Safecracker: The Ultimate Puzzle Adventure

Posted by Philip Jong.
First posted on 06 August 2006. Last updated on 14 February 2011.
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Safecracker: The Ultimate Puzzle Adventure
Does the name Anna N. S. sound familiar?
Safecracker: The Ultimate Puzzle Adventure
The game's panoramic views are attractive and immersing.
Safecracker: The Ultimate Puzzle Adventure
This puzzle also acts as the locking mechanism for the safe.
Safecracker: The Ultimate Puzzle Adventure
Some puzzles are rehashes of old classics.
Safecracker: The Ultimate Puzzle Adventure
Call for help!

Safecracker: The Ultimate Puzzle Adventure is an unpretentious title that aims to satisfy adventure game enthusiasts with an appetite for logic puzzle solving. Originally known simply as Safecracker, this 2006 release is not to be confused with the 1997 release of the same name from Daydream Software which, coincidentally, is also published by DreamCatcher Interactive—the parent label of The Adventure Company that publishes this title. At its core, Safecracker: The Ultimate Puzzle Adventure is a game modelled after classic puzzle adventure titles such as The 7th Guest and Jewels of the Oracle. Given this history, it is refreshing to see that this subgenre of games can still offer a very satisfying gaming experience to a niche audience today, however short it may last.

The oil tycoon and eccentric billionaire Duncan W. Adams has disappeared and is presumed died. His niece, Elizabeth Adams, has now hired you to search out his last will and testament, so that his fortune may be divided among the remaining but bickering family. Known to be an avid safe collector, Duncan has dissimulated his will and hidden it among the many safes scattered throughout his lavish mansion. These safes are guarded by locks that are as unique and eccentric as his persona. It is your task to locate the billionaire's will and, in the end, determine who is the rightful heir to his inheritance.

As a game, Safecracker: The Ultimate Puzzle Adventure is best described as a great collection of logic puzzles loosely threaded together by a subtle story. The game is developed originally in French, and an English port is subsequently developed. The game is played from a first person perspective, where the player is both the nameless narrator and sole character in the game. This dual role makes for some strange dialogs, since the narrator can be heard speaking aloud to himself alone in the mansion in order to give the player clues or instructions during the game. The entire game takes place within the mansion. All locations of the mansion are presented in full 360° panoramic view, with both horizontal and vertical tilts. The graphics are beautifully rendered and very crisp looking. Camera panning is extremely smooth, even at the fastest rotation speed (camera rotation speed can be set to Slow, Normal, or Fast). The majority of the backdrops in the game are static renderings. The few animations that exist (such as the fountain), however, blend well into the static backdrops to create a near seamless illusion of an extravagant mansion in great detail.

Navigation within the game is based on a fixed nodal system. There are approximately 30 rooms to explore. These include the Ground Floor, the Second Floor, the Basement, and the Loft. A context sensitive cursor helps to guide both navigation and action. There are 6 cursors (Neutral, Move, Action, Barred Action, Take, and View). For each location, objects can be entirely manipulated by using only the left mouse button. The right mouse button is used to bring up the In-game Map, In-game Menu, and Inventory Slots. The In-game Map shows not only the player's current location but also the locations of all the puzzles discovered so far in the game. A green cross mark denotes a puzzle that has already been solved, whereas a red cross mark denotes a puzzle that has not been solved. The map also gives the room's name when the cursor passes over the area. To use an inventory item, such as a key to unlock a door, it is only necessary to choose the item from the Inventory Slots (after which an icon of the item is shown at a corner of the screen) and then click on the hotspot. The game can be saved at any time by accessing the Option Menu. While there is no limit to the number of game saves for any given game or player, there is a limit of 5 player slots. The well scored but short soundtrack is played throughout the game and adds to the solitude ambience of the mansion. Sound effects are minimal. Speech is limited to the occasional self commentaries and readings of correspondences that are left scattered throughout the mansion. The narrator's voiceover is crisp and clean, a rarity for a port. Subtitling is available as an option. There is no printed game manual; an electronic copy is included on the CD instead. The game package is rather whimsical. It is a metal tin with a CD inside made to look like a combination lock safe.

Given that the primary focus of this game is puzzle play, the developer has rightfully kept the story to a minimum. The story is largely told in a disjointed fashion through a series of correspondences (such as notes, letters, and pictures) that are left behind by the Adams family in the mansion. With few exceptions, these correspondences serve little help to crack the safes. They can help you, however, to choose the rightful beneficiary to the will at the end of the game. Unfortunately, the implementation of these alternative endings feels abrupt and awkward, as if they are done only because a quick ending is needed to an otherwise disjointed story.

Gameplay is made up of a progressive series of logic puzzles. Not surprisingly, these puzzles largely stand in isolation from each other. They are only connected loosely to the extent that a clue or key for the next puzzle is often hidden inside the safe from the previous puzzle. While a limited amount of backtracking is unavoidable, it is largely minimized in this game since it is usually clear what paths need to be taken. There are approximately 35 puzzles in total. Contrary to what has been advertised previously, there is no specific in-game hint system. Occasionally, the narrator may verbally reiterate an observation to draw the player's attention to a puzzle's behavior. The game is suprisingly short, offering only 5-10 hours of gameplay.

Of course, the main attraction of this game is the fact that most of the puzzles are cleverly disguised in the form of locking mechanisms for the safes, albeit few puzzles are also found at other places such as doors or pictures. Cracking the safes ultimately lead to the master safe that stores the will. The puzzles vary widely in the level of difficulty and do not necessarily get harder as the game progresses. For example, the tile slider puzzle near the beginning of the game is particularly challenging, even when you recognize the underlying pattern. Some puzzles and games are rehashes of old classics such as Rush Hour and Simon, whereas other puzzles are based on well-known cryptography such as Polybius square. Several of the original puzzles are quite clever and can definitely garner a few chuckles when you finally see through the simple solution after hours of agony. None of the puzzles are unfair, however, since they all can be solved based on power of observation and deduction of logic. More importantly, at any given time, several puzzles are open to the player and can be completed in any order.

Overall, Safecracker: The Ultimate Puzzle Adventure is a game title that plays true to its name as a puzzle adventure. It succeeds in satisfying the appetite of gamers who yearn for logic problem solving and deductive reasoning, and does so unapologetically, without distraction, and in an unpretentious manner. Taken on face value, it is a game that can definitely be a fun short romp for all wanna-be safecrackers. At the least, it brings back a sense of nostalgia for a gaming subgenre that has been forgotten in recent years.

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