Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Colonel's Bequest: A Laura Bow Mystery

I'm afraid of death... Yes, but that doesn't stop death coming... and coming and coming!

Original Platforms-Windows, MS-DOS, Amiga, Atari ST
Original Release Year-1989

Developer-Sierra On-line

As you may remember for my first review on this blog I chose Laura Bow: The Dagger of Amon Ra to which I gave a good score and recommendation for purchase or download. As you may also remember Dagger of Amon Ra was the second and final game in the Laura Bow series from Sierra On-Line; the reason for these out- of -order reviews was me not finishing the first game until fairly recently, which would of not allowed me to write a very thorough review. But now it’s finished and I’m ready to give it the review it deserves.

I already went over the history of the Laura Bow series in my review of The Dagger of Amon Ra but I’ll provide a brief refresher. The Laura Bow games are two Agatha Christie style murder-mystery games from Sierra On-line which naturally play similar to their former flagship series King’s Quest as adventure games that emphasize logic, plot advancement, and puzzle solving over violence (not so much for the villains in these games). It is also worth mentioning that The Colonel’s Bequest was personally written and overseen by Roberta Williams as opposed to its sequel The Dagger of Amon Ra, in which she only served as a creative consultant. So is this game better than its sequel, or does it get left in the dust? Let’s find out.

It’s the Roaring Twenties and young Tulane student Laura Bow has been invited to accompany her best friend Lillian to her “family reunion” at her great uncle’s island estate in the swamps of Louisiana. Upon arriving the two sit down to dinner with the rest of the family as the Colonel makes his big announcement that he has written in his will that everyone at the table (except for Laura) is to inherit a share of his vast fortune upon his death, and naturally after he retires to his room almost the entire family begins to fantasize about his demise so they can receive their inheritance as soon as possible and are at each other’s throats about who really deserves the money and who doesn’t. Disgusted with this avarice, Laura and Lillian escape to their room where Laura decides that something is up and decides to put her snooping skills to the test. But as the night progresses this family reunion takes a frightening turn as the many members of the Dijon family begin to die one by one. Laura must discover the killer’s identity and solve the mystery of the Dijon estate before the swamp becomes her grave.

Being based on Agatha Christie’s works, it is no surprised that The Colonel’s Bequest is very similar to Christie’s most famous work And Then There Were None as it borrows several plot elements such as a murder-mystery in a big mansion on an island with each of its participants vanishing or dying one by one. Any fan of mysteries will love this story due to its many layers. However the story is presented in a very non-linear fashion as opposed to its sequel, in fact many plot events can be skipped or viewed from different perspectives in the house depending on where the player is; this really makes replayability a must since it is likely that the player will probably not get the full story the first time around, but at the same this can also be a bit infuriating at times since the player can miss plot-points by accidently viewing certain moments before others. Regardless I really enjoy this non-linear presentation as it really encourages through exploration and multiple playthroughs. Being written by Roberta Williams the game is peppered with references to other Sierra games and even a few movie references; including a reenactment of an iconic scene from a certain Hitchcock film (three guesses which one).

Art Design
Using the AGI graphics interface, the game looks similar to Sierra’s King’s Quest IV as it allows for more detailed characters and backgrounds than the previous interface, as well as actual sound effects as opposed to beeps and squeals from previous games. The atmosphere in this game is great; it’s dark, its foreboding, and its tense as you do not know what you will see next on this estate whether it be another corpse or the shadowy figure of the killer prowling around outside. By today’s standards the graphics are very dated and grainy but it still looks really good for a game from the late eighties. Music is virtually non-existent in the main area of the estate and is replaced by sound effects such as creeks and thunder claps which add to the creepy nature of the manor; the little music in the game though is rather forgettable and very brief or repetitive. For its time the graphics were good and the sounds okay but one definitely cannot shake the feeling of age in them.

The Colonel’s Bequest is an old-style adventure game, in that you can guide Laura with either the arrow keys or a click of the mouse. However instead of being able to click on objects like in later adventure games all of your commands are text-based and must be typed in such as “pick up rolling pin” or “tell Ethel about Lillian” etc. This can be a little off-putting to new adventure-gamers as it makes the task of simply discovering what to do rather daunting as random clicking will not get you by like in later games. Sometimes just simply figuring out the correct command can be difficult too as the game is programmed with a set number of hot words or phrases and will not recognize anything else.

Like with other adventure games the object is to move the story forward by collecting objects that will help you solve puzzles and witnessing story events. Your progress is measured on a clock that will appear several times throughout the game and will move a quarter hour ahead for every important plot point that you witness regardless of if you witnessed it in the right fashion. These plot points can be rather confusing at times though as they can range from finding someone somewhere sitting around at a certain time, or even witnessing arguments, fights, and awkward moments between people.

As this is a murder-MYSTERY game it is very important that attention is paid to EVERY SINGLE ROOM. Certain objects change places and it is very important to notice these changes in-game in order to solve the mystery and achieve the maximum score at the end. It is important to note every single thing about a character’s appearance as you may find objects that belong to them in a secret passage or strewn about on the floor suggesting foul-play. Once again this will seem very daunting to most gamers but it really provides an unparalleled sense of accomplishment to finish this game (without a guide of course).

Like in most Sierra games there are MANY ways to die and most are often unexpected, and so it is very important to be cautious, and SAVE OFTEN in order to avoid backtracking. It is expected that the player WILL die several times in this game, in fact this game is infamous for its sheer amount of unpredictable violent death scenes that can happen at a moment's notice. Another thing that really makes this game hard is the sheer amount of ways it can be put into an unwinnable state due to evidence being swept away or the player forgetting or missing an important moment, so it is also important to make several save files. This may come off as a negative aspect but it really adds to the urgency of being thorough in investigation and SAVING FREQUENTLY.

Like its sequel this game came out before the ESRB was established, so the game does not have an official rating. This game is by no means a kids game, as there is several rather gruesome deaths, and even a few instances of female nudity in certain spots. Not to mention that the difficulty of the game is probably too great for anyone under the age of 15. So consider this one an unofficial T for Teen.

I liked The Colonel’s Bequest a lot as it is a classic adventure game with a good plot consisting of great twists, and brain teasers that will occupy anyone for days on end trying to find everything to complete the game 100%. But it cannot be denied that this game is very hard to the point of being rather ridiculous in some points. There are a lot of tricky red herrings and ways to put the game into an unwinnable state which can be extremely off-putting to new adventure game players. I can really only recommend this one for hardcore classic adventure game fans because of this, but I greatly urge any fans of the genre to at least give it a try.

So now it’s time to answer the big question; was this game the superior game, or did its sequel improve enough to be the superior game for any adventure fan? I really think that The Dagger of Amon Ra is the superior game as it is also very difficult and most likely a first time playthrough will result in a bad ending, but at least the game tells you exactly what you did wrong at the end and how to avoid it next time, and it also has no unwinnable states; no matter what, it is possible to make it to the credits. The Colonel’s Bequest is just way too unforgiving in terms of plot and gameplay, and will only tell you what you did wrong IF you manage to make it to the end without making the game unwinnable. Regardless this is still a really good classic adventure game that any big fan of the genre will appreciate, despite the time one must spend to fully complete it (without a guide).

Hardcore fans only.

Wanna play it? Look below for information on how to get the game.

Which version?
The Windows version is hands down the best version.

Where to get it.
Amazon-It can be found used for a rather cheap price, however there are not that many.

Abandonia-Like its sequel the game is not officially on the market anymore and is therefore abandonware. Only problem is the fingerprint copyright check at the beginning which is fortunately hacked to where the answer is always Celie's fingerprint.

In order to play the game on current computer you will need DOSbox which you can get from this website.

Having trouble running the game? Here is an easy DOSbox tutorial from Pushinguproses of Channel Awesome.

Like this video? Check out her other videos and Lets Plays at and follow her on Twitter @PushinUpRoses.

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