If you're younger than a certain age, you've probably never thought, "Wouldn't it be great if I could take part in my favorite radio dramas?" But the advent of podcasting has borne a renewed interest in all sorts of languishing radio formats, including radio drama (or "TV without pictures"). It's true, really! Now BBC and Radio Scotland bring us an interesting experiment in combining the audial thrills of radio drama with the interactivity of online gaming.
Legacy is a sound-heavy adventure game, telling a tale of secrets, cryptic clues, and underground vaults.
You control Harry, who with his twin sister Jules is clearing out the attic of his recently deceased grandmother Rose, when the two of them stumble upon a series of interesting puzzles that Rose, who used to play these sorts of games all the time, has left for her two grandchildren. Control Harry, represented on the neutral-colored map with a blue arrow, using the [arrow] keys. You can pick objects up with the [X] key, though you can only carry one object at a time. You may also examine objects with the [Z] key, combine two objects with [C], and otherwise interact with objects and scenery with [V]. The mouseless controls and limited inventory are a bit awkward but essential if you want to play without visuals, which you can turn on and off with the [spacebar]. That's all you need to follow Rose's trail of clues and discover what your Legacy really is.
Analysis: Legacy clearly had high ambitions to be an audio-only game, but had some obvious problems with the execution during development. If you wear headphones and turn the visuals off, you'll see what I mean. I'll say it again, with emphasis: PLAY THIS GAME WITHOUT VISUALS, at least at first. The game makes heavy use of binaural recording, a trick for making stereo sound appear to be happening in the space around you. Every door, cupboard, and object in the game has a looping sound effect associated with it, and with headphones you can actually hear where objects are relative to where Harry is standing and navigate accordingly, all without visual cues. There is no in-game reason to play blind like this, as Harry's visual acuity is clearly uncompromised; it's instead a clever way of taking control of a character in a radio play, which after all also relies exclusively on audio cues to tell its story.
Unfortunately the promise of an audio-only game is unfulfilled in this case. Navigation, as you can imagine, is very difficult with the visuals off. Inventory management is also a chore. It would be difficult to devise a sightless inventory system that didn't limit your carrying capacity as Legacy does, but the one-item rule means that you are constantly dropping useful items to pick up others, and finding where you left an important item is really tedious if you can't see where you are going. Perhaps there were solutions for managing these problems, but Legacy does not apply them.
So, I imagine, the developers relented and included a visual map as the default. Unfortunately the map is very crude looking, and playing with the visuals is almost too easy, as the puzzles by themselves are not very difficult. Legacy was meant to be played with the visuals off, but is almost unplayable this way. I wound up compromising by playing with the visuals off to keep in the spirit of the game, then "cheating" and turning the visuals on when it became too difficult or tedious.
Thankfully, while the audio-only experience was less than I hoped, the story and presentation in Legacy are very strong. While the graphics are minimal, the sound effects and voice acting are very well done. There are some stilted, awkward moments as the game puts together prerecorded templates in some cases ("I found the...locked desk."), but the sound effects are evocative, and the voice acting is of literally professional quality (the actors are from a tied-in Radio Scotland miniseries of the same name). Harry's wont for glib self-narration is particularly effective in selling the mood of the game. The story, while hovering near cheesy, Dan Brown territory, is nonetheless intriguing, as you discover the many mysteries and secrets Rose has left for you. I wish some of the plot points were more fully developed or gracefully executed, but overall the tale is quite satisfying.
Legacy is a solid adventure game coupled with a clever idea for bringing radio to life. Sadly, that idea is found wanting in practice. Maybe someday an audio-only adventure game will successfully fulfill Legacy's promise, but until then we have a hint of that promise, with solid story and production in the package. Overall, that's a good bargain.