On a recent Link Dump Friday, we featured a game called The Well, a horror point-and-click mystery designed to run alongside the BBC miniseries of the same name, divided into chapters that shed more light on the story behind the videos you unlock as you progress. Billed as a "multi-platform horror drama", it tells the story of four teenagers who discover an old well hidden deep within a house undergoing restoration and end up awakening something much older and darker than they may be prepared to deal with.
You'll start out with access to the first ten minute clip of the series, and the first level of the game. Each time you complete a level, you'll unlock another clip and stage. The game is played with the mouse; click and hold on the screen during gameplay, and move your mouse around to shift your view and look around the room you're in. Text will pop up on the screen as you move the cursor over certain areas, and clicking on them will let you interact with your environment. Complete minigames throughout the house to discover items and unlock more pieces of the story. Clicking the icons in the top-right corner of the screen will let you toggle the sound and subtitles, while the Navigator tab will let you play the stages and scenes you've unlocked. You don't have to watch the video clips, but if you don't, you'll miss out on half the story, which is easily the game's selling point.
Analysis: Admittedly, I may have come across as overly critical in The Well's itty-bitty Link Dump featurette, and that's partially why this review has come to be. Not to mention the fact that it received an extremely positive response, and I thought that it probably reserved a closer look. There were things I quite enjoyed about the whole experience, it's just that few of them had to do with the game itself. The story is interesting and unsettling, if a little predictable, and the production of the show is very well done, with great atmosphere and good performances by its young actors. If they or their in-game counterparts occasionally make unrealistic decisions to advance the plot, well, that's to be expected. If you're not yelling "GET OUT OF THE HOUSE, DUMMY" at the screen, everyone knows you're not really watching a horror movie.
The problem is that the gameplay isn't nearly as interesting as the story. The house is moody and dark, but fails to really capture the unsettling atmosphere of the videos, due in part to a molasses pacing. Traversing through a gloomy room only to have "play game" pop up when you mouse over an object doesn't exactly make you feel as though you're in any peril. Especially not when the games themselves are dull and uninspired. Assemble a broken portrait, place gears in proper order, rearrange books to reveal an image... none of them are really challenging or interesting enough. There also isn't any real indication as to what order you should complete the rooms in, which can be confusing since the characters who show up to speak to you upon completing a puzzle can quite clearly be talking about people or events you haven't heard about yet.
Can design and story make up for all that? Depends on how highly you value the story over gameplay, and I suppose for all the plaintive bleating I've done in the past about games failing in the department of the former, I should probably be a bit more forgiving here. As an exercise in interactive storytelling, The Well does a lot of things right, but makes its share of mistakes as well. If the story is sufficient incentive for you to look past its somewhat bland gameplay, you'll probably enjoy it, especially if you're a fan of the genre. The story and scares are tame enough to be safe for the teens that are its target audience, while still being spooky enough that even us awesome, hardcore, brave grown-ups can still enjoy it. And afterwards, at night, when you turn out the lights, should you find yourself wondering if you might wake up to find an ancient hag perched atop you, whatever you do, don't open your eyes.
That'll just make her angrier.