Review by SB1988 (2019-03-22)
Roberta Williams is best known for her work on the groundbreaking King's Quest series, which helped define the point-and-click adventure genre of the '80s and '90s. But while she is well remembered for her contributions to fantasy, she got her start with a murder mystery. That game, 1980's Mystery House, was one of first ever computer games to feature illustrated graphics. Nine years later, she took a break from Daventry and returned to her mystery roots with a far more elaborate title, The Colonel's Bequest.
Taking its cues from the like of Clue and Agatha Christie novels, as well as the earlier Mystery House, the game finds 20 year old Tulane student Laura Bow visiting the family estate of her friend Lillian Prune, located deep within the bayous of Louisiana. Colonel Henri Dijon, patriarch of the clan, has gathered all his living relatives together at his dilapidated plantation, announcing at dinner his plans to bequeath his horded millions to all of them upon his death. Naturally, his relatives are the greediest 1920s archetypes imaginable, and arguments soon break out over who deserves the most money and who doesn't deserve any. As the evening progresses, bodies begin piling up, and the obvious motive is greed; does somebody wish to increase their share of the dough, or is it that straight-forward? With the plantation cut off by the bayou and deadly alligators preventing safe passage out, it's up to our amateur gumshoe Laura to find out by herself… if she can stay alive long enough.
The Colonel's Bequest was notable for allowing the plot to progress without direct action from the player. Though Laura does instigate certain actions, she's largely a bystander, watching the events unfold through the interactions of the other characters. Presented in eight acts, with each act taking place over the course of one hour, witnessing key events triggers a 15 minute time jump. Four of these crucial events occur in each hour, and all must be viewed before the next act begins. It's entirely possible to watch the entire evening pass without having a clue as to what transpired, so Laura must be sure to question each suspect thoroughly while they're still alive. Players must also make use of the text parser to observe the surroundings carefully – look, smell, examine and inspect everything, no matter how small, for you never know what might turn out to be evidence.
For a game so ambitious in scope, not everything comes together perfectly. As colorful and distinct as the various characters are, they're very one-dimensional. Dialogue is stilted and unnatural, and some of them are a bit too on the nose (the butler is named Jeeves and the maid Fifi). Then there's the matter of Laura's notebook, which she uses to write down all the clues she gathers. Frustratingly, it's impossible for the player to view said notebook until the game's conclusion. Only then can one see what bits of information Laura failed to jot down. It's entirely possible players would've noted any missing clues for themselves, but if they neglected to type in the exact proper phrasing for Laura to observe them, the game won't register them and your final score will be affected. (I first played this game in 2001, and didn't attain "Super Sleuth" status for the first time until 2018.)
As this is a Sierra game, and one focused on murders at that, death for the protagonist is plentiful and merciless. Save early and often, for Laura can meet her demise very easily, even before the murder spree begins. There's a slight crack in the upstairs railing? Better not lean against it or down you go! Oh, the chandelier's wobbling ominously? Best not to walk directly underneath it, even though entering the foyer from either direction positions Laura dead centre, directly in its path. Though the death animations are quite funny and worth seeing, those intent on playing through will undoubtedly be frustrated by the constant reloading required, until you learn which areas to avoid.
None of this is to say that the game isn't worthwhile. Mystery lovers will no doubt relish the opportunity to immerse themselves directly in one. Archetypal though the characters may be, some of the 1920s pun names (Gloria Swansong, Wilbur C. Feels) are a hoot and help the game from taking itself too seriously. The plot is nevertheless well-crafted, and the game does a good job at building up the tension as the hours pass. Two varying endings give the game replay value and both are satisfying. As well, Sierra's high production values are once again on display, as this title features some of the finest 16-color EGA artwork ever created for any game. The 1920s inspired music is also an auditory delight, especially when played back through an MT-32. These atmospherics are very immersive, and compensate for many of the shortcomings I listed earlier.
Though I feel the 1992 sequel The Dagger of Amon Ra is an overall stronger game, its predecessor is very charming in its own right, and is a great companion for a rainy afternoon alone. So take a deep breath and plunge into the heart of New Orleans, but don't plunge down the laundry chute in the process.
Review by beranmuden (2019-03-19)
What’s up with the testosterone overdose in Sierra games? Most of their games only have playable male characters. There are some exceptions of course, like King's Quest IV, in which you control Princess Rosella, as well as several Leisure Suit Larry games, in which you can control (although briefly) Passionate Patti. Luckily this time, Sierra sure managed to please the ladies! It’s high time for some additional girl power with this mystery detective adventure game called The Colonel's Bequest.
Imagine an Agatha Christie novel. It’s the year 1925, the setting is a large mansion in New Orleans filled with guests and a rich and rather old Colonel who is about to read his final will. As you might have guessed by now, everyone is after his inheritance and people are about to die. It’s your task to find out who the mysterious murderer is.
The game initially announces itself as a stage play introducing each character, which in all honesty consist mostly of your cliché murder mystery characters. We’ve got Laura Bow, our main heroine and Lillian Prune the friend that invited Laura to accompany her on her “fun family reunion”. Then we’ve got the Dijon family members with Colonel Henri Dijon (most likely a nod to the boardgame Cluedo featuring Colonel Mustard) taking the lead as the grumpy old uncle bound to his wheelchair. Let’s not forget all of the staff members, Fifi the sexy young French maid, Jeeves the silent butler and Celie the voodoo cook. Celie is actually one of the few characters that is actually helpful and friendly towards Laura, well, at least when you retrieve her missing necklace for her. Just explain to me, how do you lose a necklace to a dog in the first place? Amongst some of the other family members we’ve got ourselves a troubled Hollywood actress, a slick and sly womanizer and an alcoholic aunt, but hey, who doesn’t have one of those around in the family?
The game in essence is about the investigation of the characters and exploring the environment of the mansion and its surroundings. In terms of scoring the game is really an odd one out for the likes of Sierra games. There is no typical scoring system which you can keep track off. Instead the total of your investigation skills is shown at the end of the game. The game is divided into several Acts. Discovering a certain fact, whether it be by spying on people or discovering a gruesome murder, will trigger the next Act. It’s crucial in the gameplay to find as much information about each character’s background and how they relate to other characters. You can ask the characters about other persons or objects you find to discover clues. Their responses might just tell you a bit more about someone or something. In fact, it’s even possible to finish the game without solving any puzzles or discovering clues about the characters or the murderer.
Yep, that basically describes my first playthrough of the game. It left me more puzzled than wiser. Regardless of that, I remember really enjoying the game. Fortunately, when completing the game, it does give you some hints and information about things that you might have missed. This helps the replay value of the game, encouraging you to investigate more on the next playthrough.
The atmosphere of the game is very solid. The animations and artwork are just fine, there is a lot of detail to be found in every scene. Inside the house you can find flickering lights, crackling fires and even your own reflection in mirrors. Sometimes you can even spot a dark shadow figure creeping past the windows. Could it be a salesman or Jehovah’s witness? Better lock those doors then! Outside you can enjoy the sight of fireflies, birds and other wildlife that can be spotted and heard. The musical theme and the sound effects are also nicely done here. The game features a lovely musical score which is fitting for that particular era and helps build up the ominous ambiance.
But be careful with Laura! Because even though she’s a strong and independent young woman, death lurks behind every corner. Position yourself under the chandelier for example and Laura’s light will douse. Walk too close to that rickety balustrade, she will die. Mess around with the suit of armour, she dies. Approach a wild horse? That’s right, she dies… One of the funnier death scenes, is when you try to take a shower resulting in a scene which is a tribute to another showering scene from the master of suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock.
Although the game doesn’t seem to have any bugs, it does have a very obscure scene that can only happen with a chance of 1:200. When stepping outside the mansion near the statue scene, you can witness a flying statue if you’re lucky. Strangely enough the statue sounds like a shooting plane flying by. Apparently, the scripting part of the scene was wrong and instead of showing a proper plane (or is it a propel plane?) it inadvertently showed a statue flying by.
The final verdict
The Colonel's Bequest is an old and maybe even outdated game. It relies on the traditional Sierra text parser engine. It’s also full of corny and shallow characters and death can be a tough penalty for the curious player. Yet personally, I loved every bit of it. The mystery setting, the animations, but mostly the suspense and the whole “whodunnit” theme. Is it replayable? Well, technically yes, but in all honesty, I doubt many people will replay this after the first go. I did though. And I must admit, I almost liked as much as I did the first round. The hardcore adventure gamers, will want to play it vanilla the first time and then go for all the clues and investigations in the later playthrough. It’s a Sierra game that stands out of the other titles and in my opinion, that alone helps making it an outstanding game. The official box also contains lots of goodies, including a notebook and pencil for your custom notes. So, if you can handle the thrills, I suggest you put on that deerstalker, put in a pipe and repeat after me: “Elementary, my dear Laura Bow!”
P.S. Don’t forget the sequel The Dagger of Amon Ra for a new adventure featuring Laura Bow.