The Colonel's Bequest: a Laura Bow Mystery
First posted on 07 November 2007. Last updated on 10 August 2009.
The Colonel's Bequest: a Laura Bow Mystery is an adventure game from Sierra On-Line by the well-known game designer Roberta Williams, whose past works include Mystery House, King's Quest, and many other adventure games. The Colonel's Bequest is the first game of the short-lived Laura Bow Mystery series and is among the most underappreciated games from Williams.
It is the 1920s. You play Laura Bow, a young college student aspiring to be a detective and a reporter. Her best friend Lillian has invited her for a getaway at her uncle's big mansion located on a swamp for the weekend. Unbeknownst to Laura, Lillian's uncle has also invited his relatives and associates to the secluded mansion to discuss a will worth millions of dollars that are to be divided between everyone who is present there. Everyone wants to keep the money all to himself or herself, and greed soon leads to murders, rampaging over the course of the whole night. Laura must now use her detective skills to solve the murder and save herself, all the while remembering her father and his advice to her as a reporter.
The game starts off with a clever fingerprint exercise where you are asked to identify a random character from the game—a means of copy protection for the game. Once you get past the fingerprint identification, you can either watch the introductory sequence or skip it by pressing enter. Once through the introduction, the game starts with Laura on her own in her bedroom which she shares with Lillian. As you progress through the game, you will find murders occurring, one by one, around the house at different times. The game proceeds over a number of acts (Act 1, Act 2, Act3, and so on), wherein each new act sees another person killed. A clock will display every 15 to 30 minutes the time progress of the game. Usually, the clock appears when you are about to receive some important information or after you have gotten some important information or completed a critical task. Laura must search each body, investigate for clues, look into corners and everywhere in each room, and talk to everyone. The only downside for this part of the game is that you have to ask every single character the same questions about everyone else and about every item that you have found in every act. In return, you get to pick up as much information as possible about each person and your investigation into who has committed the murders in order to get closer to the truth. Most of the characters in the game are grumpy, snobby, nasty, or sleazy—except perhaps Fifi, drunken Ethel, and maybe the doctor Wilbur who are friendlier towards Laura.
It is not only inside the mansion where you get to explore, but also outside within the fenced property which includes the chapel, the barn, Celie's granny flat, the small gardens, the cemetery, the boat shed, and the gazebo area. Events happening at those places change throughout the game. You can spy on other characters by hiding behind large items and peeping through holes to watch and listen to conversations between other characters. You will need to pick up items that are needed during the game, including a particularly important item that you will use most.
The game uses a text parser as the main interface (no point and click), but you can still use the mouse in addition to the arrow keys to control where your character walks on screen. The typing interface has been simplified to recognize only short commands such as "Ask about Wilbur", "Tell about Wilbur", "Look closet", and "Open closet". Keeping the commands short and simple make them easier and quicker to type into the game, so there is no need to type in longwinded commands to complete an action. At any time, you can also press ESC to access the menu at the top of the screen, where you can choose from within the Actions submenu common commands such at "Talk to", "Show", "Inventory", and so on. This cuts down on the typing time, particularly for gamers who may be keyboard challenged.
The puzzles in this game are relatively easy to solve, and most of them involve the use of the many inventory items which you pick up in rooms throughout the game (some rooms may lead to new rooms). The puzzles are not always needed to be solved in a particular order within each act, but they are required to be solved before the player can move onto the next time slot in the act. Each act lasts exactly 1 hour. Unlike other earlier adventure games from Sierra On-Line, if you miss a particular puzzle in the game, you often do not need to restore to an earlier point to complete the missed puzzle. Rather, you can solve it at any time in the current act or even the next act! This increases flexibility in the gameplay and avoids sudden dead ends that may otherwise force the player to reload and replay from an earlier point. Even so, I still recommend saving the game frequently because there are many times when your character can die unexpectedly and you must restore from a previously saved point.
Overall, The Colonel's Bequest: a Laura Bow Mystery is a good game that gives hours of enjoyable gameplay. An intermediate level player can easily get 6 hours or more of gameplay in a single sitting. The game combines a great storyline, good gameplay, memorable music, and apt graphics. Even though the graphics may look dated today when compared to those from contemporary titles, they serve their purpose well and still hold an unique visual appeal to anyone who plays it. There are 2 possible endings to the game, but the paths that lead to these different endings do not separate until much closer to the end of the game. In the end, the Laura Bow Mystery series is among Roberta's best works, and The Colonel's Bequest is among the best murder mystery adventure games to date.