- Format: PC
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
- Developer: Daedalic Entertainment
- Players: 1
- Site: www.daedalic.de
“It’s about Lily, the most virtuous child in the entire world.”
It’s with these ambiguously sarcastic words that the narrator ducks convention and Harvey’s New Eyes begins to unveil the unsettling tale that is to come. An unassuming (and certainly unexpected) protagonist, Lily begins as the perfectly behaved schoolgirl that waddles her way through a point-and-click adventure, chatting up the local loonies, using and combining a baffling bevy of items, and performing the other expected duties of such a hero. What’s unexpected is the trail of morbid destruction left in her wake.
This dark fate is unimaginable when you first see the delicate and lovable little girl Lily dutifully raking leaves at her convent home. Something we can all relate with… or those of us raised in German religious institutions at, least. But this is but a ruse. Every puzzle solved and glimpse into Lily’s sweet yet shadowed mind rips back the shreds of cheer like an especially rotted onion. Her twisted naivete shrouds startlingly dark realities that are commented upon with the sickly sweet sarcasm of the narrator (who, though skirting irritation with his overacted cynicism, makes an effective and clever voice for the usually-mute Lily). This makes the quest that unfolds to save Edna, Lily’s only real friend, from a maniacal psychologist just a backdrop to the show’s real stars: A questioning of the constraints of conventional morality, and Lily’s own disturbing little mind.
Lily uses her mind for more than to backhandedly wish doom upon the world, however. Mechanically quite ordinary, there are puzzles to solve that deliver just what’s appropriate for the genre. While rarely treading the path of genius, they offer a satisfying balance of complexity and intuition, with a definite knack for weaving clues into the abundance of well-voiced dialogue. Careful listening and observation yields success far quicker than a mad click-fest of trial and error, inviting the player to examine everything and hear the many humorous, self-aware quips that have become a delightful hallmark of the genre.
The game even branches out with its own original mechanic: a variety of moral restrictions invoking everyone’s stereotypical childhood taboos. Playing with fire, contradicting adults, and six others comprise the list, though only one barrier can be lifted at once. This shows promise; but while unlocking each restriction serves as its own self-contained puzzler, they’re rarely referenced again, and having to swap them out is more useless than anything. The game instead sticks to what it does best: the tried and true method of picking everything up and madly hoping you’ll know what to do with it. Unfortunately, it’s not a complete stranger to inconsistent logic (something it rather brilliantly points out itself), with the potential to easily frustrate. What the puzzles result in is where our eyebrows began to loft once again. A nabbed key or unlocked door will often carry with it an unsettling and grisly death; one you clearly caused, despite the game’s winking naivete.
It’s this surprisingly blatant sense of the macabre that oozes from the game’s every line and action. It makes a black contrast to the surreal silliness instilled in this troubled world. Characters have the absurdities expected from a Monkey Island, but with a dash of the unpleasant or insane that makes one question them each in turn; the art is a jumble of piecemeal proportions and perspectives, which could be charming if not for the subdued colour palette; and the music has a jaunty jazz beat that’s kept to the melancholy or downright creepy.
Though the striking contrast certainly makes the world stand out among its more merry peers, for good or ill, such liberal use of darkness doesn’t come without a price. The troubling psychosis of the demure Lily, which is hinted at but never defined in the first chapter, is rushed by in the next two, concluding in an unrewarding and over-explained trio of possible endings. Both premise and tone set up intriguing expectations, but failing to deliver leaves them merely haphazard and overwrought for such an otherwise conventionally carefree game. Why did Lily perform these horrors? What were all those deaths even for? Is that lunch lady verifiably insane or just a jerk? Half-answered questions trail listlessly into a conclusion that makes you wonder if Daedalic ever even cared about the answers.
While Harvey’s New Eyes may fail in its loftier ambitions (assuming they were even there; perhaps being twisted is its own reward), it’s in tinkering with tradition that it makes a game well worth playing. Tackling substantial puzzles and oddball humour with a practised air of know-how, Daedalic created a memorable show of point-and-clicky goodness; just one that may leave you staring in uncomfortable silence.