Marie Waits

by Dee Cooke profile

Mystery
2023

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Number of Reviews: 7
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Truly torn, September 3, 2023
by Jim Nelson (San Francisco)

I have a pet theory that Americans who call themselves Anglophiles are kind of like people who say they love movies: We all love movies in some way. The question is the kind of movie that draws you in. Likewise, I think all Americans are Anglophiles in some capacity, it just depends on what element of British culture youíre attracted to. For some, itís British popular music. For others, itís the glamour and gossip of the royal family.

Itís the English village crime/mystery story which fascinates me. At one point or another, every British sleuth, from Sherlock Holmes to Poirot to Inspector Morse, finds themself facing an English village shopkeeper, or snooping through an English manorís overgrown garden, or at the village pub buying a pint for the local wag. The folksy and cheery charms of the village mystery is uniquely English, even if the subject matter is morbid.

Thatís why I looked forward to Dee Cookeís latest. Previously I was wowwed by Things that Happened in Houghtonbridge for all those Anglophilic reasons described above: A decaying family home, a cast of local busybodies, and the submerged secrets stirred to the surface by a plucky young protagonist. The mystery had a lot of character and a lot of personal moments mixed in with the usual adventure game fare of snooping around and collecting details. Thereís good reasons Houghtonbridge took third place in last yearís ParserComp and claimed a clutch of prizes in the recent IFDB Awards.

Marie Waits offers similar fare: You are Marie, a young woman from the (fictional?) town of Crossley, England. Youíve been captured by a group known as Farr North after your investigation draws a little too close to them and their operations. The game opens with you tied up at the bottom of a pit ďin a small hut in the middle of Nowhere, Essex.Ē Your captors vow to return in two hours and thirty minutes to finish you off. Your goal is fairly obvious: Get the hell out of there.

According to Cookeís notes, this game is part of a currently incomplete series that starts with 2020ís Pre-Marie. As such, the story line feels ragged when played standalone. Itís apparent thereís a lot of backstory here, but even upon completion of the game, I didnít feel I truly understood the import of all that transpired. It pretty much is an escape game with a turn limit, which blunted the emotional impact of the final winning moment.

Alas, the English village charms I looked forward to didnít materialize. The game is heavily restricted to escaping from said hut and reaching civilization by way of a dark forest. You bump into dead bodies along the way, but their relationship to Marie and her plight were less-characterized than one would hope. (One unlucky soul was apparently a rando in the wrong place at the wrong time.) The room descriptions are perfunctory and sparse, and the puzzles are solved in serial fashion. The most human moments come from a series of notes you find along the way.

The first play-through, I ran out of time. I believe most moves count as a minute, meaning I chewed up a lot of free time with my nervous tic of typing >X to look around when Iím fishing for ideas. My second attempt, I managed to finish with time to spare, although I was basically speed-running through the first two-thirds of the game. The timer obviously imparts a sense of urgency to the situation, but it wound up feeling forced. The use of time was much better managed in Houghtonbridge, where its passing was used for appointments with characters and events transpiring elsewhere in town.

I found myself playing guess-the-verb on a few occasions. Reliance on default messages and the like gives the game an unfinished feel, such as how the usable items in this location are described twice:


You are in a small, high-walled yard. To the north is one side of the standalone hut that comprises the wooden room, including its door. To the west is a rickety-looking shed, also with a door, painted green. The other two sides of the yard are blocked by high stone walls, with a high, solid gate in the southwest corner between the wall and the shed.
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You can also see a green door, a wooden door and a gate here.

Thereís a surprising number of keys, doors, and locks considering how small this game is. It left an aftertaste of adventure games from my youth, where blue keys opened blue doors, and so on.

Iím truly torn; this is a title I definitely wanted to like. I still think it could have been more than the sum of its parts if the emphases had been different. But the reliance on old-school puzzle mechanics, a constrained vision of story scope, and a lack of polish left me flat. Marie Waits feels rushed, much like the protagonist is in her escape, which is too bad.

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