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Not many narrative games feature a female lead that can help anchor the story making the the player care about her. In the case for Emerald City Confidential, the game succeeds in that area. The main character, a private eye detective named Petra, is a tough talking stubborn lady who complements well with her supporting cast in this alternate universe of OZ. Many folks she meets just aren't who they claim to be at first sight, and she's not afraid to go toe to toe with her suspects, and that makes this adventure much more compelling. She's no sweet girl by any means, but it doesn't mean she has no compassion, and you'll see that side of her much more as the game goes on.
The story is told in a fashion similar to classic noirs, something that would come from the pen of Raymond Chandler. There's corruption, dames, and seedy businessmen. And from these characters come plenty of secrets and mysteries to keep Petra busy. So while L. Frank Baum's story, The Wonderful Wizard of OZ, is a bit more cheery, Dave Gilbert's vision of Baum's OZ is much darker in tone. Some of Gilbert's characters in OZ are not all goody two shoes and their history isn't impressive either when it comes to their moral choices. The game does a fabulous job of weaving together the small stories about the citizens of OZ and gets even better thanks to a couple of surprises in store during Petra's investigations. All this brings a good amount of variety to the storyline without being cliched and passive. The story begins small at first, where Petra's first case is to locate the hiding place of a woman's lover. As in many noir stories, it begins on a quite note but it's going to go out with a bang, and the consequences will be much bigger than you expect.
The game goes beyond the first OZ book so fans of Baum's work should enjoy the game on an entirely different level. They should be delighted to see Gilbert's unique take on familiar characters they have read about. Some of the more memorable cast includes the shady Jack Pumpkinhead, who tries his best to keep Petra from nosing into his business. Then there's the philosophical Scarecrow, who enjoys turning his conversations into quotes about metaphysics. His sophisticated tongue may impress the intellectuals, but it just annoys Petra. Best of all, what makes the cast more complete are the talented voice actors behind them. They did a satisfying job of bringing these characters to life.
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While there's nothing significant to complain about the voice acting the characters could have used more animation. The worse part about this is during Petra's long conversations with them, where they usually just stand still opening their mouths while talking. If these characters could've expressed more of themselves below the neck with body movements or hand signals, then the conversations would be more enjoyable to listen to. At least we get some nice animation from some of the more familiar characters in OZ.
Pictures can also tell us a story too, and it works very well here, as they did a wonderful job decorating this world all packaged in an attractive style. You realize Queen Ozma is pretty popular when you see several portraits of her face hanging up at people's homes and businesses. Visiting the diners is quite welcoming, a cozy atmosphere thanks to all the wonderful baked goods like muffins and cakes sitting on the front counter. There's also a good deal of attention applied on to what the characters wear, each one with a distinct look to them, which helps them from looking too generic.
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While the excellent art design and set pieces make the world of OZ much more authentic and easier to get involved in, the puzzles are fairly weak most of the time –they're usually pretty easy. It looks like the developer was more concerned about making sure you get to explore OZ and meet the colorful characters rather than challenge you with tough obstacles that might stop you from playing further. There's not too much objects in OZ to click on and anaylze so most of the puzzles (where you figure out what items goes with what object) are pretty simple to figure out. It doesn't mean everything is a cake walk, as the most difficult and also most enjoyable puzzles lie later in the game and at the finale. That's unfortunate for those who may not have the patience in the early stages where the game is practically holding your hand along the way.
Another problem is the inventory system. Located at the bottom of the screen, the inventory bar doesn't show all your items or magic spells at one time. You'll have to click on an arrow screen so you can see the rest. It's not a big issue but it is annoying when there's a new puzzle to solve and you have to click the arrow button a few times to remember what you have. It would have been nice to just open a window that lets you see everything. I don't know why items you no longer need still remain in the inventory; they basically just get in the way. There's no customization option where you can move important items to the front of the inventory bar so you can see them on screen, and then leave the useless ones hidden in the back.
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Because Emerald City Confidential is pretty much on the easy side, it's not for the gamer who enjoys being challenged in the point-and-click adventure genre. I enjoyed exploring and meeting the citizens of OZ but it became tiring when it came to solving simple puzzles, and that's why I'm not going to recommend this game. But if you are willing to ignore that issue and willing to enter a fine alternate world of OZ with solid production values and a compelling story, then you will be pleased with it.
A collection of articles about Emerald City Confidential.