Bela Kovacs and the Trail of Blood
Bela Kovacs may wear his sunglasses at night and waterfall exhale like a total bad ass (not that you should imitate him, smoking is bad, kids, don't do it), but for some reason the Budapest police department doesn't want him as a detective anymore. When his niece is viciously murdered, however, he's not going to let any power on earth stop him from catching her killer. Not even preternatural powers. In this film noir, photorealistic point-and-clicker from Hungarian studio Extropia Games, you'll need to collect evidence, and manipulate not only your environment but also the people you meet to get the clues you need. Bela Kovacs and the Trail of Blood sets up an intriguing story that will have mystery fans hoping for a sequel.
For the most part, you'll just need your mouse, but don't chuck your keyboard out the window because you will need it for a password at one point. Mostly what you'll be doing is clicking, aided by the fact that your cursor changes when you hover over something clickable. Click through cutscenes. Click on suspicious areas to investigate them and mark them as evidence. Click on objects in your inventory and use them in the scene, or combine them. Click to travel between scenes through marked exits. Click on people to talk with them. Click on dialogue choices to attempt to turn the conversation your way. Click on the blood stains. Click on the many, many blood stains.
Analysis: "You people know them well. The eyes gazing from the shadows. The claws scratching in the attic. The freaks under your bed, the spooks in your closet. Let me tell you a secret. They're all real." So begins the game. Aesthetics-wise, Bela Kovacs is pitch perfect. The English translation is fluid and natural, with only a few minor typos. I've played many games by native speakers that didn't have a tenth of the storytelling talent that the Bela Kovacs team displays. The plot could quite easily have become hokey, and lesser developers might have taken the easy way out and pushed everything over the top into parody. Instead, they went for a subdued but sustained creepiness. There are no jump scares, and the game isn't really horror per se, despite some scenes displaying more blood than I think the human body actually contains. Rather than going for scares, the game elicits the kind of base of spine revulsion we feel when we read about terrible murders in the newspapers.
The visuals back this up. The art of Bela Kovacs is a beautiful blend of photographs and sketchwork with a brooding industrial atmosphere, reminiscent of some of Mateusz Skutnik's works. Maybe there's something in the Eastern European air that turns out excellent point-and-click artistry. This oppressively dark atmosphere does make some objects hard to find, especially if you don't pan the camera sufficiently with your mouse. The developers made the right call in having the cursor change when you hover over a hotspot; otherwise the game would have been unfair. The lack of a hint button, especially in the nightclub scene, is a little frustrating.
As for the game play, it switches easily back and forth between discovery of evidence (similar to hidden object), code and puzzle solving (such as figuring out a password), and trial and error conversations where you attempt to wheedle people into giving you what you want. In a few places, the suspension of disbelief became a little difficult, like picking up all those bottles of UV paint that just happen to be lying around a nightclub while the suspect stares at you, apparently suspecting nothing. But for the most part it's easy to get engrossed in this fascinating tale of darkness, serial killing, revenge, curses, and the Old World.