Detective Karla Robins investigates the suspicious death of a world-famous inventor, but it’s a dull undertaking.
It’s not good when the first thing you do upon starting a game is sigh. The first thirty seconds of Entwined: Strings of Deception definitely had that unfortunate effect on me as I clapped eyes on the intro cutscene’s uninspired 3D graphics. I knew then that the most I could hope for during the next few hours was well, not fun really, but perhaps a modest diversion. How I wish I wasn’t so good at making these kinds of predictions.
Entwined: Strings of Deception sets you up as detective Karla Robins and sends you to a suburban mansion to investigate the untimely death of famous inventor Christopher Edward. The first thing you do in the game is read the case file, which describes the deceased as “having been hit in the head with something heavy and blunt, having fallen down the stairs and having been stabbed in the shoulder”. It then goes on to say the “initial post-mortem could not ascertain the cause of death.” Does anyone else find that hilarious? Christopher Edward’s death is really just an excuse for you to snoop around the mansion and interrogate Edward’s wife, maid, butler, doctor and secretary, all of whom presumably have reasons to want him dead. It’s a classic drawing-room set-up and it works (kinda), albeit in a highly predictable way.
The game does one or two things well. Most obviously, its crystal-clear objective system. There’s absolutely no way to be confused about what you’re supposed to be doing because every time you receive a new objective, a gigantic screen-gobbling box pops up letting you know about it. Ditto when you complete an objective. On top of this, if you ever find yourself stuck on achieving an objective, you can click the on-screen hint button which functions more like a mini-walkthrough than a hint button (some players might actually dislike the extensive info dump the hint button provides). The game gets a thumbs up too on the audio side, for giving each character an actual voice. Most hidden object games rely heavily on text during dialog exchanges and Entwined: Strings of Deception reminds us how a little bit of voice-acting can really add life to a story.
As for the bad stuff: the graphics, while not spectacularly bad, are dull. The modeling and animation’s fairly good but the flat, boring textures prevent things from becoming remotely interesting. This effect extends of course, to the hidden object scenes, which are also dull and drab. Puzzles fare no better, and even worse, often fail to make sense within the setting. Strings of Deception’s realistic, *modern-day approach is a nice change from the many magical/historical games out there, and you’d think the setting would preclude the use of things like magic puzzle boxes and arcane symbols. Weirdly enough however, you end up fixing cryptic machinery-like puzzles and that just doesn’t make sense to me, within the context.
This actually serves as a clue perhaps, to the unfinished quality of the game as a whole. In addition to investigating, you collect fingerprints and jewelry; while the fingerprints come in handy in the end, the jewelry appears to be busywork because nothing at all seems to come of it. Also, interactive areas fail to deactivate once you’re done with them. This might be a minor point, but it can become a big time-waster if persistent magnifying glass icons make you think you need to revisit areas that are already complete. This relates to a personal pet peeve—unmotivated hidden object searches. Personally, I like hunting for something when I need something as opposed to hunting for oh, whatever. Strings of Deception asks you as a detective, to go around filling your pockets with random junk, “just in case”, and that’s just silly.
In addition to issues with incomplete-feeling gameplay and lack of character motivation, Strings of Deception also has plot issues. It starts well, presenting each character as an equally possible suspect, but in the end it doesn’t deliver. Good mysteries build suspense by pulling you through the story this way and that, making you repeatedly change your mind about who the culprit is until the shocking conclusion. Strings of Deception peters out half way through, settles on one suspect early, and spends the latter half of the game reiterating the reasons for that suspect’s guilt. It seems the translators also ran out of steam because as the game went on, the translation seemed to get stranger. Does anyone know what an “aldrop” is? I had no clue, and that made looking for it during a hidden object scene quite a challenge.
Entwined: Strings of Deception isn’t terrible, but it definitely needed more work in order to move beyond the mediocrity it is now. More attention needs to be paid to nearly every aspect of it, but especially to the story, the graphics and the contextual continuity. Right now it functions like the adventure game version of a mid-1980’s tract home—it’ll keep out the rain (or keep utter boredom at bay), but it’s in desperate need of substance and character.
*Note: Entwined: Strings of Deception actually takes place in 1970, for God-know-what-reason. It doesn’t show in the clothes, hair or furnishings and there’s no overt reference to the time period. If you don’t notice the date in the case file, you might not even realize events are taking place during the Nixon era.