By Marty Mulrooney
The Slaughter: Act One is a Victorian noir point-and-click adventure game created by Brainchild, a one-man studio operated by Alex Francois. Described by its creator as ‘Blue Velvet meets Monkey Island‘, with a budget of £8,170 raised by 403 backers via Kickstarter in 2013, this is the first part of a three-act adventure following alcoholic private investigator Sydney Emerson as he investigates a string of grisly serial killings. Join him as he navigates the dangerous streets of Victorian London, before delving inside his head to discover the subconscious clues hidden within his dreams…
The Slaughter: Act One is firmly rooted in the past both in its presentation and setting. This is by no means a criticism. Victorian London looks truly beautiful – despite the smog and grime – and the world of The Slaughter is beautifully realised. The ’90s-style pixel art (highly reminiscent of the classic LucasArts adventure games of old) doesn’t take away from the presentation in the slightest: it enhances it and is by no means a mere gimmick. The detail is exquisite (it looks even more beautiful when it rains) and the obvious research done into the time period has truly paid off. From the moment we join Sydney Emerson, lying in a dark alleyway getting repeatedly kicked in the stomach, it feels like we’re right there with him.
It’s a dark beginning, but there’s also a rich vein of comedy running throughout the experience from the outset. Although text driven with no spoken dialogue, the writing truly shines and each character conveys their own unique personality. Sydney is a somewhat pathetic and lonely figure, drinking until he throws up and blacks out… but remains likeable despite his shortcomings. After being beaten up he is shown kindness by a beautiful prostitute. When she crosses paths with the infamous Ripper, Sydney pulls on his damp coat, avoids the landlord (he hasn’t paid his rent yet) and sets out to find the serial killer.
Traditional point-and-click adventure games live or die by the quality of their puzzles and The Slaughter: Act One doesn’t disappoint. It isn’t overly difficult to figure out each solution, but that’s because each puzzle feels organic and makes complete sense. Admittedly, some additional challenge probably wouldn’t have done any harm if implemented along the same lines. Still, it’s refreshing to have an adventure gaming experience that doesn’t need to skimp on its puzzles for the sake of pacing – story progression goes hand-in-hand with the gameplay here. Highlights include the clever utilisation of an umbrella hat and dressing up as a convincing lady of the night…
The sound effects seemed a little bit ‘flat’ at first (for lack of a better word), especially during the opening scene. However, it seems the developer was quickly made awake of this as, not long after release, there was an update that greatly improved the overall sound effect mixing. The midi-esque soundtrack – also created by Alex Francois – is delightful, perfectly suiting the mood of each scene. ‘A Client Calls’ is one tune that stands out in particular, perfectly mixing private eye brass with sinister strings.
The locations are great fun to explore, with The Crimson King pub becoming a frequent haunt for Sydney to hunt for clues… and drink himself into oblivion. Players can even enjoy a game of ‘Shove Ha’Penny’, a mini-game which proves far more addictive and engaging than it has any right to be. The frequent new locations and goals help to keep the story involving, with trips inside the dreamscapes of Sydney’s head adding a further element of intrigue and sometimes, outright horror.
The Slaughter also works brilliantly with Steam Link (just make sure to set your desktop resolution to match the output of your HDTV), with the Steam Controller doing an admirable job of emulating the game’s simple mouse-driven controls. It looks brilliant on a big screen too – the only thing missing is some voice acting to further bring the excellently written characters to life. Please note: this isn’t a complaint, as this is obviously a small indie production. Besides, voice acting could always be added in the future.
The Slaughter: Act One is a highly enjoyable adventure game that becomes even more impressive when you realise it is the passion project of just one talented developer. The story, the graphics, the music: this is all the work of one highly creative individual. Certainly, Act One feels a tad short – but doesn’t everything enjoyable always feel like it’s over a bit too soon?
Unlike many ‘episodic’ games, Act One feels like it ends at just the right moment. Here’s hoping Act Two brings some slightly more challenging puzzles and more of the same great atmosphere and storytelling. If you miss the adventure games of old, you owe it to yourself to check out The Slaughter.
9 OUT OF 10