The Three Musketeers: The Game
It certainly has been a while since I've played a classic adventure game through from start to finish. The only adventure game at all in recent memory that has endeared itself to me is the quirky Samarost 2, and even that is definitely a point and click/logic puzzle based game, rather than an adventure game in the true sense. “The Three Musketeers” is the wonderful tale of the adventures of a young Gascon; d'Artagnan. Hailing from a noble yet somewhat impoverished family, the young man sets his heart on becoming one of King Louis XIII's famous Musketeers. Upon arrival in Paris, the brash young man soon finds himself challenged to duels with the 3 famous Musketeers; Porthos , Athos and Aramis, but after the ensuing melee is broken up by the Cardinal's Guards (you would never guess otherwise that dueling was actually forbidden in Paris), the young maverick joins forces with the three to defeat the Cardinal's men and a friendship is forged between all that forms the backbone of the epic story that follows. The game closely follows Alexandre Dumas' novel, and so whilst the developers can not take credit for the quality of the plot, the attention to detail in the faithful adaptation to the PC is to be highly commended.
One of the most appealing features of the game is the excellent narrative that appears in 17th century form, again a brilliant transformation from the pages of Dumas' classic. The heady days when gentlemen were gentlemen, regardless of whether they were pointing loaded muskets at each other's genitals, and when it was less honourable to comment on the stench of a man walking the street than it was for him to mutilate you for saying so. Fans of the “Hornblower” television series will gleefully welcome lines such as; “Sir, you have compromised my honour and I must now demand satisfaction!”. The characters are very well defined and fleshed out, and they are both believable and evocative – a great effort!
The gameplay itself is not only heavily reliant on the narrative but also mainly driven by it as well. At all times, d'Artagnan is free to explore his environs, buy and sell goods, rummage through barrels and crates, and attempt non-story related side quests as desired, but the lure of the adventure will pull him back to the main plotline before long.
The game's mechanics are fairly routine. The player starts out at level 1, and over time and with experience can level d'Artagnan and increase the statistics that define him – namely; attack (melee), defence, honour and shooting. Combat is basic and requires little input from the player. Encounters are decided primarily by the skill and equipment level of the characters involved, and a healthy dose of luck. Taking time to develop the characters skills and keeping him well equipped before heading off to complete important story related quests will ensure victory throughout. There never seems to be a shortage of ladies being taken advantage of, or rogues that are willing to offer some choice insults, and random duels around town are plentiful. The young Gascon demands satisfaction wherever he goes, and the progression is steady through the levels.
Lack of money is never a problem, since pieces of low-level equipment and various other odds and ends can be found strewn around town (and even in people's houses), and these can provide a steady cash flow even during lean times in the main story. In fact, these barrels and crates even seem to regenerate their contents over time, so I'd say that it was nigh impossible for the player to ever to become stuck at a particular point of the game. This is important, since the player may only keep one current savegame for each created profile, and this seems to be autosaved at regular intervals and when exiting the game. There is no savegame management at all, yet I never felt like this was a limiting feature, and the system seems to work quite well.
A mouse is all you will need to play the game. There are some keyboard shortcuts for buying, selling and other tasks such as applying (seemingly magical) ointment to your badly injured body. Point and click on objects to use them, NPCs to interact with them and, in the case of somebody compromising your honour, to turn them into a pincushion. If you can navigate a desktop, you can enjoy the story of the Three Musketeers.
The minimalistic approach to the graphics and effects doesn't really detract from the appeal of the story, but certainly a little more variety in backgrounds is sorely missing. All of the cities and towns do look exactly the same and sometimes, especially after returning to the game after a break, it can be difficult to remember exactly where you are. Since Amiens looks just like Calais looks just like Paris looks just like London... well, you get the picture. Background music is in a fitting style to compliment the on-screen action, and the sound effects are very good. Even to the point of having different effects for the sound of horse's hooves travelling across grass and cobblestone streets!
The core game will take around 3 or 4 hours to play through at a steady pace. If the player wishes to attempt more side-quests (of which I could find, sadly, very few) or general exploration, then there are possibly a couple more hours there as well. The tennis mini-game is a distraction that kept me going for a good while too. It's basically pong, with encouragement from onlookers who come up with such gems as “Sir! I'm afraid that you'll need to move a lot faster than that” and “Ooohh, tennis players are sooo dreamy!” from the bleachers. It does get quite competitive, and after a while you might find it hard to leave the courts, even when other more pressing duties await.
The game is so good that I actually felt compelled to play it to completion (not always a given when reviewing). Although it has more of an “interactive fiction” feel to it, the freedom to backtrack, go shopping, play some tennis or simply just patrol the streets on the lookout for trouble makes the player feel like they can exert at least some control over the flow of events, and I think that was probably a difficult thing to do in a game that strives to follow the novel so closely. There are some mature themes, although none are explicitly depicted, and the game is certainly suitable for all ages and ability levels. By moderating the pace of progression through the storyline, the player can effectively choose the difficulty of encounters, and the lack of other difficulty settings is not missed in the slightest. At a nuts and bolts level, the actual gameplay can get a little monotonous (not helped by the repetitive graphics), yet the storyline never does, and that is the game's main strength and what makes it worthy of a playthrough.
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