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About the Story
There have been unexplained murders and disappearances at a seemingly innocent amusement area just north of Providence, Rhode Island. Due to your strange investigations in the past, you are the one called in solve the mystery of the "Dark Carnival".
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2013 was a prolific year for this author. The first game by MTW I played was The Surprising Case of Brian Timmons, and in the same year he released all of Castronegro Blues, Ill Wind, Dark Carnival, The Vanishing Conjurer and The Voodoo You Do. Several of these are Lovecraft-meets-hardboiled period mysteries in which you play an anonymous (or at least unnamed) detective – or dick. I feel like calling him the anonymous dick because he certainly can be a dick, and so can most of the NPCs he has to deal with in these amusingly profane games set in lurid environments.
You play the dick again in Dark Carnival, and are charged with investigating several mysterious disappearances at a run-down carnival east of town. The place is populated by a bunch of hopeless, cynical and foul-mouthed carnies, which might explain why I didn't see any customer NPCs on the premises. The carnies are very busy, as are all the NPCs in this game. There are tons of people wandering around, looking at you or the scenery, or doing carny things like yelling swear words. All this action plus the extensive carnival map (every exhibit has its own room, or series of rooms) makes for a great feeling of animation.
My main problem with the game is that the investigation isn't well integrated with all this content. From the word go, you've got five murder incident reports to ask NPCs about. That's a mountain of 'ask X about first', 'ask X about second', 'ask X about third', etc., to get through. And for the most part, people either have no significant information for you, or they just tell you, in their own colourful fashion, to piss off. But there are so many NPCs here it's hard to give up on the asking as you continue to hope to find the needle in the haystack.
I'm not sure I ever found a needle. It was only by thorough investigation of the locations that I stumbled into the hidden section of the carnival. The maze design and atmosphere down there were exciting, but when I solved the case, I felt it had been pretty much a case of 'and in a single bound, Jack was free'. All my conversation attempts had achieved little, mechanically. There's evidence that they should have achieved more – for instance, some hidden portals in the game block the player and suggest one should do more investigating upstairs, first. But I only found these portals after I'd reached areas on the other side of them. Whether this was down to bugs or oversight, the consequences were the same.
Comparing this to Brian Timmons, that game was very well directed as an investigation game, if linear. Carnival goes in for a much busier world and a theoretically more interactive investigation model, but that world isn't feeding the investigation mechanics. Nevertheless, the whole is again vividly written in MTW's style, with the particular attitude of this series strongly represented.
This game continues the author's "anonymous detective" series.
As the previous instalments, this IF is quite short and based on a Lovecraftian setting. Also, there are some references to those past IFs, like for example (Spoiler - click to show)a picture in one of the stands which recalls a similar item in "The vanishing conjurer".
The puzzles are few and not that difficult, being this a plot-driven IF; those puzzles are hinted well enough if the player speaks to most people and explores throughly, as every sensible player does anyway.
The first plot elements are available since the start, inside a folder in the inventory. After that, the plot is mostly delivered through dialogs, which are organized in a list of topics; such list varies during the game, and is shown when an NPC is speaked to the first time. Later, the "topics" command can be used to recall the available topics that can be discussed with the last NPC we talked with.
A thing I especially liked is a (sort of) easter egg: the (Spoiler - click to show)bandage aid and the (Spoiler - click to show)black book, which can be found in the same room, the (Spoiler - click to show)director's office. The former may help a bit during the end game, and the latter marginally adds to the plot. Although none of them is necessary, they are some kind of (minor) reward and polish anyway.
Reading the help may be useful, although not really needed if the player has gone through at least one of the previous games in the series.
Overall, the execution is good, at about the same level of the rest of the series, perhaps slightly more.
If you are looking for a quite atmospheric although short (with a walkthrough, it can be finished in half an hour or less) game, this one may satisfy you.
Disclaimer: I betatested the game
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