Ben Jordan: Case 5:
Land of the Rising Dead
|Review by Thaumaturge
Heavy clouds hang solemnly over the Scottish countryside as he climbs the small hillock. He kneels at the grave that crowns the hill, speaking sorrowfully to the one interred within, one that he had loved. He is sorry, so sorry for the way that events unfolded...
The hand that thrusts from the grave to grab his wrist startles him awake, as it has done every night since he returned from London to his native United States. Awake now, and perhaps unwilling to risk a return to that graveside, Ben Jordan, paranormal investigator, decides to face the new day.
This new day holds a surprise for him, however. Despite the early hour, the telephone rings, and on the other end he hears the voice of Simon Booth, one of the two fellow paranormal investigators that he befriended while investigating the Horror at Number 50. Also on the line is the other, Alice Wilkins, and having contacted them both Simon relates a potential case to them, one that he suggests that they investigate together. It seems that there have been a number of murders in Osaka, Japan, with elements that have led to them being named “The Ghost Murders.” Ben and Alice both agree readily, and arrangements are made for them to travel to Japan.
Once there, the investigation begins. Ben’s first port of call is the police station, where the lead investigator and some less-than-legal methods will grant him his first leads. In his investigation Ben will speak with heads of corporations, a sushi chef, villagers, and more. He will explore locations both within the city of Osaka as well as a nearby village, a place whose tranquility is overshadowed by suspicious deaths. Ben and his friends will face danger, and a villain with no apparent compunctions about using very underhanded tactics, or the removal of those that threaten his ambitions. Ben will even get to be the guest star of a television programme – if not one that he will likely look back on with fondness.
The events from Ben’s third case will continue to cast a shadow over him. It was the case that took him to the little Scottish town of Smailholm, a place in which he found both love and grief. Since then he has not allowed himself to move on, has not allowed himself to see what may be closer than he thinks.
The story told in Ben Jordan 5 has an interesting premise. A series of murders is being committed, seemingly by a supernatural agency and for reasons unknown. The path that the player is given to take is interesting, even if it may not be the best one ever to grace a game. Better yet, the relationship between Ben and Alice adds a little emotional weight to the story, especially given that Ben’s grief over events at Smailholm not yet fully resolved. While the characters are perhaps a little flat, they are nonetheless somewhat interesting. The cast may not be as eclectic or as interesting as that which convened in the last case, but it should at least keep players interested for the duration of the adventure. Overall, I would say that the writing isn’t bad, if not perfect, although the climax is perhaps not as strong as those found in the previous two games in the series.
As in previous cases, an excerpt from "The Paranormal Investigator’s Handbook" has been provided. This provides background to the type of villain faced in this case – zombies and their masters – as well as the hint that has also accompanied previous extracts from this “book”. As with the excerpts given with the previous cases, this one is decently-written, with a good presentation – and here again I note with pleasure the touch of having it signed as belonging to “B. Jordan” on the back cover. A point in the “handbook’s” favor, in my mind at least, is that it explains zombies through medicine rather than going to the classic “walking corpse” explanation.
Graphically Ben Jordan 5 is on average a definite improvement over its predecessors. The backdrops continue to improve, especially that used to depict Ben’s bedroom. When compared with the same scene as portrayed in the first three episodes, the new image shows a marked improvement. The character sprites are also better in this installment. However, perhaps the most striking examples of this improvement lie in the character portraits. A number of these are much better than some of the portraits seen previously, most notably the improved portraits for Ben, Simon and Mary Blaine.
Slightly less impressive is the map used to take Ben between locations. While it does have the look of a real map (and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if a real map had in fact been used), it looks a little dull, and the background shows what appear to be some artifacts of image compression when viewed at full-screen.
Musically, Land of the Rising Dead is good, if perhaps a little inferior to the previous games in the series. However, I feel that the music does in general sound appropriate to the settings and moods that it supports, and does so to good effect.
In terms of gameplay, the interface is essentially the same as that used in Ben Jordan Case 4, with the exception that the cellular telephone is no longer available. Ben is controlled by single clicks of the left mouse button, the nature of the desired action being specified by the mouse cursor being used at the time. There are five standard mouse cursors available: a miniature Ben in mid-stride to instruct Ben to walk to a spot, an eye to instruct him to describe an object or place, a pointing hand to instruct him to use or otherwise interact with an object or place, a speech bubble containing an exclamation mark to instruct him to make small talk with a person, and a speech bubble containing a question mark to instruct him to begin a conversation with a character, either asking them questions or telling them something important.
These cursors can be selected from by two means: firstly, they are available via icons found on a bar that pops up when the cursor is moved to the top of the game screen, and secondly they can be found by clicking the right mouse button, each click of which causes the mouse cursor to cycle to the next available cursor.
Also found via the icon bar at the top of the game screen is the inventory, represented by an image of one of Ben’s pockets. Clicking on this icon causes Ben’s inventory to be displayed on the screen, containing all of the potentially-important items that Ben is carrying at the time. Available in this view are icons that allow the player to examine, interact with or select items from the inventory. When an item is selected, the current cursor is replaced by a new one in that item’s image, which becomes available via right clicks in the same manner as the standard cursors, allowing players to perform other standard actions before using a selected item without requiring that they reopen and reselect that item. Clicking on an object (whether one found in the game world or Ben’s inventory) or place while this item cursor is selected instructs Ben to attempt to use the selected item with the object or place specified by the click.
As is usual in the Ben Jordan games, a notepad is available to remind players of important tasks and information. This notepad is, I feel, better used in this game than in the previous, although I would have liked to have seen more important information being recorded in it.
The puzzles to be solved in Land of the Rising Dead are primarily of the inventory kind, although there is one quiz and one code, the latter of which, however, is optional.
The aforementioned quiz stands out to me as a curiosity in this game. It takes place in a setting quite aside from the main plot of the game, and is a style of puzzle not common to the Ben Jordan games thus far. This odd excursion can be, depending on your point of view, either a brief and amusing diversion from the main plot, or an annoying and irrelevant detraction from it.
It is, I feel, worth mentioning that it is possible to die at a few points in the plot. If this happens, the player is presented with a death screen, featuring a short rhyme on their demise, and the options to restore a saved game, restart the game, or quit.
In conclusion, Ben Jordan: Paranormal Investigator, Case 5: Land of the Rising Dead, is a good game. Given that it is distributed as freeware, is of decent length for a freeware game, and at around 23MB should not be too large for those of us restricted to modems to download, I would recommend this game to those interested in the genre and themes, and especially to those who have played and enjoyed the other games in the Ben Jordan series.
|PC System Requirements:|
|Pentium® 600 Mhz|
|128 MB RAM|
|Video card capable of 320x200|
|or 640x480 in 16-Bit Color|
|Windows® Compatible Sound Card|
|Keyboard, Mouse, Speakers|
|(Note: This game may well run on slower|
|machines than listed above)|