First posted on 01 January 2007. Last updated on 09 August 2009.
Trecision is a well known Italian software developer specializing in adventure games since 1991. The Watchmaker, freely inspired by a novel from Jules Verne, is the company's best known game title and, without a doubt, masterpiece. Originally released in 2001 in Europe only, The Watchmaker is a game that truly deserves more success than it has achieved commercially. Sadly, adventure fans will never see a sequel to this game or another adventure game from Trecision, as the company has since gone into liquidation following the closure of its longtime publisher Cryo Interactive in 2003.
A phone call in the middle of the night wakes up Darrel Boone, a private detective and an expert in paranormal phenomena. He is requested immediately at the office of the law firm Norman & McGreen in London, where he meets his partner, Victoria Conroy, who is a lawyer from the firm. They are told to recover an ancient mysterious pendulum device from the hands of a fringe group of religious fanatics. This device can bundle and amplify the "ley lines", which are invisible energy paths made of the Earth's magnetic energies that run throughout the surface of the planet. The religious fanatics aim to use the immense power of the device to bring on an apocalypse, so they must be stopped. These fanatics are believed to be hiding in a XVIII century castle in Austria, where a powerful ley line is located. Due to an imminent solar eclipse that can further increase the pendulum's power, Darrel and Victoria have only 24 hours to recover the device and stop their evil plan.
After the short late night briefing, Darrel and Victoria travels immediately to Austria castle to start their investigation. They discover that the castle now belongs to a pharmaceutical organization called the Multinational, which has turned a part of the building into a representation facility that includes a swimming pool, a gym, and even a sauna. They become acquainted with the castle supervisor (now an employee of the Multinational), his wife, and all the staff at the castle. Darrel and Victoria must be discrete in their investigation, since officially they are just guests and do not want to arouse the suspects' attention.
During their investigation, Darrel and Victoria discover much of the history of the castle and its secrets, including the castle's mysterious "old wing", while exploring its extensive environment. However, they soon realize the fact that not everyone at the castle is happy about their presence and some members of the staff are acting suspiciously. Is someone at the castle involved in the mystery? Who is trying to interfere with their investigation? Why a pharmaceutical organization headquartered at a castle? Darrel and Victoria need to act quickly, before midnight when the pendulum is activated. They must cooperate with each other, seeking help from the people who are friendly and staying alert among the people who are suspicious. In the end, Darrel and Victoria must save the world from the apocalypse and uncover the secrets of a mystery that has its roots in both history and religion.
The Watchmaker is played from a traditional third person point-of-view, with an option to change to a first person point-of-view during selected scenarios. The graphic engine supports a complete 3D environment which includes 80 locations to explore. The walls, the floors, the paintings, and every aspect of the castle are beautifully detailed. The modern part of the castle is perfectly represented, with pieces of furniture matching to a contemporary look. The "old wing" of the castle is equally evocative, with a historic look that is left untouched over the centuries. There are few flaws to the graphics though. Some backgrounds are not rendered fully in 3D. They appear rough, flatten, and without depth, as if they are just images glued onto the background. The edges of many 3D objects are too jagged, as if the graphic engine lacks any anti-aliasing. Although the characters are well modeled, their movements can be better animated. They appear too rigid and goofy, especially when they run. The game supports 1024x768 resolution and runs smoothly even on dated hardware.
Sounds are implemented in a very intelligent way in The Watchmaker. The background music is always discrete, and its presence is continuative and effective. There are parts where it is relaxing, parts where it is creepy, and parts where it is inquisitive. Every tune is perfectly matched with the situation currently in play, gently underlining it. The sound effects are also very good. Every object, including the floor or ground, generates its own effect.
Where The Watchmaker really excels, however, is in the freedom of play. You feel as if you have an entire castle at your disposal, where you can go anywhere. You are free to explore and collect clues in any order you prefer, without any predefined path to follow. The freedom of play is further enhanced by a choice of play between 2 characters. In fact, you can choose to control Darrel or Victoria at any time, rather than at only specific times as scripted by the game. By pressing F8, you can switch immediately between Darrel and Victoria. Even more impressive is that the actions you can perform as Darrel and Victoria are not identical, so that the action differs depending on the character you play. For example, Victoria is more apt than Darrel in talking to other people. If you do not succeed in getting the right information from a person with Darrel, Victoria can surely get what you want. By contrast, Darrel is good in deducing clues that are already collected. You must choose the best mix from your characters' abilities to progress to the end.
Conversing with the staff of the castle is vital. Many useful clues are discovered by just talking to the right staff with the right character. There are a lot of dialogs and topics to cover. The voice acting in the Watchmaker may not be very good (in fact, it is poor), so be prepared to spend quite some time talking to the members of the staff, getting to know their personalities and even their feelings. As the game progresses, gameplay takes on less investigation and more action. The interaction between Darrel and Victoria is a bit unrealistic. For example, even when Darrel is in a part of the castle and Victoria is in another part of the castle far away, they can still swap items from the inventory. Moreover, if you are controlling a character and need help, you can give the other character a call, who then suddenly appears by your side. This lets you explore around different locations without wasting time tracking back and forth between locations. Since the area of play is very large (the castle has 4 floors as well as a basement, a huge garden, 2 small houses, a mausoleum, and a greenhouse), it can take a very long time to get from a spot to another. Instead, you can control Darrel to go to a location and Victoria to another location, acquiring clues in different locations within the area of play.
The interface in The Watchmaker is clean and simple. The Tab key opens the inventory. A list of the objects is displayed on the left, whereas a 3D enlargement of the object currently selected is displayed on the right. The 3D enlargement is a nice and important feature, since it allows you to manipulate the item, rotate it, and even turn it upside down. Sometimes vital pieces of information are hidden from plain sight (such as the back of tickets or photos), so that objects in the inventory must be manipulated and carefully examined. Even though you are given only 24 hours to recover the pendulum device, you do not need to rush since the game is not a race against the clock in real time. Time slips ahead only when you perform a certain triggering action, such as talking to a particular character or finding a particular clue. The left mouse button is used to move Darrel or Victoria. The right mouse is used to interact with people and objects. Holding the Shift key while pressing the left mouse button directs Darrel or Victoria to run. Pressing the space bar switches the point-of-view from the default third person perspective to a more detailed first person perspective. The latter is most useful for observing in detail objects that are needed to be activated or spotting important items that are otherwise hard to see.
The Watchmaker is not a game for beginners or novices. The puzzles are quite difficult, and there are a lot of them. From opening a door or a safe to get a key, every puzzle requires you to think a lot before acting. Since difficulty is a subjective measure, a better description for these puzzles is complex. There are a lot of clues to collect and deductions to make in order to unlock a single device or to advance in the game. There are no illogical or boring puzzles. The puzzles range from activating an ancient clock to connecting to the internet. There is a sort of domino effect to the puzzles—once you figure out the direction in which you need to move, the puzzle solution will reveal itself and all the intermediate steps to solve it will be done straight away.
Overall, The Watchmaker is a game for seasoned adventure gamers due to its complex and difficult puzzles. This game is perfect for exigent players who demand challenging gameplay and excellent graphics, all packaged in a sophisticated plot. This game is long, so be prepared to spend many days (and night) playing it. Undoubtedly, Trecision has created a truly inspired adventure game, with enough innovative features to make The Watchmaker a classic. The relative lack of commercial success in its sales thus remains a mystery to this date.