Reviewed by Mark Hasley
About fifteen months ago a new game entitled Scratches hit the retail shelves. It was smoothly operating, eerie, and evidently a good deal more successful than the usual adventure game. I thoroughly enjoyed it and was all set to write a glowingly positive review. Unfortunately for me, somebody else had already written a better review than I could have written and had said all the positive things that I wanted to say, so I remained quiet, played the game at least three times, and was (and still am) impressed. The game had all the 'good stuff' and none of the 'bad stuff' usually found in an adventure game.
Now, after barely a year, and after a fairly large number of Scratches fans have moved on to other games, there comes Scratches: Director’s Cut. With it comes a good many new things, some evidence of extremely clever people at the forefront of this company, an unexpected bonus, and hints of even more good stuff in the near future. It seldom gets better than this for an adventure gamer.
It is not my intention to re-review the earlier game. Indeed, this is being written on the assumption that the player who is bothering to read this has played the original Scratches. That being the case, I will simply note that there are no plot changes from the original game. The player still plays Michael Arthate. Michael is still a writer who has arrived at Blackwood Manor to spend a quiet weekend finishing his novel. The manor is still old, deserted, and spooky. Since this is an adventure game, the gamer knows immediately that there is more here than initially meets the eye. As Michael, the player hears strange sounds, reads a few odd things, and '...the game's afoot'. I am fairly sure that there are no differences in the plot or in any of the scenes.
So the natural question is, “Why bother?” The first, but certainly not the only, answer is that the game looks better this time. Keep in mind that the game looked pretty good before. As fate would have it, I had just finished replaying the original game when Scratches: Director’s Cut hit the shelves. Therefore the original game was rather fresh in my mind. I am not overstating when I claim that the game’s visual effects are much improved. The colors are more gloomily brilliant, the storm is stormier, and even the distant trees seem more foreboding. The sky changes color and mood as the game progresses. The changes are the types of changes made between MYST and Realmyst. All the visual elements in the new Scratches are as good as they were, only much better. The new visual improvements are striking.
There is also a new and even more disturbing soundtrack. Again everything is the same while being much more effective and different. In the original game, a piano followed the player around most of the time. The same is true in this latest version. The additions simply seem to add to the impact and add a nervous evolution. I know little about music and usually don’t even bother to say much about soundtracks for games, but I bought this one to add to my very small but creepy collection (all the MYST games, Barrow Hill, etc).
At this point, any reader should be legitimately asking, “OK, but do those things make it worth another $20.00?” That’s a fair question and if that were the end of the additions, I would probably say “No!" The game is prettier, and scarier, and sounds a bit better, but it’s still the same game. However, there is a good deal more material to discuss. This version of the game also contains a pair of significant additions.
There is, first of all, Michael’s journal. It wasn’t in the original game but now appears in the inventory and functions very nicely as a collection of hints, a reminder of what has happened, and as a noteworthy collection of items which must be found or accomplished before the player can play and view an alternate ending. It is located in the inventory, and need only be clicked on and the player is able to read the material without difficulty. The journal is automatically written in as the game proceeds, but the comments that Michael writes are feelings and awarenesses to which a gamer has never before been privy. Not only does a player get clever insights into the character, but the journal entries also create a rather strange atmosphere, because the player is playing a first person game but has no idea what he (Michael) is really thinking until the game writes those thoughts down. The odd feeling of learning more about who he is playing, as he is playing, is a truly unique pleasure for the player.
The new game also includes several well-advertised 'Easter Eggs'. Frankly, I have never considered 'Easter Eggs' to be a particularly fun part of any game. They seem always to be of the ‘cute’ variety and generally seem to appear in games that ought not to be (in my opinion) ‘cute.’ Scratches: Directors Cut is no exception. However if a player enjoys goofy elements in an otherwise serious game, there are 'Eggs' here. They are generally clever, lighten things up a bit, and do not distract at all, so I must admit that they weren’t a negative element.
Much more interesting is the aforementioned alternative ending. It took me forever to discover how to activate it (to be honest, I never figured it out, but there are lots of really smart and friendly people who read Mr. Bill’s website). Unlike the original ending, which drove lots of discussion for quite some time, the new ending to the old game is fairly final. It isn’t necessarily better, just more complete. It was well worth the trouble though, and provided an interesting and very different possibility.
The really good item has yet to be mentioned. There is also what can only be described as a new chapter to the game. It is not an alternative ending. It is titled The Last Visit, and can be played from the game menu after or without playing the entire game again. It plays exactly like the game itself. It involves a new and nameless reporter who is ordered to return to Blackwood Manor several years after the original story took place, but just days before the old house is to be torn down. After a phone conversation provides some exposition where Michael and another character from the original game are briefly but finally dealt with, the reporter drives through the very recognizable gates of Blackwood Manor, where he sees a not very recognizable house. The old building has been let go and rather thoroughly ransacked by vandals. There are several lovely images of all that Victorian gorgeousness having been pretty well looted. The reporter wanders around and learns some things, and the game ends. I purposely kept that pretty terse to avoid spoilers, but it’s a clever and noteworthy addition to the ending of the original game (although it does not fit with the 'Alternative’ ending).
Once the individual has purchased Scratches: Director’s Cut, he has the opportunity to download a huge Update (about 500 MB) and also a Patch (about 600 KB). In honesty, I’m not sure what it patches because I never played the game without it. There is some suggestion that it smoothes some operating problems and makes the alternative ending a bit easier to find. The Last Visit was on the purchased disk and was not part of a download. [ Note: After this review was completed and filed, Nucleosys and Got Game Entertainment added another possibility to the situation. They made available a disk, clearly labeled 'Disk 2', which contains all of the added material and the patch that I was able to download and have mentioned. After I sent this review off, I emailed the company and asked for the disk. It was sent without question or hesitation. I went through this disk carefully and it contained all of the same material contained in the giant update and patch noted above. The company assured me that this disk will be included with all later versions of the game, and that a player will not need to download anything to get all of the visual improvements, and the new soundtrack, with which I was so impressed. Along with a couple of minor repairs, these were the game elements contained in the original download. I did have them when I reviewed the game. I simply didn't know their source until this disk was released. ]
This new game is a very strange item to review because the new game is sort of the same as the old game with wonderfully entertaining additions. It has a new ending in the form of an alternative ending as well as a short but very entertaining sequel called The Last Visit. The newer version is more creepily pretty, more audially frightening, and simply more fun.
Finally, it should be noted that the various game sites have lots of comments about "slowness of play" and “operating problems”, but I experienced none of those difficulties with my aging Windows XP. The game ran easily and smoothly throughout, but there was a time or two when it seemed to take a long time for a particular door to open.
To add a final possibility to this Scratches: Director’s Cut situation, there are, dangling out there in the netherworlds of the Internet, some extremely intriguing rumors about some further additions to the game. According to 'those who should know', there will soon be an even newer download that will contain another new chapter. This addition should add material that occurs after The Last Visit. There is also a suggestion that there may well be other ‘stuff ’ added to the game that will further the ongoing plot and add some possible answers to the long list of questions. I have no idea of if any of this will actually take place, but I will be ready for any and all of these possibilities.
That is it. Not only is Scratches: Director’s Cut a thoroughly entertaining improvement to the original game, but it also appears to set up a series of possibilities for future game development while adding to the enjoyment of the old game. If you liked Scratches, you will love Scratches: Director’s Cut. If you haven’t played the game yet, then turn out the lights, turn up the sound, and get ready for some real entertainment. Either way, any gamer should have a great time with Scratches: Director’s Cut.
© July 2007 Mark Hasley
Developed (2004) by Nucleosys Digital Studio and published by Got Game Entertainment.
Rated: T for Teen 13+ (alcohol and tobacco reference, blood, mild language, mild violence)
Minimum System Requirements:
PC: Pentium IV 800 MHz Processor (1.6 GHz Recommended); Windows 98 SE / 2000 / XP; 128 MB RAM (256 MB Recommended); 24X CD-ROM Drive; 16 MB OpenGL Compatible Video Card (32 MB Recommended); Sound Card (5.1 Surround Sound Card Recommended); Approximately 900 MB of Free Hard Drive Space (Includes CD #2 or Downloaded Update); Mouse
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