Review by Lindsay M.
It is late at night. The sky has fallen dark and the streets have lost their daytime bustle. In an alley behind a grubby bar, barely lit, one man is on the ground as two stand above him. One of the standing men is short, his voice squeaky; the other is his opposite, tall and beefy. The stocky man is clearly in charge, as he beats up the man on the ground between questions. There is a rustle from the inky blackness of the attached alleyway, and the men see a knife gleaming in the darkness. Fearing Jack the Ripper, the two thugs lose their street credibility as they run as fast as possible.
You’d honestly think this is a scene in a crime film set in Victorian London, but one look at the scene itself makes it clear that it’s a point-and-click adventure game instead. I’m not entirely sure what it is about The Slaughter - Act One that makes its medium and genre obvious: perhaps is it the pixellated graphics combined with the lack of any visible open world or platforming elements. Or perhaps it is just that I have played so many point-and-click adventure games I can spot them a mile away. The games in the genre I have played range from life-changing to mediocre, and prior to beginning The Slaughter - Act One I was eager to learn where on the spectrum it would fall.
Related reading: For another point-and-click game on iOS, check out The Whispered World.
The Slaughter began as a Kickstarter project in late 2013. Originally meant to be one game, it was later split into two acts due to its scope and monetary issues despite the successful crowdfunding campaign; the hope is that the first act will gain enough support on Steam and iOS that the developer, Brainchild, is able to complete and publish the second act as well. Brainchild promises The Slaughter is a “film noir style 2D point-and-click adventure” with classic gameplay similar to that found in LucasArts games but with more adult themes. Indeed, bar beatings and serial killers are dark themes, and so we return to our protagonist.
I say “protagonist” because I am hesitant to call Sydney Emerson a hero. He is the playable character in The Slaughter, but he’s clearly not the most honest man alive. I have no reason to believe that it is real name — why would a man being beaten up being a dive bar be telling the truth? — but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Sydney is rescued from the beating not by Jack the Ripper, but by a lovely knife-wielding woman who brings him to her bed to let him recuperate. Sydney is mostly unconscious overnight, but he awakes long enough to speak briefly with his rescuer. When dialogue options are available, the player simply clicks on the one which they want to choose. The options given make it obvious why Sydney was being beaten to a pulp, as he is a total smartass. He meets his match with this mystery woman, though, as she challenges him in every way (Sydney Emerson? “A peculiar name, are you an inventor by chance?”) in the few moments they speak. During the conversation, she diligently applies makeup. She needs to leave for work, despite it being the middle of the night. Her line of work is obvious.
As the woman leaves, Sydney falls into a deep sleep. This is how The Slaughter plays: Sydney lives his life during the day, and while asleep at night he dreams. He always dreams that he is in a strange upside-down room with a fish swimming back and forth. The room seems to be an extension of Sydney's subsonscious, as it changes each night. It is the place he works out what it happening in his life, much like in real dreams. Also similar to how real dreams function, the book on the shelf is completely unintelligible.
I love point and clicks, learning the controls is always so straightforward. On iOS you’re limited to tapping and swiping, and The Slaughter only uses tapping. Tap on an object to interact with it, or tap on a dialogue choice to have Sydney speak. Hold over an object to look at it. Need something from the inventory? Click on it. Need to see a room’s hotspots (or active zones)? Click the inventory. That’s it. Not even I can mess that up, and I am terrible at remembering what button does what while playing games.
The Slaughter doesn't present its story in a straightforward manner. Instead, the player slowly learns small bits of information at a time that build up into something useful over time. This occurs both in Sydney's life and his dreams; for example, there is a dripping tap in his dream on the first night that he can only look at, but it later becomes something he can actually use.
There is a dark, gritty side to the game that delivers on the promised "noir" theme. Sydney is a private investigator, but not a particularly moral one. He will do anything in his power to make money, especially because he is far behind on rent. Whereas this need starts off being comical - such as when he looks for a lost dog in a park and breaks a swing - it takes a more serious turn when a client wants Sydney to steal back an expensive heirloom being held by police as evidence to a murder.
Based on the rampant fear of Jack The Ripper, I can assume that The Slaughter is set directly in or extremely close to Whitechapel. From my understanding of the area at the time of the killings (I've studied them a few times) the game faithfully recreates it within the restraints of the point-and-click genre. Everyone is poor and paranoia is running rampant. Bars are dingy and day-drinkers are unconscious early. Police can be found quarantining bloody crime scenes. Despite the extremely unrealistic graphics, the game successfully reproduces what I can only assume is the feeling of the time and place it recreates.
My favourite part of the game was the investigating. As a PI, you have to speak with people that can help lead you to the evidence. For example, to locate a dead body you speak with a shopkeep whose store is next to the alley where the murder took place. After some slight pushing, the shopkeep reveals that he overheard the police talking about where the body was brought.
Despite my high praise of The Slaughter - Act One to this point, there are a couple finicky things I believe would enhance gameplay. First, there are some odd bugs at the beginning of the game that cause parts of the room to be blacked out, which would have made it impossible to progress if it weren’t for the inventory hints. Second, you have to walk off the edge of the screen to access the map; this seems completely unnecessary, as a button would make the map must more accessible.
The Slaughter - Act One successfully leaves me yearning for Act Two. The characters are dark yet witty, the locale gritty and unwelcoming. The time and place is one that I am fond of despite the crime and violence, and I do believe it was a faithfully reproduced as possible in the game. The protagonist is not a hero by any means, but for every despicable thing he says or does there is a part of his personality that makes up for it. The story and style of the game suit the point-and-click adventure genre nicely, and I look forward to seeing what the developer does in the future.