Publisher: DreamCatcher Interactive
Developer: Silver Style
Release Date: October 7, 2008
Ask any PC gaming kid of the '90s about their favorite titles of the decade, and a few familiar names will pop up: Day of the Tentacle, Monkey Island, Sam and Max Hit the Road and Simon the Sorcerer. All of these games are point-and-clicks, a genre that mysteriously went from being a massive cash cow to being a rare novelty in the space of a few years. You could be forgiven for assuming that Everlight is the spiritual successor to the last one on this list, since it was developed by Silver Style, the creators of the fourth Simon the Sorcerer game, but the sad truth is that Everlight: Of Magic & Power isn't so much a poor man's Simon the Sorcerer as a homeless man's. Simon was already a poor man's LucasArts game, so most adventure gamers can move on — or read on to find out why playing this was such a tedious experience.
The premise is actually fairly promising, if a little on the hackneyed side. Melvin, our future Harry Potter wannabe, is transported to some kind of fantasy land after heading into a shop to get out of the rain, and he must conquer his fears (neatly dividing the game into chapters) in order to graduate as a full-fledged wizard. To do this, he must solve the curse of the town he's in, whereby citizens become their polar opposites after nightfall: thrifty folks become gamblers, law abiders become criminals and an octogenarian villager becomes a creepy dominatrix prostitute. You can switch between day and night at any time, and a few of the puzzles follow the Day of the Tentacle mold, where you have to do things in the day to cause something to happen at night.
Unfortunately, it's not long after first booting it up that you realize that all of the game's promise will go to waste because it's just so flat. While action games can get away with laughable dialogue and terrible scripting if they're entertaining enough, adventure games with this much conversation are damned if they fall at this first hurdle, and that's Everlight's big failing. The dialogue is terrible, long-winded and painfully unfunny. On the few occasions where the jokes would normally be enough to evoke a smile (usually on the fairly well-worn path of transferring real-world bureaucracy and irritation into a fantasy setting), the delivery of the voice acting kills the joke. The actors sound like they're reading slowly from a script, and on the off chance that you haven't guessed the punch line by the time it limply drops to the floor, the final delivery is useless. Combine this with our protagonist's inefficient use of sarcasm, and you realize that laughs are going to be few and far between. A lot of this can be blamed on the fact that it's being translated from German, but even the best localization process in the world couldn't cover up some of these poor, poor lines.
Once these shaky foundations are laid, there's very little the game can do to get itself back into the player's good graces, but good puzzles would be a great start. Sadly, here Everlight falters again. They're a mix of plainly obvious and painfully obtuse, while others are simply cases of trial and error with dialogue trees until you magically get the correct combination. In the case of the obvious puzzles, things are made more infuriating because you'll often know exactly what you need to do but won't be allowed to do it until you've talked to someone. It's hardly a new issue, but it's made much more annoying thanks to the aforementioned painful dialogue. You can have conversations about characters and story elements as if you're intimately acquainted — although you have yet to hear anything about them. This definitely errs a little on the sloppy side. Despite these issues, there's still the same satisfaction to be had from solving puzzles that there's always been, but this will often be tainted with bitterness that you've had to go the roundabout way of doing things.
This is a shame because, aside from the horrendous voice acting, Everlight scrubs up quite nicely in terms of its presentation. The backdrops are probably the prettiest I've seen in an adventure game (which is no surprise, given that most were from the days when hard disks held less data than the memory card on my phone!), with crooked windows and nicely drawn fantasy backdrops. The characters fare less well, and while they look absolutely fine from a distance, you're thrown down into the uncanny valley at full speed when they open their mouths with absolutely no attempt to match lip-synching to the spoken dialogue.
The soundtrack is pleasant enough, but as mentioned earlier, the voice acting is just dire; it's the kind of acting that you hear when people who aren't used to emoting pick up a script for the first time. The graphical niceties come at a cost as well, as loading each screen takes somewhere between five to 30 seconds, which is terrible when you consider how much hopping around is necessary for the genre. I won't kick the game too much because it is possible that the fault lies at the dusty feet of my aging PC, but a lot of other reviews have mentioned it, so it's most likely that it may not be quite as bad as I've said.
It's all a bit of a shame because if the core gameplay mechanics were less of a chore, Everlight actually has some rather appealing developments in the usability department. The biggest issue with adventure games was always that getting stuck was inevitable. True, internet walkthroughs are more prominent than they were in the early '90s, but once you open that text file, it can become difficult to stop.
Everlight provides a rather elegant solution to this, allowing you to choose from a number of difficulty settings. These are identical, save for the amount of help you can get. They allow you a number of candles, which can be lit to provide you with hints when you're stuck. Each puzzle has three candles, with the first two providing hints and the third giving you the full-blown solution. On the easiest setting, you get an unlimited number, ranging to none on the hardest, and the difficulty level can be changed at any time. The second biggest issue with adventure games was always missing something clickable on a screen because the developers hadn't made it clear enough. Everlight dodges this deftly by a simple pressing of the H key on the keyboard, which captions every interactive element on the screen.
Of course, these gestures toward usability cannot overcome the fact that Everlight simply isn't very much fun to play. The dialogue is stilted, unfunny, drab and poorly acted, and some of the gameplay mechanics are obtuse. Each screen can take up to 30 seconds to load, which is a massive problem when you consider how much screen-hopping you do, and the puzzles are generally a bit of mismatch. Once you strip away all of these elements and look at the mess left over, you realize how incredible LucasArts' adventures were, and you acknowledge that Everlight can't hold a candle to them. The Sam and Max episodes from Telltale provide a much better scratch to your adventure itch than this title, so go get them instead.