Is it fair to say that the adventure game is no longer dead? With quality new games like Sam & Max, A Vampyre Story and Strong Bad’s Cool Game For Attractive People slowly prizing the last few nails out of the genre’s coffin, we’re going to have to say ‘yes’.
All three of the above games were bound to be great, of course, developed, as they were, by ex-members of Lucasarts. But now we’re starting to see other point-n-click titles coming from less established development houses and, unbelievably, they’re turning out to be just as good.
Ceville is one such game. Developed by just 10 people at the little known German studio, Realmforge, its origins are humble but its ambition is huge. Its visuals are bold, colourful and detailed, its script packed with humour and its story epic in scale. Though you may not be familiar with the name, this is one adventure that’s worth taking seriously.
One of the first things that strikes you about Ceville is just how heavily influenced it is by the classic Lucasarts catalogue. There’s a lot of Monkey Island in its design, not just in its setting and visuals but also in its style of humour and outlandish scenarios. In its structure too, you’ll find plenty of Lucasesque thinking. Featuring a cast of characters that you switch between at given points, Ceville has a touch of the Day Of The Tentacle about it, which helps tell the story from multiple perspectives and also allows the puzzles to be that little bit more complex since you’ll often need to use two characters at once to solve them.
Not only does Ceville smartly borrow from the best point-n-click classics of yesteryear but it also has a strong indentity of its own. Presentation is of a high standard throughout, thanks to some colourful and varied backgrounds that make exploring the world of Faeryanis a real pleasure, while the English script and voice work is unusually well done for a game of German origin. The lead character of Ceville, in particular, makes for a fun and refreshing protagonist, the grumpy and malicious personality of the dethroned king definitely makes him more interesting than your typical George Stobbart imitation.
As you may have guessed from our previous comments, Ceville is one of the more complicated of modern adventures when it comes to gameplay design. Unlike Telltale’s new wave of casual-friendly adventures, you’ll have to combine inventory items in imaginative ways and you’ll sometimes need to use two or more items within quick succession of eachother in order to solve certain puzzles. Furthermore, the difficulty steadily rises over the game’s 15-20 hours and will definitely have even the most hardened adventure fans stumped a couple of times.
In many ways this extra complexity is a good thing. The move toward simple and accessible episodic adventures has threatened to kill off the bigger, more complicated, games that used to be the backbone of the genre, so it’s good to see Ceville revive an increasingly endangered style. But, on the other hand, we would have liked the developer to make some concession to the uninitated. There’s no dynamic hint system in the game, so you’ll have to listen very carefully to each line of dialogue in order to pick up on each subtle clue. Less forgivable is the fact that some of the essential items you’ll need to pick up are so small, or so well hidden against the intricatly detailed backdrops, that you might end up walking round in circles for hours before you notice them. The developer has, admiteddly included an option to highlight all interactive objects with a touch of the space bar, but that feels like an excuse for sloppy design to us and can remove some of the fun of playing, in practice.
Despite such niggles, however, Ceville really is a very good adventure that’s easy to recommend. It’s a traditional game that does more to recapture the feel of a lost age than it does to reinvent the wheel but it does it so well, and is so enjoyable to play, that we don’t mind the lack of innovation. If you have the same desire to play the sort of adventure they used to make in the good old days then you could do a lot worse than try Ceville.