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…
As Tad we get Stauf’s dad-jokes every move we make, while Richmond is mocked by a woman in white who acts as Tad’s protector. Or it might be a ghostly woman who taunts him about his abused past, I’m not sure. Just shut up and leave me to go insane staring at this puzzle. While her lines are often chucklesome at first (“I’d ask ‘Penny for your thoughts’ but I’d get change back”) they get very groansome as you stare at a completely inscrutable puzzle.
I’ll be honest, most of the puzzles completely flummoxed me. I wound up searching for a twich playthrough for ‘hints’ – can’t recommend The Flaming Monocle (https://www.twitch.tv/flamingmonocle/videos) enough. Not only does he have way more patience than I do, but his playthrough is attended by some of Attic Door’s crew, and their chats about the background and struggles (and their own confusion over the puzzles) makes it worth having on like a commentary track.
Still, while I’m loving this, the careful attention to what made the original great doesn’t always cover the game’s limitations. We can’t go upstairs until we solve enough puzzles which doesn’t make sense, some bits feel bolted together and there’s less of T7G’s seedy, corrupt characters; the cutscenes don’t have quite the same gothic feel and since we know Stauf, we’re waiting for Richmond to catch up; and at times it gets listless, but rather than replicate T7G’s plot it does try something else.
This time we have Richmond being corrupted by Stauf’s promises which makes for an interesting narrative, and we have Tad’s playthrough for replay value which is teeming with T7G references. The two occasionally cross paths during the game before facing off in the multiple-choice ending, and while I’d like to have seen more of that – your Tad playthrough is impacted by what you did as Richmond for example - that’s asking too much. That they made this at all is enough and balancing T7G expectations (not to mention reputation) with T13D finding its own voice is nothing short of an amazing achievement; often I forgot this was a fan remake and thought I was back in the 1990s, checking TV Guide for when Sliders was on.
There has been some criticism of the game and its price point – but 20 quid is still a steal when you consider what’s been achieved here - those guys deserve to get paid; and they continue to update and refine it based on feedback. And to complain about the game being dated is idiotic. It has its faults but look at what’s been achieved here, it’s a carefully crafted throwback to that era. You wanna play a modern game that holds your hand, go spend 60 quid on one. If this had been some slick AAA game it would have sucked, the occasional typos and flubs make it all the more adorable because that shows real folks not a marketing machine made this.
This has been worth the wait. It’s so good it makes up for The 11th Hour. Sure, the puzzles are infuriating and the lack of explanation grates at times, and it’s not quite as epic or mysterious as the original, but those guys totally captured what made T7G so great. They didn’t just make a full game that can stand alongside the original, they made a five star return to 90s gaming. I’m back in the mansion and I’m not feeling loooooonely anymore.