OZ Orwell and the Crawling Chaos
Developer: Midian Design
Publisher: Midian Design
Release Date: July 2012
I’m a pretty big point and click aficionado, so it says something when I’ve never heard of Midian Design before. Midian is a small Italian video game company that makes adventure games quite cheaply. OZ Orwell is their fourth game and only $4.13 cents – a great deal for any fan of the genre. I will admit the Crawling Chaos part of the title is what intrigued me as it implied not just Lovecraftian creatures, but Nyarlathotep itself – one of my two favorite Great Old Ones along with Nyogtha. I’m a little late in reviewing this: partly because I have been churning out so many tabletop reviews and partly because I haven’t really been playing video games aside from Zen Pinball 2, The Pinball Arcade and Awesome Baseball, but better late than never. So is Oz Orwell the answer to your Cthuloid gaming needs, or is this obscure little adventure game best left undisturbed?
Oz Orwell is a paranormal investigator who has yet to encounter a ghost on his web series “Ghosts and Mansions.” Now Oz is in Germany at the Angst Mansion hoping that for once, he’ll actually see something unusual. Well, he does. Once inside, he finds himself unable to leave the building. All of his ghost hunting equipment is broken and over a span of four days and nights, Oz Orwell is completely at the mercy of the Angst Mansion.
The hook of the game is a fairly common one in movies. In fact I’d go so far as to say the “Ghosts investigators that bite off more than they can chew” has been done to death – even with Lovecraftian monsters rather than ghosts. Oz Orwell does manage to make the game a nice blend of both ghosts and inhuman alien intelligence along with a few swerves here or there. The game starts off like a haunted house horror story, turns into a second rate version of I Have No Mouth But I Must Scream for the middle and into a sci-fi meets Cthulhu Mythos story at the very tail end of the story. On one hand, the end result is a wild ride that has a lot of twists and swerves. On the other, the game feels like a mash-up of several different stories; as if Midian couldn’t decide what they tale they actually wanted to tell, so they told them all at once. So if you’re looking for a ghost story – you don’t really get one here. Same for those of you looking for a Cthulhu Mythos video game. This has some slight references/homages to Lovecraft, but that’s it. The story is definitely interesting, but it does tend to feel piecemeal and the ending is both abrupt and a letdown. The game literally just…kind of ends. All in all though, I had fun with the game in the three-four hours it lasted me and although the story of Oz Orwell and his ghost hunting ways isn’t an award-winner by any stretch of the imagination, there’s still a decent story being told here.
I was pleasantly surprised by the visuals, especially as this game came from a small indie publisher and with a budget price tag to boot. The character models are nicely done, although movement (when there is any) can be a bit odd. The other characters or “ghosts” don’t move as much as a static image just floats across the screen. This is weird but not jarring considering the spectral nature of the beings. Backgrounds are extremely well done and highly detailed. I truly felt Angst Mansion was a creepy domicile full of foreboding and I really enjoyed all the different locales within it.
A good portion of the game is in black and white for some reason. It doesn’t bother me, as it is an artistic decision to represent both memories of the past or a shadowy other-realm. Some gamers might be turned off by the lack of colour, but I was fine with it. Basically, Oz Orwell and the Crawling Chaos is a very nice looking game considering both the genre and the price tag. I was very impressed with Midian’s talents here, especially since screenshots of their previous releases weren’t as impressive. Adventure game fans should be quite happy with the graphics here. Angst Mansion is quite a creepy place indeed.
The aural aspects of the game are a mixed bag. When there is voice acting, it’s not very good. It’s almost as if the voice acting is being done by someone for whom English is a second language. This is a very real possibility considering this is an Italian game. Most of the game doesn’t have voice acting though, and that’s probably just as well. The music for the game is okay. There aren’t a lot of tracks, but what is here is decent enough background noise. You won’t be annoyed by any of the tunes but they won’t get stuck in your head either.
Sound effects too are okay. There isn’t a wide range here as for much of the game, you’re just walking from room to room so you’ll mostly be hearing footsteps. Then for the rest of the game, legs don’t seem to work so even that is gone. Don’t get me wrong; there are other noises in the game, but most of the game is being alone in a creepy haunted house and the rest is in some dream-like state so it makes sense that noises are sparse and deliberate. So like the story, the audio bits of Oz Orwell aren’t especially impressive but they’re okay for what they are, especially considering the $4.13 price tag.
4. Control and Gameplay
Like all point and click adventure games, you’ll be doing everything with your mouse. Click on an object to interact with it, click on a person to talk to them, click on something in your inventory to interact with it and so on. If you’ve played a single game in the genre, you already know how to play Oz Orwell. However, the game does suffer from a few hiccups that make playing it a bit of a headache.
For all point and click games, the size of the interactive area makes or breaks the title. Most games in this genre have a decent enough size area so that even if you are not directly on top of the thing that can be interacted with, you’ll get a notification of some kind that you’re in the right area. Some games even let you press the space bar to highlight all interactive areas on the screen. Oz Orwell does not do that. In fact, the interactive areas are confined to a few scant pixels. This means unless you are right on an object, the ability to interact with it won’t occur. Considering a few items or locations in the game are so small, you can’t even see them or find them except by moving your mouse around and hoping to activate them, you’ll get stuck and thus frustrated. It’s quite disappointing and this is something the industry basically eradicated in the mid 90s, so to have to spend a few minutes finding the exact place to touch a mysterious object is terrible. Most gamers will just assume they can’t interact with something and spend far too long fruitlessly searching for some other solution. This is bad design, pure and simple.
I also found that trying to save the game was harder than it should be. Three-fourths of the time, my pressing to bring up the save menu was ignored. The game seemed unable to recognize the command, which was annoying. It really felt like Oz Orwell wasn’t playtested because both of these issues could have easily been fixed before release with little to no work at all.
So Oz Orwell can be a frustrating experience to actually play through, especially if you’re not a veteran of the genre. Just be prepared to click everywhere and anywhere in order to get through things. It’s not bad aside from that, but it’s sad to see a promising game suffer from some very amateur mistakes.
Oz Orwell and the Crawling Chaos is less than four hours long. I’d say an hour of that time was me just figuring out where to actually click on things and how to proceed. So this is a very short game, but you’re still paying only a dollar an hour which is a pretty good deal in my book. As well the game is extremely linear, so no matter how many times you play it, things will unfold in the same exact way. The first time through is quite intriguing until you get to the odd fourth day with the disappointing “climax” and abrupt ending. This is definitely a “one and done” game with little reason to come back to unless you are a big adventure game fan or just fall in love with the story.
Oz Orwell is a very old school style adventure game. This means no hints and often times illogical and nonsensical solutions to puzzles. For example, at one point I had done everything there was to do with what we’ll call the Spirit Realms. I was told I was done and all the ghosts were telling me to run and that I was in danger. Yet the game seemed stuck without any plot advancement. This went on for thirty minutes as I went to every location in the game TWICE and clicked on everything. I only figured out the solution by trying every item on each other with the required solution being putting a pine cone on the end of a cane I had picked up. This had no relevance to the in-game story either before or after I did this, but until I did, the game was frozen. I was about ready to call the game bugged/glitched, but honestly, I think this might be worse.
So between the solutions to plot advancement that actually don’t have any relevance to the plot, the issue with save detection and the small active areas on the screen, the game is as frustrating as it is entertaining. With a little more playtesting and code cleaning, this could have been pretty impressive. Instead it’s an affair that will turn away more than it brings in.
There are a lot of “haunted house” adventures games and almost as many Lovecraft themed ones. Just go through our archives here at Diehard GameFAN and see them all. So Oz Orwell and the Crawling Chaos doesn’t really win any awards on originality there. Where it does succeed is in managing to fit three different genres (haunted house, Cthulhu Mythos and sci-fi weirdness) into a single game and make kind of work. I won’t deny that at times the game felt like a pretty big mash-up, but at the same time I wanted to know where things were going and just when I thought I had it all figured out, there was yet another twist. That’s not bad. Let’s call it a thumb’s in the middle here. The core isn’t very original, but the mash-up of horror genres kept things fresh.
I beat Oz Orwell in three sittings. I had fun with the game, I enjoyed the main character and the plot kept me intrigued until the end when everything fell apart. I’ve been pretty burned out on video games these days so the fact I played through to the (admittedly short) end says something about it. It’s also been a while since I’ve played an adventure game other than The Walking Dead series I’ve had fun with in spite of the bugs and flaws. So yes, Oz Orwell is neither the best game I’ve played this year, nor even the best adventure game, but it is fun you’ll find yourself having fun with even though there are some issues with the storytelling and gameplay. Hey, it’s four bucks after all.
9. Appeal Factor
You’re going to have to really be a fan of the point and click genre or horror games to enjoy this one. It’s very slow paced and it’s not very scary (although there is a cool scene in the bathroom that reminded me of Eternal Darkness. It’s a very slow burning old school story that is more akin to a Victorian era ghost story than something like Resident Evil. That’s right up my alley, but I also realize I’m in the minority there when it comes to gamers these days. The game looks good, sounds okay and it definitely has a weird story which should make some gamers want to download it, especially as it costs about as much as a comic book. However, the spotty controls and terrible ending may leave some feeling disappointed. Basically if you both like point and click games and slow paced horror, then you’ll get your money’s worth out of Oz Orwell. Otherwise you might want to pass on this. I’m glad I played it, but I also know I’ll never pick it up again.
At the end of the day, Oz Orwell and the Crawling Chaos costs less than the budget adventure games Big Fish puts out and still manages to be better than most of them. That’s pretty impressive. In this day and age where the only big name releases for the genre come from Telltale Games, have to get funding from Kickstarter or have a super high price tag like the recently released Testament of Sherlock Holmes. I mean, I love Frogware, but $40 for an adventure game in 2012? Here I thought their Mystery of Osborne House was overpriced…
Yes, Oz Orwell has notable flaws and a lackluster ending, but I still had fun with the game, and I was intrigued by the plot. For four dollars I could have done a lot worse. Hell, I HAVE done worse. If you’re the type of gamer who is looking for a short but fun point and click horror game, Oz Orwell is definitely worth considering. It’s not a great game by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s hard NOT to get your money’s worth out of this one.
Control and Gameplay: Decent
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
FINAL SCORE: Decent Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
Oz Orwell and the Crawling Chaos isn’t the most amazing horror or adventure game you’ll ever play, but for only four dollars, you’ll definitely get your money’s worth out of this one. It can be extremely frustrating to find clickable areas on locations and the plot falls apart horribly in the final act, but for the most part, the game is quite fun and manages to blend three distinct horror styles (haunted house, Cthulhu Mythos and Sci-Fi) into a single weird little game. I had fun with it, but it really is a “one and done” sort of affair.