FBT, The 7th Guest’s biggest fanboy returns to the mansion in this fan-made sequel
The 7th Guest was a watershed moment in gaming. Wandering a haunted mansion owned by the evil Stauf while solving puzzles and trying to free the trapped souls of children, it was Gothmazing - besides its ground-breaking effects and FMV, it popularised CD drives and alongside Myst, heralded a new era in puzzle games; it was adventure gaming’s Doom.
Long after developers Trilobyte closed, Stauf continued to haunt gaming; a 3rd game was mooted multiple times, rumours about reboots and unofficial sequels swirled and Trilobyte resurfaced to rerelease T7G as an app as well as a ‘25th anniversary’ edition which included a PC version of the app version of the original version. Talk about milking it. Still, the spec-ed also included a nineties behind the scenes featurette which is worth the money alone. I’ve bought T7G at least five times. I’ve been tortured by Stauf for 26 years man and boy and nerd.
When the third game failed to materialise, a group of dedicated fans set about creating their own. With the blessing of Trilobyte and the aid of a Kickstarter, ‘Attic Door Productions’ grafted for 15 years to create The 13th Doll. Is it worth the wait? Is it worthy of being a sequel to T7G? Fifteen years? Did those guys sell their souls to Stauf to get this done?! I’m such a fan, I took a day off to find out.
Loading up T13D causes nostalgia to bleed from the screen. I’m back in 1993. Walker, Texas Ranger is on the telly, Cop and a Half is in the cinemas, Whitney is clogging up the charts and River Phoenix is still alive. It doesn’t just replicate the look, it captures the feel. The pulsing brain-skull and wagging skeleton finger, the gothic look and sketchy FMV, it’s all here, but there’s just this energy, love to it that goes beyond aping the original. I'm so happy to be trapped in the mansion again.
While it’s all wonderfully familiar, the biggest change is who we play. In T7G we were trying to save a boy called Tad, the eponymous 7th Guest, but this time we’re either Tad - now understandably committed to an insane asylum - or his keen but green Doctor, Richmond. Tad wants to return to the mansion and defeat Stauf once and for all, while Richmond believes a visit will help Tad realise it's all in his head. They’re both in for a long night. And so am I.
The mansion looks great. Attic Door resisted making pointless changes and kept everything just how we left it. While it does retain the slide-show movement style, you’re a lot freer to navigate rooms, which is a bonus and a bother; in the original you couldn’t miss puzzles or points of interest because the movement put you front and centre. Here, playing as Richmond I have to assemble parts of Stauf’s machine (as Tad I’m looking for haunted Dolls), but spotting them is a nightmare especially as I don’t know what I'm looking for. Eventually I have to turn the brightness up just to find everything. What I do keep finding though are puzzles. Damn puzzles.
The puzzles are as mind-bending as you’d expect but what often tips me over the edge is the lack of info. You’re often not given context to the puzzles and just stare dumbly with no idea what’s going on. I’m all for figuring it out but some I solved with absolutely no idea what I’d done. There’s even a mean, totally unfair, debilitating moment where you reach the lab room and find that accursed microscope. Noooooooo! The original had a hint book, but using it to solve a puzzle cost you a cut-scene, denying you part of the story – I’ve never seen the microscope cutscene… here, the hints screen is just as sadistic as the puzzles. And of course, we have insults to deal with…