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Preview: The Perils of Man (iOS)

Bill Tiller, one of the brains behind Lucasarts classics like The Curse of Monkey Island, turns his hand to this rather odd iOS adventure game

The Perils of Man is a point and click adventure that revolves around notions of risk, time, and fear. Designed by Lucasarts veteran Bill Tiller, the game has received funding from an unlikely source: insurance company Swiss Re, as part of its 150th anniversary celebration. This is hardly an advert in app form, however – from what we’ve played there’s no in-game branding, and the relationship between game and its corporate patron is certainly subtle.

The plot is fairly dark; Ten years after young scientist Max Eberling goes missing, the daughter he left behind to be raised by a paranoid and over-protective mother is delivered a mysterious vial on her 16th birthday. The gift from her father leads the player on a mystery that dates back to Ana’s great-great-great grandfather’s disappearance, 150 years ago.

The game starts with a somewhat light-hearted Twilight Zone parody, but the portrayal of Ana’s mother’s mental illness rapidly takes the game along a much darker path. Ana is a virtual prisoner in her own home, and you soon begin to realise that, as well as being bitterly resentful of her father’s abandonment of the family, she has been effectively trained to share her mother’s fear of any potential source of danger, even one as harmless as a lit candle, a dark room or a cake that has been left out for a few hours. As it turns out, the ability to foresee danger will play a vital role as the story unfolds.

We were a little taken aback by the game’s voice acting; Ana and her mother both have faux-posh accents that seem entirely implausible, especially given that the family is supposed to be Swiss. This is rather jarring at first, but we gradually became accustomed to Ana’s voice, if not her mother’s. Given that the bulk of the game’s production was done in Switzerland, it’s possible that the German language version is a little less jarring. If the voice acting seems a little off, the same can’t be said for the music, which is hauntingly atmospheric.

The Perils of Man (iOS)

It falls to Ana to carry on the world-shaking scientific work of her ancestors

As well as adeptly touching on sensitive psychological territory, the game is literally rather dark at the outset. In the isolated mansion where Ana and her mother live alone, the power has been knocked by by a storm. Outside, it’s night-time, and the storm is unremitting. The 3D environments are atmospherically realised, making the old house feel like a real place. This also means that there it’s important to have Ana check every nook and cranny; a shadowy part of the room can conceal a doorway. When you acquire a torch, the ability to illuminate specific areas becomes important to getting you through the darkness. If you prefer your adventure games to feature bright, primary colours, you’re out of luck here, though.

The puzzles fit together neatly, providing both a sense of achievement and narrative continuity when you manage to do something as simple as retrieving the house keys Ana’s mother has hidden from her. Other puzzles are more enigmatic, such as a grandfather clock with a strange number pattern on its face, odd symbols that appear on the great house’s courtyard fountain, and the importance of the Fibonacci sequence.

The inventory system works like a charm, too. Open it up, and simply drag the object you wish to use on to a hotspot; all of the hotspots in an area are highlighted while you hold down your finger, which means that you don’t have to play a tedious game of hunt-the-pixel just to use something. You can also highlight all available hotspots by tapping and holding at any point on the screen. To use one item on another, drag it to the centre of the wheel-shaped inventory, and then place the second item next to it. As well as objects, the inventory can hold ideas and memories, allowing you to use information you’ve learned to operate other objects, in common with A Vampyre Story, also designed by Tiller.

The Perils of Man (iOS)

We’re very taken by the game’s inventory system

The Perils of Man definitely looks worth a download by anyone who’s into their point and click adventure games and is suitable for anyone aged 14 and above. Its Young adult credentials are further reinforced by the way in which the game promises to touch on real historical events, in a similar way to the edutainment adventures that were popular in the ’90s. The atmosphere seemed a little disjointed in the preview we played, but it’s impossible to fault the game’s interface.

The Chapter One demo is available for free on the iTunes Store now, and is apparently 10% of the full game, which will cost £4.99 upon release.

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