Bob Mandel is a writer for The Adrenaline Vault, an online games magazine, reviewing all your favourite PC games in their own inimitable fashion. Below is my tribute to Bob Mandel, their most outstanding writer, all in his own words. Everything is used by 'fair use' and all copyright belongs to Bob Mandel and The Adrenaline Vault.
Bob's work features many distinctive traits, but I have chosen
to concentrate on one of them. Here are excerpts from the "Intelligence
& Difficulty" section of the review. I hope that this in some small way
captures the originality and inspiration that fills all his work.
ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS: THE FINAL CUT
There are limited settings to explore at any one time, few items available to investigate in each location, and limited ways to use the items you have. As a result, novices will appreciate playing this title more than will seasoned experts.
ADVENTURE AT THE CHATEAU D'OR
If you choose to minimize both of these, the gameplay would be relatively unchallenging even for novices. For seasoned adventure experts, there is just not enough here to pose a sustained challenge.
To help out, the Alida website provides hints, and in some places you have access to an in-game map to help you to orient yourself and to figure out where you are and where you want to go. Nonetheless, this is decidedly not a title for adventure novices.
ALONE IN THE DARK: THE NEW NIGHTMARE
However, a choice of difficulty levels would have helped novices get up to speed. If you have any form of night blindness, then forget about even trying this one.
The net effect is that, while expert puzzlers might not be completely challenged, puzzle-impaired players will have an easier time of it than they usually do.
However, the manual is a bit skimpy and brief given the complexity of the action, and a map of the palace would have been useful. Moreover, if you lack arcade reflexes and get rattled or are inept in combat, you will get nowhere.
AURA: FATE OF THE AGES
The net result is that this isnít the best offering for first-time virtual adventurers, but is perfect for players with some experience. As you progress, the challenge grows, particularly in Na-Tiexu. To succeed, youíll need a lot of patience and willingness to rigorously explore the myriad of possibilities within each setting.
For those who love 3D platform games, this release ought to be a breeze; but for those with conventional adventure experience, this may be a nightmare. Given the demographics of these two groups, children and younger players may fare better than the older set.
BEETLE BUGGINí (BEETLE CRAZY CUP)
Strangely, there are no selectable levels of difficulty, particularly unusual in an arcade racing offering attempting to appeal to the widest audience. While experienced racing fans may find they can quickly win, novices may discover that while they can get close they just cannot make it over the hump to a victory.
Beyond Atlantis is not an easy game, and I can easily see how some would get so frustrated they would just call it quits early on. In truth, this title is probably too difficult for those new to the adventure-puzzle genre. But for diehard adventure gamers, including myself, this offering provides a veritable cornucopia of some of the best and trickiest challenges I have encountered in a very long time. You need to have both great patience and a willingness to figure everything out without many signposts, but if this is the case you will be pleased as punch by what you encounter here.
BEYOND ATLANTIS 2
Because the challenges you encounter in Beyond Atlantis II vary in their level of difficulty, this title is well suited to gamers of a wide range of adventure experience and skill, far more so than the truly advanced enigmas in more complex adventure-puzzle offerings like Schizm. However, the disjointed nature of a lot of the story sequence means that you sometimes can get very confused and frustrated about how the clues you gather in one place apply to a later one.
BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL
So this game is wide open to the full range of players, from nimble-fingered experts to raw ham-handed novices.
THE CAMERON FILES: THE SECRET AT LOCH NESS REVIEW
Compared to the most intellectually demanding titles in this genre, such as Schizm, The Cameron Files: Secret at Loch Ness requires far less brain power. However, the challenge of finding all the items you need to collect and using them properly, as well has making it through the timed sequences toward the end, make this a release that probably would be beyond the capabilities of the novice adventurer.
THE CAMERON FILES: PHARAOHíS CURSE
Because Pharaoh's Curse follows so many conventions of the adventure-puzzle genre, those familiar with these traditions won't find the exploration and puzzle solving to be too difficult. However, the combination of sometimes illogical puzzles, obscure pickups and timed sequences may leave novices a bit limp.
CHEMICUS: JOURNEY TO THE OTHER SIDE
As is probably evident from the earlier discussion, Chemicus is no piece of cake to finish. Even an experienced chemist might get stuck for a bit a number of times, and novices without a lot of time would face a real uphill battle.
CLUE CHRONICLES: FATAL ILLUSION REVIEW
One of the nicest features of Clue Chronicles is that it has an excellent built-in help system. There are three levels of clues available--a riddle, a suggestion, and the actual answer--to help if you are stuck. The inclusion of this aid opens the door for novices to the adventure genre to buy and play this game without fear of getting too frustrated because they cannot unravel one of the mysteries.
THE CRYSTAL KEY
Toward the end of the game, I spent literally days trying to figure out how to send Ozgar unwittingly to his demise rather than having him unleash his guards on me. When I finally found out what I was doing wrong, there was a logical inconsistency involved. This offering is better for veteran adventurers rather than those who have no experience with this genre.
CRYSTAL KEY 2
Crystal Key 2 is decidedly not among the most difficult adventure titles on the personal computer; nowhere near, for example, the level of complexity in Schizm. So the gameplay should be accessible to the full range of players, from novices to seasoned virtual adventurers. However, those not used to the conventions of the adventure / puzzle genre need to remember that the pace of the play is intentionally a lot more plodding and deliberate than in action / adventure offerings such as Ubisoft's Beyond Good & Evil.
CURSE OF ATLANTIS: THORGALíS QUEST
However, in terms of potential frustration or satisfaction, it is clear that veterans of the adventure genre are likely to be the most irritated, while novices would be the most fault tolerant. Nonetheless, if you display patience and perseverance to find obscure items and get through exacting action sequences, you will find it worth it in the end.
Although Dark Fall is nowhere near the most difficult virtual adventure I have played, it is clearly not designed for the casual gamer or the novice adventurer. It requires a level of patience, meticulous attention to detail, and perseverance well beyond what most are used to in computer recreations. Your brain needs to be constantly recording, analyzing and integrating disparate pieces of information to solve puzzles and get ahead. Sometimes you find yourself totally frustrated and at your wit's end until the light bulb finally goes on and you figure things out. Fortunately, there are in most cases multiple hints available if you look hard enough about what you need to do next. So while for some this offering will seem impossible, for others it will be a wonderful feast for the mind.
Dark Fall definitely appeals to specialized gaming tastes. Like another adventure I reviewed relatively recently - Chemicus - this title is definitely designed for the more cerebral player. Dark Fall eschews the normal audiovisual glitz in favor of something truly rare in computer games: a deep and compelling story that is worthy of a good novel. Through great creative writing and a flexible structure allowing for multiple paths, XXV Productions has crafted a different kind of play that turns into quite a memorable and disturbingly enjoyable experience. Just because most gamers (including most reviewers) would not appreciate Dark Fall does not mean that it fails to achieve its lofty goals.
Those who are not used to the intensity of the action and the need for rapid thinking and movement will encounter frequent failure as they proceed, as the missions and battles become harder the farther you get. Because the attacks often come in the form of swarms of foes assaulting you at once, you often face insuperable odds and had better learn how to handle them quickly.
The puzzles in Dracula Resurrection are a lot more straightforward than in most adventure-puzzle offerings, and so those who constantly demean MYST-style games as being impossible will develop considerable confidence here. Because the challenges are not that difficult, fewer people will fall by the wayside or throw the CDs away in anger into the trash. The flip side of this, though, is that adventure-puzzle aficionados may very well find what is offered here does not stretch their intellectual capacities in the slightest. Knowing that you cannot look forward to a real mind-bender is enough to cause many of these folk to cease playing out of boredom. This problem could have easily been resolved if the designers had decided to included at least a few real brainteasers, but such was not the case.
Dracula: The Last Sanctuary is a hauntingly beautiful release which is decidedly more immersive than its predecessor.
Drakan is an extremely time-consuming epic requiring a lot of patience on the part of the player. (I suspect many among the FPS crowd will not have quite enough to get all the way through.) One big help in stimulating your eagerness to undertake the effort is the beautifully-written manual, helping even novices get into the play.
THE EGYPTIAN PROPHECY
The Egyptian Prophecy is one of the least challenging adventure titles Iíve played. What this means is that itís perfect for novices, but also a bit below the capabilities of seasoned adventurers.
There are no levels of difficulty in the game, and no training mode available, so novices will have a hard time becoming proficient here.
The puzzles are challenging enough that novice adventurers will have considerable trouble making it the whole way through.
FREEDOM: FIRST RESISTANCE
The game is not in any way inaccessible to novices, but they may get frustrated very quickly with the similarity of challenges and the lack of reason to keep hunting for door openers. For those who have played a lot of computerized adventures, there will be a quick realization that the goals and obstacles are highly familiar, most reminiscent of those in old-fashioned first-person shooters, and not particularly worthy of the best honed adventure skills more suited to unexpected predicaments demanding more creativity to resolve.
HITCHCOCK Ė THE FINAL CUT
As a result, novices will appreciate playing this title more than will seasoned experts.
IN COLD BLOOD
Like most adventure releases, In Cold Blood has no user-selectable difficulty levels, and so novices to this genre may find getting all the way through a bit difficult.
JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH
Although Journey to the Center of the Earth contains puzzles ranging from easy to obscure, I wouldnít recommend it to the full range of gamers. Several puzzles involve so few clues and inventory items so scattered that neophytes would throw in the sponge rather than spend more time searching in vain.
Training missions are available to get you used to control of the Lander, and this helps a bit. But there are no levels of difficulty, and I suspect some may be so perplexed that they may not even make it through the training missions.
In the end, due to these deficiencies, the challenge presented here is too high and sufficient to frustrate most players.
The challenge is not so much solving puzzles but rather figuring out what to do next. For novices in the adventure-puzzle genre, there are not enough clues pointing where to go and what to do after you have overcome each challenge. While each individual puzzle has a logical solution, and there are many discernable patterns across puzzles that can help you out, veterans of this style of gameplay will fare much better.
Beating Mafia is no piece of cake; the farther you progress, the greater the challenge. Novices to this kind of action may find themselves reloading a lot to get through the missions. In particular, they may have difficulty becoming expert drivers, even as adept use of the clutch and handbrake is vital to eluding pursuers. Patience and perseverance are essential. A well-designed tutorial allows those who need it to get used to the controls and the demands of the gameplay; an informative manual stylishly designed in newspaper format helps out, too.
MARTIAN GOTHIC: UNIFICATION
Even though the puzzles are not intrinsically that intellectually challenging, they may end up frustrating even experienced adventure veterans for a couple of reasons.
Iím reminded of the old adage that, when recreation becomes a chore, itís not worth pursuing. I would thus not recommend this title to casual adventurers, many of whom would run for a walkthrough or quit outright long before the ending.
Novices should not find the game so difficult that they give up, and veteran action-puzzle players should not feel that the whole exercise is way too easy. Needless to say, there is no artificial intelligence present (or needed) in a game of this type.
However, the tortuous difficulty posed by many of the puzzles, even for those with considerable logical abilities, detracts from the mainstream appeal of this offering. Far more cerebral than the average computer game, this will clearly not suit everyone; but for those who enjoy the ultimate cranial challenge this may be heaven.
While the puzzles in the Myst series have always been challenging, some of those you encounter in Myst IV are especially tough; definitely more appropriate for experienced veterans of the adventure-puzzle genre than for novices. What is needed most for success is a very logical mind, solid pattern recognition, attention to little details, and of course, tons of patience and perseverance.
MYSTERY OF THE DRUIDS, THE
Keen intelligence and extensive experience in playing adventure titles do not in any way guarantee success. So a number of players may simply be disheartened and give up.
MYSTERY OF THE MUMMY
The level of challenge in The Mystery of the Mummy is overall about average, but due to the aforementioned "hunt-for-the-pixel" problem it would not be a good adventure title for novices.
MYSTERY OF THE NAUTILUS, THE
Thus novices may have some difficulty making it through, although it is nowhere near the challenge represented by the most difficult titles in this niche, such as LK Avalon's Schizm.
NEIGHBOURS FROM HELL
Although hardcore gamers might find this title a bit beneath their level of sophistication, most who enjoy electronic recreation will find this release quite fulfilling.
OMEGA STONE, THE
For those with the endless patience and meticulous attention to detail of a professional archeologist, playing The Omega Stone would be an utter delight. While fully utilizing their cranial capacities, nothing they encounter will be beyond their capacity to handle. On the other hand, for those with a shorter attention span and an aversion to finding needles in haystacks, the requirements of this virtual adventure may very well be a bit too demanding. While the puzzles vary greatly in their difficulty, there are a number whose solutions may elude all but the most adept and experienced fans of this genre.
The Omega Stone builds and improves on the excellent foundation provided by Riddle of the Sphinx. Rather than pander to the action addiction of many of today's gamers, this new release intentionally caters to those who eschew cheap thrills and immediate visceral gratification for the more delayed satisfaction coming from true deductive virtual problem solving.
The extraordinary complexity of most the puzzles is well beyond the capabilities of even veteran puzzlers. The virtually nonexistent manual and the absence of both differing levels of difficulty and a hint system leave novice puzzlers completely out in the cold.
ROAD TO INDIA
Road to India ends up being a bit easy for most veterans of adventure gaming. Often if you are about to do something wrong, you are explicitly warned against taking the action. As indicated earlier, experienced players can complete this release in a single sitting.
There is no doubt in my mind that Schizm is one of the most difficult adventure-puzzle games I have ever played. It is not that the challenges are unfair, as you usually understand what your goals are and have the tools at hand to overcome obstacles (there is also no need to engage in obscure pixel-hunting). Rather, it is just that they require extraordinary amounts of patience, perseverance, and intense thought. Regardless, the unfortunate truth is that some novices to computer adventuring or those not used to puzzling would probably never make it all the way through, even with a complete walkthrough in front of them. However, for those of us who enjoy solving environmental puzzles, Schizm is a dream come true.
SCHIZM: MYSTERIOUS JOURNEY II
Mysterious Journey II provides the perfect challenge for those who love the adventure / puzzle genre, but it is clearly not the perfect offering for gaming novices or those used to other types of virtual entertainment such as first-person shooters. The random shifting of puzzles is something that for hardcore adventure fans might serve as a welcome way to enhance the difficulty of solving them, but for the adventure game novice this feature might well be too much to handle. Yes, the puzzles are very difficult, but they are supposed to be in this niche.
Persistence and patience are what you need most to succeed, for no brain-melting abstract logic puzzles are to be found. With this pattern in mind, novices and seasoned aficionados alike will find fulfillment in this offering, with neither feeling frustrated or inappropriately challenged.
As a result, the full range of gamers would be able to handle this offering, even though those with some virtual adventure experience and with knowledge of what happened in its predecessor would be in the best position. As a puzzle lover, I will say that for pure brain-melting ecstasy, the challenges here are not the best I have seen, but then this release has other assets it stresses more heavily.
You need to have a ton of perseverance to wade through the puzzles you encounter successfully. But if you keep looking, thinking and exploring, eventually you usually can find what it takes to solve the puzzles and move on. Novices will certainly have a harder go, and if they are not ready for a long haul they should abandon the quest.
Because of the trial-and-error nature of much of the puzzle solving, few would be able to race through this offering quickly, and novices in the adventure-puzzle genre will probably give up long before the end.
The designers of The Watchmaker clearly developed it primarily for the seasoned virtual adventurer, as some of the challenges are quite difficult. While satisfying to puzzle aficionados, beginners could get confused, directionless, or frustrated relatively quickly.