Under the umbrella of a classic setting…
There’s nothing more powerful in an adventure game than a special atmosphere backed by a solid script. Imagine angry rain tapping against your window, while the same phenomenon is being described on your monitor. You look outside to see a possibly desolate landscape, and the pixels illustrate all sorts of washed-out, mud, metal or cement nuances that unveil New York City, trapped in an endless storm.
You are David McNamara, a D.C shrink. For reasons unknown, your wife won’t have anything to do with you and almost everyone treats you like you were a deranged lunatic. Despite of it all, you are recruited to solve the mystery of five amnesiac teenagers locked in a sanatorium that looks just like “1960s Romania”, as one of the characters bluntly puts it. In order to complete your task, you’ve got a PDA that sends and receives messages, dials phone numbers and records conversations.
The first thing you get unpleasantly struck by are the graphics – way below standards, with prerendered backgrounds that lack details. The occasional camera movement is shown by playing already-made animations that run behind the characters. Moments like these are rough, slow, and unnatural. From the first few moments of the game you wonder whether such a presentation could really sustain a product as a whole, if it could truly spark life in an artificial world. You decide to give it a shot, thinking a game with relatively serious flaws can compensate through extraordinary qualities in such a way that its value stands as a whole, not split into categories. The interface itself is decent, while the overall design and artistic direction somehow remind you of Fahrenheit (aka Indigo Prophecy), with the same palette of urban, slightly depressing textures.
The dialogue confuses you in the beginning, resembling rather daily, casual talk than a script. The characters themselves stutter and say things that aren’t the end product of a minimalistic approach. Even so, they have a tendency of being straightforward, so the conversations about the weather will be rather scarce. Something about this game pushes you forward, always serving small ratios of information about the unseen face of the story. It’s really hard to unglue yourself once hooked, always intrigued by your wife’s evasive attitude, the sanatorium staff’s dubious behavior and the main character’s dark past. There aren’t many moments in which you can breathe out easily, and the mysteries themselves are very well linked to one another.
Besides the main narrative, once you start out investigating the sanatorium, the patients give you flashbacks from their own perspective. They unwind in reverse chronology, much like the movies “Memento” or “Irreversible”; a pretty interesting technique, given the fact that you end up biting your fingernails to see the beginning, only knowing the end of it all. Moreover, since the memories’ narration is provided by different people infuses the storyline with a Rashomon-like feeling, granted there’s no objective reality and each man has his own slice of rightful principles, even those who seem like villains in the others’ memories.
The rain came down upon my head
Unshelter’d – and the heavy wind
Was giant like – so thou, my mind!
It was but man, I thought.” – E.A. Poe, “Tamerlane
Around this point you begin to notice a pretty nasty side of the game: a lot of puzzles are pure routine and the mechanics repeat themselves in different forms enough times to become annoying. For instance, you have to replay parts of the conversations McNamara has with the patients in order to make the others remember. Then there’s the cliché that turns into a flaw. More precisely, we already know that classic type of puzzle that requires the distraction of a character to grab an object he so firmly guards. It’s just that in Overclocked you need to grab an item some NPC won’t let you get about a couple times, and the solutions are utterly stupid. However, being as spoiler-free as the review is, you’ll have to discover them on your own.