Sometimes, we learn things about ourselves much too late to change them. Our actions ripple outward, touching other people, changing their lives forever; and we remain blissfully unaware of the consequences. It could be a careless word spoken in anger, or a thoughtless action, or even an inability to recognize or understand the emotional needs of another person. And it leads to unanswerable questions.
What does it take to unknowingly initiate a cycle of events that gathers momentum and becomes unmanageable? How random is life? Do we control our own destiny, our own lives? And who really pulls the strings in our day-to-day existence? The Marionette, a freeware adventure from Team Effigy, boldly attempts to answer all of these questions by taking us on an atmospheric journey through one manís life, past and present.
In this first-person point-and-click adventure, you take on the role of Martin, a failing sculptor. We quickly discover that his difficulty is building and maintaining relationships. He has no friends and cannot find models to work with him. One evening while he is working in his studio, an envelope arrives. It contains a disturbing photograph of ropes hanging in a bloodied room. Scribbled on the back of the envelope is the number 1011.
Without warning, Martin falls unconscious and wakes up outside a ramshackle old house he does not recognize. He enters the house and meets Giuseppe, an enigmatic toymaker, who may, or may not, be able to guide Martin through the nightmare scenario that is about to unfold. After sidestepping several of Martinís questions, Giuseppe reveals that a little girl once lived in the house with her parents, a girl called Alice. And she has brought Martin to this place because she wants him to understand something Ė and she will not let him go until he does.
Martinís life is in danger... and there is no turning back.
He must now move forward, exploring each room in order to find an escape back to the real world. But these are not ordinary rooms. Each of the rooms becomes more than just four walls; they become small parts of a jigsaw that highlights the unhappy memories of the mysterious Alice.
As Martin progresses through the various locations - a pretentious art gallery containing some of Martinís own pieces, a seedy apartment and an artistís studio - he realizes it is not just Aliceís life unraveling before his eyes; his own life is being dissected, too, and he doesnít like it. He begins to understand that he is too self-absorbed, too selfish, to appreciate the emotional pain he inflicts on others. But what can he do about it?
Despite his best efforts, Martin slowly loses control of events and he realizes he is becoming the Marionette; he is the one who dances to the piperís tune. It also becomes clear that it is not just Alice pulling the strings Ė somebody else lurks in the shadows, a person connected to Martinís past; a person hell-bent on revenge. If he behaves correctly and atones for his previous actions, Martin may survive. If not, he will have to face the consequences in an increasingly bizarre and surreal world.
It is the cleverly constructed graphics within The Marionette that make such a bizarre and surreal world possible. As the narrative becomes darker, so do the background graphics; the early scenes depicted in muted pastels, the later scenes dissolving into gray charcoal, evocative of death and despair. The softened comic book graphics are perfectly suited to the story, the slightly hazy and smudged effects compounding the intensity of emotions that surround Martin on all sides.
Unfortunately, there are no ambient sounds within the game; nothing creaks or groans and none of the characters have a voice. And that leads to my first, and only, criticism of this game. While the music is moody, evocative and beautifully written, it is also very repetitive. The tinkling refrain that accompanies every scene eventually becomes an irritant, especially if you are trying to unravel a complex puzzle.
And there are some very difficult puzzles in this game, although every single one of them has a logical resolution. Bear in mind that the originator of these puzzles is Alice, a child; can you think like a ten-year-old? At one point, she offers Martin a game of hangman and a numbers game, both of which provide an insight into her troubled mind. Although, I have to say that nothing is as it appears to be in this game; discount the obvious, and what remains is probably the truth.
One of the most intriguing puzzles concerns a small wooden mannequin which sits unobtrusively on a shelf. It has the most ingenious solution I have ever seen in any game. Solve this without a walkthrough and then pat yourself on the back; it may not be entirely logical, but the solution is blindingly obvious Ė if you have the vision to see it.
Most gamers will be pleased to know that there are no hotspots in this game, which means no pixel hunting. Everything you see in a room can be examined, which adds to the realistic feel of the game. And there are no red herrings; if you can pick it up, you can use it. The right mouse button cycles through the various icons situated in a bar across the top of the screen; an eye examines objects, a hand picks up things and a question mark allows conversation with anybody you can see. Be very careful when examining things, Martin will sometimes make comments that may prove to be important.
The writing in the game is excellent and exceeds anything expected from a freeware project. It has everything. Snappy dialogue, a foreshadowing of events, an intriguing storyline, a divisive subplot and strong characterization, all mixed with a small measure of verbal irony. For heavenís sake, it even dabbles with symbolism Ė showing one thing, meaning another. When did you last see anything like that in an AGS freeware game?
And, of course, like all good drama The Marionette raises more questions than it answers. Who is Giuseppe? How is he involved with Alice? Does the model house heís building have any relevance to the storyline? And why, in response to Martin asking who he is, does he respond with, ĎIím known by many names. But you can call me Giuseppe.í What other names?
And finally, who is the marionette? Alice or Martin?
Find out the answers for yourself. Download the game.