Horror-themed puzzle & exploration game with pre-rendered 3D environments, cinematic cutscenes, nice puzzles, and abysmal gameplay and interface.
Despite the strong positive vibes of nostalgia I cannot in good conscience recommend this game in this day and age. This game originally came out in '93 and it hasn't aged that well. While the puzzles are still good and the premise and story bits of the game are alright, the game has too many infuriating flaws for most people to be able to look past them.
Basically you wander around the abandoned mansion of a crazy doll-maker Henry Stauf and solve puzzles to unlock new cutscenes and rooms with more puzzles. The puzzles themselves are mostly fun, but there are several annoyances that make it difficult to enjoy this game.
First of all, the movement happens on rails, i.e. when you click to move forward or to sides, you enter a static animated sequence that turns the camera and/or moves it to the next location, during which the game will not respond to input. The movement sequences are extremely, infuriatingly slow and unskippable. It gets even worse when you click on a random interactive object and the game takes you on a completely unpredictable, surreal trip to another location, and you have to slowly walk back to where you came from. You will
learn to hate the gameplay for this alone.
While you're solving puzzles, you'll get abruptly interrupted by voice sequences of the main villain mocking you and the protagonist thinking to himself, which make the game unresponsive for their duration. Sometimes Stauf or your character give you clues pertaining to the goal of the puzzle, and mostly these are played back only once (you can retrigger them by exiting from and restarting the puzzle), but there are of course exceptions and it makes you wonder if this game was poorly playtested as it really gets old fast hearing the same lines over and over again if you need to reset a puzzle. Often the interruptions consist of the villain making fun of your inadequate problem solving skills and laughing in your face. For example, there's a chess knight-piece puzzle during which Stauf will say "Don't take all night" every five moves or so, and due to the fact that the puzzle mechanics themselves are so extremely slow that it indeed will
take you all night, you will end up muting audio to maintain your sanity.
The puzzle mechanics themselves mostly consist of clicking on pre-rendered at-the-time spectacular 3D objects which are then moved around sometimes at excruciatingly slow speeds which introduces yet more arbitrary waiting to the gameplay. For most puzzles this wasn't such a big problem but there are instances that are guaranteed to frustrate you because you'll feel that the game is unnecessarily wasting your time by forcing you to wait between actions.
Essentially, everything in this game is slow - even the menus are loyal to this quirkiness by forcing you to wait during unnecessary animations and audio clips. You're also forced to write the name of your savegame by clicking on fancy letters with your mouse - it's not like you'd likely be equipped with a more convenient input device for entering letters after all. If you enter the menu while you're in a larger area- if only to check the map to see which rooms have unsolved puzzles - when you return to the game it will teleport you to a default location, forcing you to manually walk back to where you were when you entered the menu screen.
The graphics, while being jawdropping when this game came out, of course ain't pretty by today's standards, but I wouldn't say they're unbearable either. Some of the scenes still look fine and obviously a lot of effort went into designing the interiors of the mansion. Goes without saying that we're used to much higher quality graphics rendered in real-time these days, so being forced to navigate this environment via unskippable animated sequences may drive you mad nonetheless.
The music in this game is actually very good. While the soundtrack consists of MIDI tracks which sound a bit ridiculous and thin, the compositions themselves are noteworthy.
If you can tolerate the myriad of annoyances this game throws at you, the puzzles are still good after 20 years and even the story and setting hold some intrigue, but be warned that the fundamentals of the gameplay are crippled to a point that would be deemed absolutely unacceptable in today's standards.
Oh right, and: Went in through a billiard table pocket. Came out of the oven. 5/5 would trip again.