf.
The toymaker was known as little more than an eccentric man. Guided by visions he received in his dreams, Stauf’s lineup of toys had been incredibly famous at one time. But it all ended shortly after the appearance of a deadly virus that only seemed to target children. Henry Stauf sealed the doors of his mansion, seemingly choosing a life of solitude.
Yet one night Stauf invited six guests to his mansion. Each of them had a different motive; each of them had a different secret desire. The guests came with great hope, but strange events took place at the mansion on that fateful night. All of the guests and Henry Stauf himself simply disappeared.
Even as Robin Morales started her investigation, the mansion stood empty. It seemed to be abandoned and forgotten. Crumbling into dust after the mysterious disappearance of its owner… But it also seemed so dark and foreboding as though it was possessed by strange forces. Perhaps Stauf had not completely left the building. Perhaps the mansion existed to fulfill a dark purpose.
Morales started the investigation with great reservations. Strange stories had been told about the mansion. It did not seem to be a safe place to explore. Yet it was her job to unravel the mystery. She wanted to find out the truth behind this cryptic mansion in the small town of Harley. She was going to somehow pry the information out of the reluctant residents of the town. Unfortunately, she never returned with answers. She never delivered a great story for the show.
Watching the news broadcast on TV, Carl Denning cannot help but feel guilty. Morales had been his lover. And the couple had not exactly parted on good terms before Robin took off to investigate the mansion. Carl had been a total jerk and he may have lost all opportunity to make things right.
Suddenly, the doorbell rings. Carl hurries up to the front door only to catch a glimpse of a delivery van. Looking down, he sees a curious package containing a portable computer labeled as GameBook. As you he tries to get the device to work, Morales appears on the screen. Her clothes are torn and she appears to be lightly injured. But it is the tone of her voice that really touches Carl. Robin is desperate for help.
The image vanishes as soon as it appears. But it is clear what Carl must do. It is time to go to that mansion. Morales must be in grave danger and she needs Carl’s help. Jumping on his fancy motorcycle, Carl takes off for town of Harley. Perhaps he will be able to overcome the evil mansion and rescue his producer.
The game begins as Carl enters the mansion. The GameBook beeps as you receive a cryptic message from Stauf himself. What is going on here? How can Stauf be around after so many years? Is this some twisted joke or is an evil being truly at work here? As Stauf mercilessly begins taunting Carl, it is clear that this will be a very long night at the mansion.
The 11th Hour is Trilobyte’s sequel to their highly successful adventure game called The 7th Guest. Originally released in 1995, the game is a product of three years of development. While attempting to respond to complaints about the original game’s incoherent and unclear plot, The 11th Hour gives players a chance to return to Henry Stauf’s mansion. Given the fairly interesting premise of the game and the possibility of discovering a whole new batch of devious puzzles, The 11th Hour initially seems like it is going to be a fun game. Unfortunately, The 11th Hour is one of those games that never quite reaches its full potential. Some extremely frustrating gameplay mechanics combined with a few additional problems ends up making the game a rather disappointing experience.
Structurally, The 11th Hour bears a remarkably close resemblance to The 7th Guest. The entire game takes place inside Stauf’s mansion. The mouse is used to navigate the mansion. Just like The 7th Guest, the default icon is a skeletal hand. A beckoning skeletal hand is used to indicate that you can move in the specified direction. A throbbing brain icon is used to indicate a puzzle waiting to be solved. When you are working on a puzzle, an eyeball icon is used to denote pieces that can be moved. Once you select a piece, if it can be moved in more than one direction, the icon will turn into a throbbing eye, prompting you to choose the destination.
At the beginning, only a small number of rooms are accessible and there is a puzzle to solve in each of them. As you solve the puzzles, more rooms gradually open up offering a new batch of challenges. Most of the rooms accessible in The 7th Guest have been recreated. However, since many years have passed after the events of the first game, the mansion is now old and crumbling. As such, the environments look somewhat different.
But the puzzle featured in each room is not all you have to worry about as you go through the mansion. You also need to deal with the game’s “Treasure Hunt” sequences. As soon as you step into the mansion, Stauf will send a riddle to your GameBook. To “solve” the riddle, you have to click on one of the numerous objects spread throughout the house. The riddle Stauf sends to your GameBook provides the clue for finding the correct object you need to click. The riddles are often fairly obscure and many of them should require quite a bit of thinking before you can decipher their meaning. Some of them include decoding an encrypted message while others include anagrams. You will have to think about phonograms or try to come up with synonyms that might have another meaning.
Even when you decipher the riddle however, finding the right object will not always be easy. There are a considerable number of clickable objects around the house from the very beginning of the game. As you solve puzzles and open up additional rooms, even more objects will become available. You will have to try to remember what items are available in each room as the game does have players revisit rooms to find the correct object to solve a “Treasure Hunt.”
The story is gradually unraveled as you solve the “Treasure Hunt” sequences. After finding the answer to many of these riddles, a short cinematic sequence becomes available for view in the GameBook. The 11th Hour is divided into chapters that represent individual hours of the time you will spend at the mansion. Once you solve a series of riddles and puzzles, the game provides you to a final riddle that leads you to a mini-game. You play these mini-games against Stauf himself. When you manage to win the game, the current hour ends and a new one begins. You also get to view a compiled version of all the cinematic sequences that were revealed during the hour. Some additional scenes are added to what you have already seen to provide a fairly detailed recounting of Robin’s investigation.
The storyline in The 11Hour is much more coherent than what was offered in the previous game. The details of Robin’s investigation are communicated in a fairly clear manner. Players will likely have many questions during the early parts of the game as they are shown clips with multiple characters that have no apparent connection. However, as you continue to solve the puzzles, things will become quite clear and you will begin to understand what exactly is going on at the mansion. Players do get to make a decision at the very end of the game that determines the outcome of the adventure. While it is by no means exceptionally deep or detailed, the storyline in The 11th Hour should at least manage to keep you interested throughout the game. And while you may not find the answer to every single question you have about the cut scenes that appear throughout the game, you should still be left with a pretty good understanding of the core plot.
However, it is worth noting that the structure of the story can frustrate some players. The vast majority of the plot develops through visions into the past. As such, you may get the feeling that the character you are controlling takes on a secondary role in the game. It can also feel awkward that visions of Robin’s investigation are magically getting downloaded into the GameBook for no apparent reason. But then again, The 11th Hour is not the kind of game to be asking too many questions. After all, in order to enjoy the game in any way, you have to come to terms with the fact that solving puzzles opens up rooms in the mansion and clicking on random objects progresses the storyline. The absurdity of it all certainly does not result in the most atmospheric and immersive game you will encounter, but it at least seems to hold together within the scope of the adventure.
Much like The 7th Guest, the highlight of The 11th Hour is the puzzles. There is a good number of entertaining puzzles to keep adventure gamers occupied. A considerable chunk of the puzzles are focused around rearranging objects in some form or fashion. For instance, one of the early puzzles in the game challenges players to arrange the books on a shelf in a specific sequence by using a limited number of moves. Another puzzle will have you switch the places of four knights on a partial chess board. Later in the game, you will encounter a puzzle that involves a toy train. You have to use the locomotive to rearrange letters by pulling or pushing them one at a time across a small section of tracks. Of course there are other types of puzzles as well. There is the obligatory slider puzzle and a couple of puzzles where you have to deduce the correct sequence in which to objects. While many of the puzzles can be quite entertaining, the game could have used a little more variety.
What truly hurts the game play experience in The 11th Hour is the “Treasure Hunts.” The problem begins with the very concept. It’s not just very fun to run around the mansion looking for a specific object. All you have to do is click on the object. Many of them are not part of the storyline in any kind of significant manner. You do not take them as inventory items to use later. They are no more or less than the answer to the riddle. The arbitrariness of the exercise disrupts the game’s atmosphere and takes away the feeling of immersion. Regardless of how much you try to justify the existence of these sequences with the overall tone and format of the game, by the time you reach the end of the game, their tediousness definitely hurts the fun factor.
The actual execution of the “Treasure Hunts” is rather problematic as well. Having to remember the different objects around the house is a chore. And if you happen to forget where things are located, you are likely to find yourself wondering from one room to the next until you stumble upon the object you are supposed to click. Sometimes, the object you have to track down is not clickable at all. Items in many of the rooms become clickable only after you solve a puzzle. Of course you can easily remedy this problem by making sure you solve all the available puzzles first. But when several rooms with unsolved puzzles open up at the same time, you end up having a number of objects in each room that might be the answer.
The fact that the riddles can be quite difficult does not make your job any easier either. Of course there is nothing inherently wrong with a game featuring some challenging puzzles. In fact managing to overcome challenging puzzles without consulting a walkthrough can often lead to a welcome sense of accomplishment. However, in The 11th Hour the challenging nature of the riddles can inadvertently mislead you into drawing the wrong conclusions. You can easily find yourself running through the house looking for an object that is not even the answer. Since the whole exercise already feels arbitrary and rather unnecessary, getting confused about the answer becomes all the more frustrating.
The game does feature a hint system to make things a little easier. A mysterious “techno-psychic ally” is able to contact you through the GameBook. You can get tips by clicking on the “Help” button on the GameBook. If you are in the middle of solving a puzzle, your ally will provide tips that might help you find the solution. She will try to explain the puzzle so you understand its underlying rules. If that is not enough, you can also get your ally to solve the puzzle for you. If you are working on a mini-game, your ally will offer to make the next move for you instead of automatically playing the entire game from start to finish. When you are not working on a puzzle, the ally will provide you tips on the current riddle. For instance, she can help you identify and solve the anagrams in the riddles. Through her hints, it will become much easier to determine what object you need to seek around the house. However, she will not tell you exactly where you will find the item. You are still on your own to track it down and click on it.
One important aspect of the help system is that your ally has limited power. The game’s manual clearly indicates that she becomes slightly weakened each time you ask for help. Your ally also gets weakened when you click on an incorrect item while trying to solve a “Treasure Hunt.” This is supposed to limit the amount of help you can obtain from your ally in the later stages of the game. However, if you can manage to solve the mini-games and the puzzles on your own, you seem to be able to get all the help you need on the riddles. Similarly, if a couple of the mini-games or the puzzles are giving you too much trouble, you can have your ally solve them without having to worry too much about the consequences.
The 11th Hour has a map feature that helps players keep track of their progress through the mansion. The map marks the rooms in which you have solved the puzzles, giving you an idea as to where you need to go in order to find the next puzzle. However, the developers have refrained from providing what would have been the biggest benefit of having the map. When you are going through The 11th Hour for the first time, you cannot click on the rooms on the map to instantly travel to them. As such, you have to waste time walking through the corridors moving from one room to the next. Yet surprisingly, when you complete the game, you are allowed to revisit each room by clicking on them through the map. The idea is to give you easy access to each of the puzzles. But once you complete the game, unless you just loved some of the puzzles, there will be little use for this feature. It is a shame it was not provided during the adventure to save players some time.
The mini-games you get to play against Stauf can also be frustrating from time to time. The developers must have heard the complaints about the difficulty of the microscope game in The 7th Guest. None of the mini-games in The 11th Hour feature as tough an AI opponent as the one players had to face in The 7th Guest. However, that does not mean any of the mini-games are a walk in the park. Your opponent still makes rather intelligent moves and tries to take advantage of your mistakes. Winning the games generally takes a good strategy and a solid understanding of the rules.
Unfortunately, the mini-games are not really on par with some of the creative puzzles featured in The 7th Guest or The 11th Hour. While it might be fun to play Connect Four or Pente against old man Stauf, well-crafted puzzles would have probably been more appropriate as the ultimate challenge of each chapter. In addition, since the AI opponent is not exactly easy to beat, the games can easily become frustrating if you end up having to play them multiple times.
In the end, The 11th Hour is little more than a frustrating experience. It is very clear that a great deal of effort has gone into the game. Eleven years after its release, the graphics still look quite pleasant. Navigating the mansion is a simple matter. There are a number of puzzles that should be quite entertaining to solve. But the game is lacking in too many other aspects. While the storyline is more coherent and clearer than the previous game, it is somewhat lacking in depth. There are a number of fun puzzles, but the mini-games you play against Stauf can easily become frustrating. Despite the presence of some cleverly constructed riddles, the “Treasure Hunts” boil down to annoying exercises that test your patience. The game fails to create the kind of atmosphere that draws players in and creates a feeling of immersion. It just feels like a series of puzzles with a number of puzzles thrown in between and a storyline that focuses more on past events than your own actions. Players do not even get to discover new rooms in Stauf’s mansion. The 11th Hour will only appeal to players who have truly enjoyed The 7th Guest or those looking to enjoy a few puzzles without regard for the other elements of the game.
|PC System Requirements:|
|Windows® 95 or MS-DOS 5.0|
|486DX2/66 processor (Pentium® recommended)|
|2x speed CD-ROM drive|
|8 MB RAM|
|4 MB hard disk space|
|Sound Blaster, Roland, Media Vision, Gravis Ultrasound, or 100% compatible sound card|
|Local Bus video card capable of displaying thousands of colors|
|Mouse and speakers|