Every once in a while, a game comes along that does things differently and pushes the boundaries of its genre. Offering unique experiences, these games can lead to the development of subgenres. Brought to us by Trilobyte and Virgin Entertainment, The 7th Guest is one of those games. It is not a perfect adventure game by any means, but it has a unique structure that makes it quite a fun ride nonetheless.
The game opens with a lengthy movie introducing the enigmatic Stauf and his mansion. In his younger days, Stauf was little more than a common thug. Living on the streets, he stole whatever he could to keep himself alive. But one night, a vision came to him that changed everything. Stauf dreamed of a beautifully carved doll. When he woke up the next morning, he created the doll that appeared in his vision. Stauf traded the doll for food and a place to stay. It was the beginning of a highly lucrative business.
It wasn’t long before Stauf had a second vision. This time he dreamt of a puzzle. Once again, he constructed it exactly as he saw it in his dream. His dolls and puzzles showed remarkable craftsmanship. Children were fascinated by his toys. Stauf quickly grew rich and famous. But something was terribly wrong. The children started getting sick. As the innocent lay dying in their beds, they clenched their Stauf toys ever closer. Nobody knew what was happening. Nobody understood what caused the epidemic that was affecting the children.
Stauf had one last vision. This time he saw a dark and foreboding mansion on top of a hill. It wasn’t long before the mansion was constructed. But this was no ordinary place. Stauf filled the rooms with devious puzzles. Then he invited six guests to the mansion. They all came with a different purpose. They each had secret desires they wished to fulfill. And then there was the mysterious seventh guest, the one who held the key to everything. Strange things took place at the mansion on the night the guests arrived. And now, it is your turn to visit.
Years have passed since the arrival of the guests. But the mansion still manages to stand still, defying time itself. Apparitions and visions of the past haunt the corridors now. Strange unnatural sights wait at every turn. It does not matter if you want to get out of the house. You have to explore the rooms and you have to solve the puzzles. It is time to understand what happened at Stauf’s mansion and put an end to this twisted man’s evil.
As the introduction movie concludes, you start the game at the ground floor of the mansion. There is no denying that this is a creepy place. The gloomy corridors, the dark entryway are telling you something is wrong. You see ghosts of the guests that visited the mansion years ago. You see objects moving through the air, guided by some invisible force. Strange secret passages connect the rooms. Unless you keep to the corridors, you never know where you might find yourself. But The 7th Guest is not about exploration. It is almost entirely about puzzles. In each room of the mansion, including the entrance hall and the upstairs corridor, a puzzle is waiting to be solved.
At the beginning of the game, some of the doors around the mansion cannot be opened. As you explore the rooms and start tackling the puzzles, more of the mansion opens up and starts revealing its mysteries. As you proceed from one room to the next, visions provide you insight as to what happened to the guests at the mansion.
The puzzles featured in The 7th Guest show a great deal of creativity. While there are similarities between some of the challenges, there is most certainly a good variety to keep players entertained. Solving each of the puzzles will not be a simple matter either. Some of the earlier puzzles are on the easy side, but once you unlock a few additional rooms, you are bound to face a couple of real challenges that will keep you thinking for a while.
For the most part, the puzzles put your deductive reasoning skills to test. For instance, you will encounter a cake puzzle at the beginning of the game. The cake is divided into small square sections. Some of the sections have small skulls on top of them while others have tombstones. The remaining pieces just have icing. The challenge is to figure out a way to split the cake evenly between six people so each person gets a piece that has the same number of skulls and tombstones. Solving this relatively simple puzzle is just a matter of carefully examining the cake and deducing the correct way to split it.
The game also features three chess-based puzzles and a couple of word puzzles. There is one maze and one of the challenges is more of a board game than a puzzle. Overall, there is a fairly good variety to keep you occupied for quite a few hours as you explore the mansion. If things are getting a little too difficult, the game does have a hint feature to help you. One of the rooms in the mansion contains a book that has hints on all the puzzles. If you attempt a puzzle but do not successfully complete it, you can go back to the book to get a hint. The first hint is usually a little obscure. If you go back for a second time, you get a more detailed hint. If you still cannot solve the puzzle, it is possible to go back one last time to automatically solve the puzzle. In addition to the book, your character will occasionally make helpful comments as you attempt to solve a puzzle. While these comments will not give you the answer, they may help you understand the rules of the puzzle.
The 7th Guest features a remarkably easy control structure and what has to be some of the most memorable mouse icons. A skeletal hand helps you navigate the mansion. If the mouse is over an area with no available actions, you will see a wagging finger icon. If you can move or turn in a given direction, the mouse icon turns into a beckoning hand. A highly disturbing icon depicting a brain throbbing inside a skull denotes puzzles you can attempt to solve. You will also occasionally come across areas where the mouse turns into a drama mask or chattering teeth. The mask indicates that you can view cut scene showing the ghosts that haunt the mansion. The chattering teeth icon marks supernatural events that you can trigger. Once you activate these events, you may see anything from silverware floating through the air to a skeleton cheerfully playing the piano.
The structure of The 7th Guest is what made the game unique when it was originally released in 1992. The strict focus on puzzles gave The 7th Guest a different feel than traditional adventure games. Yet for all its innovation and influence, The 7th Guest is far from being an excellent game.
The biggest problem that hurts the game play experience is the way the story is communicated. During many points in the game, it is possible to enter different rooms and attempt a number of puzzles. The story is told through visions that appear as you enter a room or successfully solve a puzzle. Having the ability to solve the puzzles in various different orders initially sounds like a nice feature. In practice however, it means that you may not see visions of the ghosts in a coherent matter. To make things worse, the game does not even come close to explaining all the details about the storyline. When you complete The 7th Guest, you are quite likely to be left confused and have many unanswered questions. From the outset of the game, one of the biggest questions is who exactly your character is supposed to be. You will at least get the answer to that question. However, many details about the guests or the exact nature of the mystery behind the mansion are left to the imagination. The end result is a storyline that can easily feel rather incoherent and difficult to follow.
The game’s atmosphere also frequently misses the mark. While the mansion does initially feel eerie and creepy, certain elements significantly detract from the overall tone of the game. For starters, some of the acting feels rather over the top and forced. The supernatural events you can activate are sometimes overly comical rather than being creepy. And the fact that you need to actively trigger them almost completely takes away their creepiness. Stauf’s incessant taunting throughout the game gets irritating from time to time. It is sometimes hard to tell whether the game is trying to be scary or comical.
The 7th Guest is a game that should be almost exclusively played for its puzzles. The game has very noticeable problems with its storyline and its atmosphere. However, if you like solving puzzles, it can still be a great deal of fun to play. It is a distinct experience that remains surprisingly playable to this day. The 7th Guest is significant for its structure and intense focus on puzzles. It will not be the best game in your collection and it certainly does not have the plot depth you will enjoy in many other adventure games. However, if you missed this game when it was originally released and if you like adventure games that feature lots of puzzles, The 7th Guest is definitely worth a look.