Driving to the Blackwood House, Michael Arthate is on his way to a new life. After a highly successful first novel, the author has chosen to move away from society and seek solitude. Alone in his new house, Michael wants to find that elusive great ending to his second book. But in his new Victorian Mansion, terrible secrets await. Michael is about to spend three days that will change him forever.
Things start going wrong as soon as Arthate arrives at his new house. The power is out and the electrician that is supposed to fix it is nowhere to be found. There are at least a dozen candelabras yet not a single candle. It is as though fates are actively conspiring against Michael. But there is something much deeper than a lack of electricity or dirty bathroom floors. From the moment you step inside the house, you will feel that something is not quite right. Diaries and news articles speak of terrible events. There is murder in the history of the Blackwood House. Carefully hidden behind locked doors, the mansionís twisted history is yearning to be uncovered.
If Scratches succeeds at one thing, it is to create a creepy and unnerving atmosphere. The eerie tunes of the soundtrack and the gloomy weather immediately create a very deliberate unsettling feeling as soon as the game begins. As you explore the house and start learning about the previous owners, the feeling of suspense grows. The clues spread throughout the house do a great job of gradually revealing the mansionís dark history. The game manages to keep you guessing and maintains the disturbing atmosphere throughout the adventure. Even after you watch the ending video, you might find yourself wandering as to what exactly went on at Blackwood House. Vital clues reveal many of the facts, but the picture feels intentionally incomplete. More than one explanation seems plausible and this only adds to the unsettling feeling so effectively conveyed by Scratches. You might find yourself thinking about the game long after the credits roll.
The game does have a couple of moments that will have most players jump back in their seats. But Scratches is not an endless array of cheap scares. You will not have hordes of zombies charging at you to tear your flesh apart. Apparitions will not sneak up to you and objects will not be inexplicably moving across the floor. Players expecting Scratches to be constant scare fest from start to finish will be disappointed. Instead of relying on visual effects, Scratches works at a psychological level. You will be constantly wondering about the secrets of the mansion. As clues propel the story forward, your own theories about the events might immerse you into the game and not let go until you reach the end.
Scratches is played from a first-person perspective and features the node-based navigation system that is common to the genre. The mouse-driven controls are extremely simple and effectively get the job done. The graphics are fairly pleasant and display an obvious attention to detail. They also work well with the overall tone of the game. However, it is the music that really sets the mood in Scratches. Especially during key moments of the game, the soundtrack is highly successful in creating a general feeling of uneasiness that makes you want to turn around and run as far as you can from the mansion grounds.
The puzzles in Scratches are nicely blended into the environment. Michaelís challenges typically revolve around gaining access into the locked rooms of the house or various buildings located in the mansion grounds. A great portion of the house is immediately accessible at the beginning of the game. But, in order to discover important clues and understand the history of the mansion, Michael has to search every corner and keep his eyes open. The puzzles have quite logical solutions and the hotspots do not feel unfair. Players should not have too much trouble with the gameís challenges if they carefully observe each area and make note of the items they canít immediately use as well as areas that are initially inaccessible. The game also has a built-in hint system that can prove to be useful.
One important and uncommon aspect of Scratches is the passage of time within the game. Michaelís adventure spans three days and time moves forward as the author solves puzzles or finds important clues. While this system might initially seem a bit arbitrary, Scratches does factor the time of day into the story and uses it to give direction to Michaelís actions.
It is worth noting that Michael has to revisit certain locations several times throughout the game. The progression is not completely linear in terms of how Michael will move from one section of the house to the next. Making a discovery in one room often gives the author a reason to return to a previously visited location in order to advance the story. Unfortunately, it may not always be clear where Michael needs to go next. Overlooking a small clue can lead to some unnecessary wondering around the house. Thankfully, this does not seriously take away from the gaming experience and does not lead to unreasonable amounts of backtracking.
A somewhat greater concern is that players can all too easily get through the entire game without encountering all the details about the story. While there is nothing wrong with a game that has an open ending and challenges you to think about all the different clues presented, some players could easily get through the game and not catch on elements that can change the interpretation of the events. To get the most out of playing Scratches, adventurers would be advised to pay close attention to the details and carefully read all the documents they can find. There could even be good benefits to playing the game for a second time after completing it once. Going over some of the documents knowing the gameís ending should put the clues in a different perspective.
The vast majority of Scratches takes place within the house. The architecture of the main building feels well-thought-out and appropriate. The game also features a number of other locations near the main building. The chapel, the crypt, and the greenhouse make nice additional areas to explore. Covering the mansion grounds and completing the game without the aid of a walkthrough should take in the order of nine to twelve hours. However, the game could have benefited from a few more locations and some more challenges for Michael to overcome.
Scratches is most certainly a valiant and commendable first effort from Nucleosys, but it is not an excellent adventure game. The story is intriguing and the atmosphere is strong, but it still leaves something to be desired. A far greater degree of plot depth has been attained by many other adventure games. The ending challenges you to contemplate the possible explanations, yet it does not leave you completely satisfied. It seems as though there should have been a bit more to the mystery. The puzzles have been nicely integrated with the environment and do not hinder the flow of the game, but the game could have definitely benefited from some more challenges and more opportunity for exploration. Scratches is a good game, but it does not have the extra spark that would have taken it to the top level. However, if you are looking for a creepy adventure game with a solid storyline, Scratches is still an easy recommendation.