"Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Oz anymore." At least, not in the Oz you might remember from reading Frank L. Baum’s original fantasy novel The Wizard of Oz, or from watching the classic 1939 musical starring Judy Garland as Dorothy. No, the Oz in Emerald City Confidential is a much grittier place, inspired by the film noir tradition of hard-nosed detectives, mob bosses and femmes fatales.
Like the novel Wicked did before it, Emerald City Confidential takes the familiar people and places of Oz but spins its own unique story around them. Our main character is Petra, a young detective trying to make ends meet under a growing stack of bills, and facing an uphill battle against widespread corruption, mob bosses, smugglers, and crooked lawyers (including one "C. Lion," who nearly sends her to her death off a bridge after she comes a little too close to exposing his operation.)
It all starts when a certain "Dee Gale" saunters into Petra’s office and asks her to locate her missing fiance, Anzel. Unable to resist Gale’s generous fee, Petra takes the case, only to find out that there’s much more intrigue – and danger – involved than she bargained for.
Emerald City Confidential is a point-and-click adventure, which means you progress through the game by talking to people to figure out what to do next, picking up items and using them to solve puzzles, and exploring the Emerald City and surrounding countryside.
Travelling can be the biggest chore in an adventure game if it’s not properly thought out, but Emerald City Confidential handles the issue beautifully: in order to visit another part of the city, you simply click on the nearest Gump taxi stand to hitch a ride on one of the flying creatures and be instantly transported. Therefore, instead of having to search for the "sweet spot" to click on at the edge of the screen to exit a location (a huge personal pet peeve of mine), you simply click on the Gump Stand in every scene.
Although magic is ostensibly banned on Oz (as mandated by the land’s stern ruler, Queen Ozma), you’ll be able to learn a few spells on the sly that will come in handy as well – like the ability to make plants grow, levitate wood, or escape from confinement.
You can keep track of quests and leads in Petra’s journal, which will also dole out hints if you get truly stuck. The game also awards medals for reaching certain milestones, and as a fun side activity you can search for buttons (which appear as tiny pin-pricks of colored light in scenes) to unlock bonus behind-the-scenes concept art.
Emerald City Confidential is the result of a partnership between publisher PlayFirst and Wadjet Eye Games, an independent developer of point-and-click adventure titles such as The Shivah and the Blackwell series. While this game still bears the hallmark of a Wadjet Eye title – a character-driven story, rich dialogue, and plenty of clever puzzles to solve – Emerald City Confidential has clearly benefited from PlayFirst’s deeper resources and budget.
Where Blackwell‘s graphics were low-fi by necessity, Emerald City Confidential is a beautiful game with lovingly-crafted, detailed scenes and plenty of animation. The rich green tones that permeate Emerald City are particularly stunning, even in spite of the fact that the city is portrayed as being half way to a slum. Every line of dialogue is voice-acted convincingly, and the music blends in perfectly with the brooding atmosphere. The length feels longer than Wadjet Eye Games’ previous outings, as well.
The writing is excellent, but there’s so much plot and backstory to flesh out that the game becomes bogged down occasionally by the sheer volume of text. Large chunks of exposition are revealed by eating "knowledge pills," which has the effect of bombarding the player with a lot of info all at once. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all pretty intriguing – especially if you’re familiar with the "traditional" version of the Oz story – but it requires an investment on the part of the player to really pay attention to everything that’s being said.
Dialogue doesn’t always repeat itself either, so you might miss something if you click a little too quickly. As well, if you quit the game and resume later you might find yourself having to start slightly earlier than where you left off. These are minor quibbles, though.
As someone who has been following the development of this game since it was simply known as "the secret PlayFirst project," it’s great to see it live up to expectations. To sum it up, Emerald City Confidential is a polished, creative and clever must-have for adventure game fans.