After much success with Lifestream, Christopher Brendel is back with another tale to tell; this one decidedly creepy and thoroughly enjoyable at the same time. In the companion guide, Chris explains how Shady Brook was originally intended to be the script for an independent horror film. The film was to be a compilation of short stories that were all horror influenced. Due to mismatched timing and the filmmaker ultimately deciding to scrap the project, Chris made the decision to give the story its life through the adventure game. While the making of Shady Brook was an undertaking fraught with obstacles, Chris still managed to make it happen. We’re glad he did.
The Opening Scene
“My name is Anthony Clave. If you are hearing this, then I am likely dead. But, don’t worry about that. I know they’re on to us. It’s too late to do anything about it. But, it’s not too late for you. What I am about to say may seem far fetched. But, I assure you it is the truth. This town is not safe. There are certain events that take place here….terrible events. The proof is there. I am positive of that. Look if you must, but get out. Get away from this place and never look back. They found me!”
After watching this mysterious cut scene introduction, the scene and the mood immediately changes direction. We’re now watching a car rolling into town accompanied by some great county flavored driving music. Over the hills and through the mountains we go! We get a brief glimpse of a sign by the side of the road welcoming us to Shady Brook.
You will play as Jake Tobin, a writer who needs some peace and quiet in order to rejuvenate his creative juices. It seems Jake is writing a story about a small town. Shady Brook seems like the perfect inspiration. Jake’s not alone either. He brought his father along so he could spend some quality time with him. Jake’s father has been blind since birth and Jake figures it will be a nice change for him to experience a new place.
So, this all seems pretty nice, right? You walk around town and meet the locals. Everyone seems so nice. It’s a little odd that the last owner of the house seemed to have just disappeared out of the blue, but maybe he had debts or relationship trouble. Surely, it’s nothing to worry about. Well, hold on to that comfortable feeling for as long as you can. You’ll soon find out that this town is not what it seems. Everyone here has a secret and they’re not too keen on you finding out any of the details. The more you get to know these people, the more you’re sure something really bad going on. Even more disturbing is the suicide of a local who seemed to be estranged from the rest of the townsfolk. Everything in Jake’s head is telling him not to get involved, but his heart is telling him he must. What peril awaits Jake? Well, if I told you, then you wouldn’t play the game.
Shady Brook is a 1st person point and click adventure/horror. The game comes in a jewel case with one DVD-R. This is important to know as the game will not play in a CD-Rom drive. And, there have been some problems with older DVD drives not being able to read the game. It is important to visit the website at www.unimatrixproductions.com to determine if you will be able to run the game before purchasing. Having run this game on a newer system, no problems were encountered during the install. The game did freeze up a couple of times, but corrected itself in a couple of minutes. After installing the game you have choices that you must make. The first is a choice of censored or non-censored. Having chosen the non-censored mode, I can tell you that there are a couple of curse words, some nudity and some graphic (horror wise) cut scenes. Obviously, the censored version would limit these features. I personally was not offended by the non-censored version, but this is up to the individual. I wouldn’t recommend it for younger gamers. The next choice you have to make is in choosing whether to play the timed and non-adventure puzzles. If you choose Adventure Only mode, these timed/non-adventure elements will be skipped completely. To be honest, these puzzles were not really difficult and pose no real scare requiring you to skip them.
This time around, we have a lot more characters to interact with. There is Jake’s father of course. He’s rather quiet so you won’t be doing a lot of talking to him. Every character you meet has something odd about them that you just can’t quite put your finger on. The first member of the town you get to meet is Tim Richardson. He’s one of those guys who wants to be your best friend right away and is quick to offer any help. He will remind you of a used car salesman. Can he be trusted? There is the town doctor who lives with his Mother. He’s not married and unlikely to be with such a non-existent dating pool in town. There’s just something not right about him. His mother or Mom; as everyone in town calls her; is the town’s authority on gossip. Be that as it may, she never truly spills much dirt. Most of her conversation is spent gushing about her son. Ethan Morrow is the town’s priest. You’ll want to take a shower after speaking to him. There is an icky vibe about him that almost seems as if it would rub off on you. There are quite a few obnoxious bullies. Curly is the most notorious. It’s always amusing when a bald headed man uses a name like Curly. Curly is always ready to fight and he’s the most hated person in town. The Sheriff, who you expect to me a little nicer, is extremely guarded and has quite the attitude. The only people who seem normal are Nick and Kate Ekan. Kate seems to be quite genuine and kind. The same goes for her husband. Well, it ends up being true for only one of them. Which one will be for you to discover. These are only some of the characters you will encounter in good old Shady Brook.
In comparison to Lifestream, there has been a great improvement in the animation and rendering of the characters. There are more distinct looks to each of them and the close-ups are really great. They still have a few odd body mannerisms, but on the whole, this element was well done. There is a decent amount of dialog in Shady Brook. Moving the story along relies on it. The story is broken up into 5 days (Monday thru Friday). There are specific tasks to complete before you can move on to the next day. Most of these tasks are dialog related. It would have been more preferable to have the dialog have a more natural flow. A lot of it consists of options such as “Tell me about the town”, “Tell me about the gas station”, “Tell me about the Church” etc… At least phrasing the question in a different way would have made it more interesting. But, the information you receive comes across more naturally. And, it really only happens at the beginning of the game where Jake is trying to learn the most information all at once. Most of the voice acting was excellent, but Jake’s voice left something to be desired. There wasn’t much vocal inflection and he sounded as though he took an overdose of some medication. This also could account for the less than natural tone to the questions as mentioned above.
When I first played the game last year, I kept wondering why Chris would choose that voice. It wasn’t until almost a year later that I stumbled upon an interview with Chris over at Just Adventure. It was there that I learned that Chris originally had a professional voice actor who ended up quitting half way through. So, the new voice was the replacement voice and not one that Chris was entirely happy with. Nevertheless, he had no choice but to go forward with it. Fortunately, the other actors’ excellence makes up for this. Of special note was the voice acting for Kate. Truly believable and moving!
Like Lifestream, Shady Brook has also been created using Adventure Maker. Adventure Maker is a game engine that is available to all aspiring game creators. There is a limited free version available and a small price tag for the full version which can be used to create a commercial game. Adventure Maker primarily utilizes slide-show still frames/pictures as backgrounds. In similar fashion to Lifestream, the backgrounds are pretty simplistic. The mountains and the grass were quite odd looking, but they serve their purpose. However, there are more locations to visit in Shady Brook. Aside from Jake’s house and one of the neighbor’s houses, there is the local bar, a general store, a diner, a Laundromat, a church complete with cemetery and a few others. Besides, small towns are usually understated anyway. Of note was the church location. It was very nicely detailed. And, Chris really put a lot of effort into those cut scenes and it was well worth it. They were so enjoyable to watch. Drama! Again, just like Lifestream, the real beauty of the game is in the story. The music is an added bonus for this game also. The piano composition at the beginning of the game was downright beautiful. I would have loved to hear the whole piece, but alas it was cut short. It then transitions into some cool down home driving music. Great use of music! It started the game off just right. Ambient sounds were also appropriate and fit well.
While some may debate me on this, I actually liked the story in Shady Brook even better than the one in Lifestream. After you see the first cut scene, it’s already in your head that something is wrong. So, when you meet the first characters, you’re already looking at them funny and wondering what the story will be. Are they all related and inbreeding? Are they some kind of clone? You just can’t help yourself. Shady Brook is not a happy tale by any means. The whole game is clouded in mystery and ends up being quite sad in places. There was one particular part of the game towards the end that had me slightly devastated. Near the end, you start to get an idea of what the finale will be like, but you won’t be sure of why or how.
As for puzzles, some may be disappointed. There aren’t many to speak of. Lifestream certainly had many more of them. For the most part, the puzzles are on the easier side for a seasoned gamer. I spent a decent amount of time on a strange box puzzle that involved opening a lock by putting small screws into the correct place. It seemed like it would be a piece of cake, but wasn’t. You will get to decode a message and figure out a mirror puzzle that involves getting a beam of light to reflect in the right direction. If you chose the non-adventure mode, you will have to fight Curly. Fighting is not normally my forte but triumph was easily accomplished by rapid alternate clicking of both mouse buttons. Also in the non-adventure mode is a pipe puzzle similar to something you’d find in a Nancy Drew game only timed. The pool game ended up being the most frustrating. You’ll have to play Nick in a game of pool. You use your right mouse button to rotate the cue stick and the left button to shoot the ball. It doesn’t seem so bad until you’re left with only the 8 ball. Getting that damn ball in the hole was a nightmare. And, since Nick isn’t that great a pool player either, it can take quite a bit of time. Fortunately, if Nick does win, you get the option to get an automatic win for yourself and move on. There are a few inventory puzzles as well, but they are pretty logical.
Most of your time will be spent figuring out where to go next and who to talk to. You will spend a fair amount of time running back and forth in your quest. A helpful tool provided is a checklist. The checklist provides current details on what tasks you need to complete for the day. During game play, the list is updated as new objectives are added and completed objectives are removed. The checklist can be accessed in your inventory by dragging the examine icon onto the list. For those of you who are competitive in nature, points are also awarded for each objective completed. Due to the fact that objectives can be completed in a non-linear fashion, it is possible to miss some. But, you can still move on to the next day. I ended up about 40 points short of the total. Not bad in my estimation. You’ll be happy to know that with all that running around you will be doing, the transitions from node to node are no longer animated making for a much faster travel pace. Getting around is simple. There are clearly marked large directional arrows. There is a set of lips to indicate conversation, a magnifying glass for examining, and a small hand for picking up items. Inventory is accessed by running your cursor over the word “inventory” at the top of the game screen. A right click will access the area where you can save, load or exit the game. You can save as often as you like.
Like Lifestream, Shady Brook also has an Official Companion Guide offered on the website for purchase. It contains character profiles, complete walkthrough, story notes and a full list of in-game easter eggs. Thanks Chris for providing us with those hilarious easter eggs again.
In conclusion, the high points of Shady Brook are the immersive and dark storyline, interesting characters, good music and worthy cut scenes. It would have been great to see more puzzles in the game. Those who are really into games with a lot of puzzles will likely be turned off. Those demanding top notch graphics will also be disappointed. But, if the high points listed above fall into your gaming niche, then head over to the website at www.unimatrix.com and get yourself a copy. I’m glad I did and I look forward to more of what Christopher Brendel has to offer us. His games are unique and add needed flavor to our gaming world.
Final Grade: 80/100