13-Aug-2001 Patrick McCarthy thinks that a city for lost children is a good idea. Especially if you could make deposits.
I don't like children. they're nasty, sneaky little gits who, in the non-interventionist company of their bovine parents, think they have some kind of special dispensation to be complete arseholes wherever they happen to be - and get away with it. Well, not when I'm around they don't. I subscribe firmly to the Beano School of Child Discipline. If they come into my home with their dullard parents and give me any lip they get a whack across the shins with a cricket bat; if they rampage about unchecked and break my possessions, I belabour the back of their heads with a slipper made of corrugated iron until their faces go purple and they give rise to shouts of 'Ooyah,' then I kick them out of the house with my big boot that leaves large throbbing-marks on their posterior.
On the other hand, if they utilise some special gift to help me out - like using their exceptionally stretchy arms to save my hamster, stranded aboard a toy yacht in a perilous situation in the middle of the park pond - then traditional rewards will be theirs: large plates of sausage and mash, piled yards high with the sausages sticking out at funny angles, topped with three dozen fried eggs and a huge bucket of chips, for example. But since they almost never do anything like that, I spend most of my time beating them. It's much more fun anyway.
The kids are alright
If you saw The City of Lost Children at the cinema you'll know already that it was an atmospheric film from the people who made Delicatessen. You'll also know that it's... well, odd: a dark, strange tale of a 'family' of clones kidnapping kids in order to steal their dreams. The city itself is almost entirely free of children (so it's probably quite a nice place to live) because so many have been stolen and taken out to the oil rig where the clones hang out. The film deals with the attempts by Miette, a girl thief, and One, an educationally subnormal circus strongman, to save One's little brother from the unpleasant clutches of the dream-stealing clones and other scientific experiments gone wrong. They're led by Krank, a clone who can't dream and who's ageing faster than a Hale and Pace sketch. And even though it has children in it, it's still alright - if only because the children aren't Disney-fied.
It might help if you've seen the film, because you'll at least be familiar with all the characters, but if you haven't, it doesn't really matter. The game uses many of the film's elements and more or less works around the plot. But despite the fact that Marc Caro, the film's artistic director, had a lot of influence during the making of the game, knowing what happens in the film won't help you solve any of the puzzles.
Oh, what an atmosphere...
Like the film, the game looks very good indeed. The background artwork is outstanding, and captures the feel of the film very well. The attention to detail in the animation of the polygon-based figures is also excellent - it's the only game of its type that I can remember in which figures walking up or down stairs actually fit their feet to the steps - and key points in the game are punctuated by frequent pre-rendered cut-scenes.
As soon as you play it you'll think four words: 'Alone', 'In', 'The' and 'Dark'. Make that seven words, and add 'Only', 'Better' and 'Looking'. Like AITD and its successors, it's a third-person viewed adventure, with frequent camera angle changes to frame the action. Unlike any of the AITD series, you can also change the camera angles yourself at times, by pressing the spacebar when the camera icon flashes at the top right of the screen. And also unlike AITD, it's more lush than a room full of alcoholics.
As you'd expect, the AITD approach means that gameplay consists largely of exploring areas, talking to other characters and trying to find objects to pick up to use somewhere else later on. In other words, there's a lot of hard thinking involved. There's still the usual problem of games of this sort: trying to do something, knowing it can be done, but not being in exactly the right place on screen for it to work. You'll tire of hearing Miette say 'I don't think I can manage it' and 'I can't do anything'.
On the other hand, without the combat and sudden unexpected deaths associated with the aforementioned games, it's more forgiving, and a lot less frustrating. About the only enforced game-loading that occurs is if you get chucked into the cellar as punishment more than three times, because the game then ends. But since this only happens if you hang about in the orphanage schoolroom too long, it's not worth worrying about. The other element that adds to the game's charm is that there often seem to be alter-native solutions to the problems that face you. So if you're patient and like exploration and object collection, and if you've always liked Alone In The Dark-type games, but been put off by the irksome combat and constant dying, this could be the ideal game for you. Z
Atmospheric evocation of the film, with puzzles thrown in.