by Casesolver
November 28, 2006


Scratches is a first person point-and-click adventure in which you take on the role of Michael Arthate, a horror story author who has just acquired (by way of his real estate agent friend Jerry) an old Victorian estate and mansion secluded and far away from civilization.  He hopes that spending time here will inspire him to write a sequel to his first successful book, and win more fans in the process.  As soon as Michael gets there, he quickly realizes something isn’t right.  The mysteries pile up, and Michael strays far from finishing his book.  Apparently James Blackwood, a respected member of society in 1960, lived there with his wife Catherine, and their doctor friend Christopher Milton.  They also had a maid, Eva Mariani.  In 1963, Eva accused James of murdering his wife, after witnessing him burying something in the ground. Eventually, she returned to her native country, and it was said that James committed suicide shortly after the accusation. Dr. Milton came to live in the house for awhile, but soon disappeared. It is now 1970, and you, as Michael Arthate, must solve the mysteries hiding in the shadows of Blackwood Manor.  Though you are the only human for miles, you are not alone.

As you delve deep into the legends of curses, and rituals, you begin to realize that he may be caught in the middle of it all, and you may become the next victim…staying at Blackwood Manor could be very dangerous, but leaving would be worse, as you have awakened an evil that has been waiting.  Using clues left behind by those of the past, you will have to solve the mystery of the Blackwood family.

Scratches intrigued me from the moment I bought it. I love ghost stories, I love horror, and I am very interested in the Victorian era.  So, this game really appealed to me.  As I started playing it, I was impressed by the cinematic opening, with good visual effects and excellent music.  I started wandering around the game, and soon realized that something was very wrong here, judging by all the disturbing journal entries and the overall “feeling” that all was not well.  The house is almost as it was when it was last lived in – except everything has obviously decayed a bit.  Overall, the graphics are some of the best I’ve seen.  However, the quality of a game depends on more than just the visuals in the game.  It seems as if Scratches lacks in almost everything else – the graphics simply cannot make up for that.

The music was good and appropriate throughout.  I particularly liked the creepy opening theme, the credits theme, and the music on the first day.  Though music can add to the scary effect, sometimes the silence in, for example, the African gallery became quite unnerving.  It produced a feeling of, ‘Is something there, stalking me in the shadows?  What will happen next?’  Unlike other games and gory movies, Scratches does not have much blood.  There is a rather disturbing and graphic description of cannibalism in a journal, and a few things that imply it – but nothing too extreme.  This just goes to prove how subtle psychological horror can be just as scary and disturbing as gore.  With Scratches, it’s almost all in your head, but it’s not without its scares.  There were some parts in which I was too scared to move on.  I stood at a door, wondering whether I should open it and face what was ahead of me.  This is the effect a game should have, and for that, I congratulate the developers.  Great creepy atmosphere. 

I was first and foremost frustrated with the puzzles.  Almost all of the game is comprised of walking around clicking on everything, and I do mean everything.  You never know whether you’re supposed to use the object, put something on it, combine it, etc.  It could be something of no use, yet it still allows you to click on it, and the same goes for if it was of use – so this can get very confusing.  And for what you do have in your inventory, you can never be sure of any one item’s purpose. 

I would not say the game is hard.  Unfair, frustrating, and time-wasting are the words to use.  A game is hard when the puzzles have a logical solution, but one that is well-hidden and requires perseverance to reach.  It seems as if no matter how hard you try, there is no way to win in Scratches.  It makes you feel as if you’re a terrible gamer because you need to resort to hints so often.  But, in fact, this game is abnormally confusing and illogical.  This is odd, considering that the game prides itself in being very logical.  You can wander around for hours on end, not knowing what to do next.  The “Hints” system practically does nothing for you, so there’s basically nothing to help you.  You may even have to go back to something, but there is nothing that will tell you that an item you previously stumbled upon that seemingly had no use is now something you need.  Also, one time I had to click on something more than once to get it to work.  If you’ve found the solution, then you shouldn’t have to try more than once!  If it doesn’t work the first time, this convinces you that it’s the wrong thing to do.  This is unfair, pointless, and annoying.  And when I finally found out the solutions to puzzles, I would think to myself, ‘Nobody would do that!’

Technical/Interface Problems
I love point-and-click games, so it was easy to start playing Scratches.  But I soon got annoyed that you have to wait for a significant amount of time at every door you open.  I would sometimes wait at a door for what seemed like an eternity (about a full minute).  In the game world, it should be almost instantaneous.  And every time I would try to switch between my desktop and the game (Alt + Tab, which most games allow), the screen would start flashing, and then when I finally returned to the game, it would completely mess up the interface, and I would have to close and start up the game again. Also, the sound effects on opening doors seemed to turn on and off.  This detracted greatly from gameplay.  Once, I accidentally clicked “Quit” instead of “Save”.  Luckily, I was asked whether I was sure, but the “No” option didn’t work, so I was forced to quit and start over.  This happened on the first night, so obviously it lost its effect when I had to play through the second time.  Another irritating technical problem.

The voice-acting in the game was average.  Not very believable, though.  I just felt like Michael and Jerry were reading straight from their lines, and at times exaggerated too much.  They sounded more like they were auditioning for a play than playing serious characters in a video game.  Not very professional, though better than some.  One voice really annoyed me, especially because it didn’t play a big part in the game.  There were so many excuses as to why Michael couldn’t call this character. I found that very tedious.

More Thoughts on Sound Effects and Atmosphere
As I said before, the atmosphere is great and immersive.  I felt as if I was really in the game, playing as Michael.  But the scratching at night, something I had looked forward to after hearing how creepy it was, wasn’t exactly scratching…I’ll let you find out for yourself, but I’d just like to point out that it wasn’t what I had hoped for.

The plot didn’t strike me as the most original, though I must say I got into it, and couldn’t wait to uncover the mystery.  It’s a bit hard to grasp, and I did my best to describe it above, but it’s so complex.  Though I put the game down for a few months, when I came back to it, I was still enthusiastic about the story.  But, one of the worst things about Scratches is how incomprehensible and far-fetched the ending is.  Just like the puzzles, to me, it made no sense and didn’t wrap up anything.  Some people may be able to understand it better than others, but it feels as if I now have to go back and play through the whole thing again just to understand it.  It ended so abruptly.  And for a game so rich in atmosphere, one that built up suspense and tension, I expected something so much better and satisfying.  This game had so much of a chance to have a good ending.  Personally, this game would make a better movie than it would a game.  There is a certain appeal to the ‘left-not-knowing-exactly-what-happened’ concept, because it makes you think about it after you’re done.  Scratches went way overboard with this, almost explaining nothing.  It was all too abrupt to enjoy.  Overall, it was very unsatisfying and confusing.

Basically, I was committed at the beginning of the game, but soon became uninterested and frustrated as I discovered the way the game worked.  Scratches is more a work of art than a game.  I expected that, because the famed creator of Dark Fall, Jonathan Boakes, was in it, it would be good.  I loved Dark Fall, but Scratches just isn’t up to par with it. Perhaps the creators want us to ponder over it – it creates a lasting effect, right?  Well thinking about it after it ends just might fry your brain.  Aren’t games supposed to be fun?

This game is good for you if you enjoy being scared, and enjoy pixel-hunting and inventory item use.  There’s not much more to Scratches than just that.  Scratches is good for a little while, but will quickly leave you wanting it to be over. Though you will probably look forward to solving the mystery at first, this will quickly fade as the game prolongs everything and becomes tiresome.  Good luck finishing this on your own.

I give this game a C+, or 7/10.

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