August 2, 2009

Frankenstein: Through the Eyes of The Monster,
By Elise Bottle

A friend of Frankensteinia, Elise Bottle of Sydney, Australia, found a copy of the 1995 PC game Frankenstein: Through the Eyes of the Monster. She gave it a spin for us and reports on her experience.

Being in the public domain, the Frankenstein story is good fodder for any creative team in the cutthroat world of the entertainment industry. It’s no different in video games — a quick search on any major gaming website reveals over a dozen titles using the name. While Castlevania and Darkstalkers, which only feature The Monster and his creator as incidental characters, have enjoyed success, most of the games that actually cast the gruesome twosome in the limelight seem to fall into obscurity. But do they really deserve to be ignored? Surely a quick rummage through the bargain bin can occasionally turn up a rare gem or two?

When I saw Interplay’s Frankenstein: through the Eyes of a Monster on sale for a mere ten bucks, I quickly snapped it up. Firstly, I’m a Frankenstein nut, which should be fairly obvious since I’m writing for a Frankie-themed blog. Second, I prefer the slow, steady pace of adventure games as opposed to trying to frantically blow the guts out of some giant enemy crab and end up falling of a cliff in the process. Third, this game has Tim Curry, aka Dr Frank N. Furter of Rocky Horror fame, as the eponymous mad scientist – need I say more?

One of the nifty things I noticed when I opened the box was the game’s manual. Of course, a manual is always essential, but what made me smile was the short, if watered-down history of Frankenstein and its adaptations, although some fans may disagree with the praise given to Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein of 1994. Either way, I thought it was a nice little addition to the package and I’m sure that somebody who worked on the game was a Frankie fan to have put the time into researching the info for the manual.

But what of the game itself? Well… that’s were things start to go downhill.

The game’s blurb claims that you play as The Monster, but actually, you’re a scientist, Philip, falsely accused for the murder of his daughter Gabrielle. Found guilty and executed, then brought back to life by mad Dr Frankenstein (Tim Curry), you are basically held prisoner by him in his castle and you have to somehow escape. Personally I feel a bit cheated by this storyline, since it’s not like Phil is even suffering amnesia, having to remember what happened or anything. The original story, and even the Universal and Hammer movie adaptations to an extent, were about The Monster not really understanding the finer details of the world around him and having to learn it all the hard way. Really, it’s a minor gripe, but it just bugs me.

It wouldn’t bug me so much if Phil weren’t so obnoxious. Seriously, the guy never stops whining, and will do so at the drop of a hat. Oh, and did I mention that his voice actor sucks? In fact, apart from Tim, it seems that Interplay recruited its cast at the local amateur theatre club. “Hey folks, wanna be in a video game and get famous?”

The characters, excluding Phil (you’ll only ever hear his voice), are played by live actors — a huge fad for video games of the era — with mixed results, and they are made to look small compared to the environments, not ridiculously so, mind you, but you can just tell that the scaling is off. What’s more, on the rare occasion characters ‘interact’ with each other, you can tell they were filmed separately. Bleh.

Then, the graphics. To be fair, this game is fairly old, being made back in 1995, so the graphics are dated, though they fare OK when compared to other games of the era — pretty, but stiff — but the design is drab and dull. Of course, this is a horror game so it isn’t meant to be cheery, but this castle hardly evokes a feeling of creeping dread or anything like that. Apart from the odd gruesome discovery in Vicky’s lab, Frankenstein Castle could be your run-of-mill tourist trap. And you’re going to need maps for this game — the lazy designers use the same set of images for the many winding corridors and secret passageways, making this game one big maze. Look, I don’t mind the one odd maze in my adventure games, but when you have to navigate them for the whole freaking game, it gets tedious very quick.

The game-play can be best described as MYST clone, at that time a popular and very influential game, in that you wander around a mostly unpopulated environment trying to solve puzzles. It worked great for MYST, not so much for Frankenstein, especially since the puzzles themselves are bland and lack the ingenuity of MYST or Shivers. I think for an adventure game to be based on something like Frankenstein, game-play should be based more on character interaction, much like the old Lucas Arts game (you can tell I’m a big nerd, can’t you?). Of course, for that to work, the game is actually going to need REAL ACTORS!

As to the story and script, while Mr Curry has a few chuckle-worthy lines, it’s hardly going to ‘leave you in stitches’ as the packaging so temptingly promises. There are too many loose ends. The worst that Dr Frankenstein ever does is throw the occasional hissy-fit, but what are his motives for resurrecting you? He, along with all the other characters, is nothing more than two-dimensional plot device. Is the odd flashback of your mysterious past too much too ask for? To top it all off, the ending is a just a set of boring captions – not at all worth the boring game-play and bad acting.

Way to waste my ten bucks. If I ever get the chance to meet Tim Curry in person, I’ll take the carton of this stupid game, wack it over his head and scream, “What the bloody hell were you thinking?!?!”

Mr. Curry. You’ve been warned! Thank you, Elise, for a fine review and all the neat screen caps.

Frankenstein: Through the Eyes of the Monster was originally developed by Amazing Media and published for Mac, Windows and Sega Saturn by Interplay Productions on December 31, 1995. It was re-released in 2001, this time for Windows only, in a twin-pack with Mummy: Tomb of the Pharaoh.

Here’s an elaborate Walkthrough, with maps of the rooms and labyrinths. Here’s another one, text only, on GameBoomers.

Here are game cheats, on Game Revolution.


Steve said...

Oh no! Frank N. Furter! Bad touch!

Anonymous said...

I liked this game , personally!

Peter Bernard said...

I once made a comedy flash "game" inspired by this Tim Curry thing, it has Frankenstein elements all through it:

Max the drunken severed head said...

"If I ever get the chance to meet Tim Curry in person, I’ll take the carton of this stupid game, wack it over his head and scream, “What the bloody hell were you thinking?!?!”"

I'm sure he was thinking, "Gotta pay the bills somehow."

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't get too critical of ALL the remaining supporting cast.

The guy that plays a number of minor roles happens to be the same guy that invented the San Diego Chicken; not to mention he was in John Carpenter's first feature film, Dark Star.