Ben Jordan: Case 4:
Horror at Number 50
|Review by Thaumaturge
Benjamin Jordan is a paranormal investigator, a man who has followed his passion in life and made a career of it. His first case took him to Florida, where he faced the Skunk Ape and the villain behind it. His second called on him from California and the Salton Sea, under which he rescued a man and encountered a ghost. His third case, however, was different. For one, it was his first case outside of his native United States, taking place in the small Scottish town of Smailholm. More importantly, however, he was not simply an investigator attempting to solve the case. He was a part of the case. Moreover, in Smailholm he found an unexpected ally in Professor Percival Quentin Jones, an Oxford criminologist. Ban also found love in a local woman – a woman who too taught him grief.
In the aftermath of the case in Smailholm, Ben returns to London with Professor Jones to give Scotland Yard his version of the events in the little Scottish town. In fact, it is in Professor Jones’ office that he receives his next case, announced by an unexpected knock at the professor’s door. The visitor is a white-haired gentleman, who gives his name as Randolph Miggs, and his profession as the proprietor of a rare and antique bookstore, located at Number 50, Berkeley Square. For a long time, Number 50 had held a dark reputation as the haunt of a deadly apparition, the nameless Horror. But in Miggs’ time nothing has been heard of any such ghost, until recently, when ghostly disturbances began to make themselves known. Now Miggs is seeking Ben’s aid in removing the evil spirit from the house – and of course, Ben agrees. Such things are, after all, both his job and his fascination.
Ben receives a surprise upon arriving at Number 50 – he is not the only paranormal investigator to be summoned by Mr. Miggs. In fact four others are introduced: Madame Tilly Rosenquist is a Londoner who claims to be a psychic and “True Seer”. Otto Schneider, is a German man whose strength seem to lie in research. He is taciturn but friendly. Simon Booth is an Englishman who professes a penchant for using technology in his investigations of the paranormal. Alice Wilkins is an American like Ben, majoring in parapsychology at Harvard.
Throughout the investigation, each character will have their part to play. Ben will find two good friends and kindred spirits in the group. But there are other spirits lurking in the hallways and rooms of the house. Some deliver ominous signs to drive the living men and women from the house. These troubled spirits hope to help the group escape the terrible fate that found them. The faceless Horror, however, has an entirely different perspective on the interlopers, and in the end Ben will find himself in a deadly confrontation with a being more powerful than any that he has yet encountered. Only by working together, each with their own talents and traits, will they stand a chance of defeating the Horror at Number 50...
As with Case 3: The Sorceress of Smailholm, Case 4 delivers a stronger story than the games which preceded it in the series, and a good and enjoyable story in and of itself. The story is also written with awareness of its protagonist’s history; events in Smailholm have left their mark on Ben and at times on the way that he reacts to those around him.
While there are not many characters to be met and most have little time to truly develop, the characters present are nonetheless interesting, and each has his or her role to play in the story. Simon Booth in particular is well-wrought, in my opinion, making for an engaging character. Additionally, Ben now also has an ally in the character of Professor Jones who, although not present in the house itself, makes appearances in the cut-scenes at both endings of the game. He can also be contacted during the adventure.
The case at Number 50 is not just another case – it is an important point in a story arc that has not yet entirely played out. This storyline had its apparent beginning in the third case, in Smailholm. Just as Ben met two important people there, two of the relationships that Ben forges in the haunted Number 50 will be of great importance to him.
The writing, overall, is not perfect, but is nevertheless adequate and conveys the story effectively. A few points of humor or camaraderie between some of the characters serve to provide relief from the otherwise serious atmosphere.
As with the previous installment of the series, Ben Jordan Case 4 comes with an excerpt from "The Paranormal Investigator’s Handbook". This provides some basic background to haunts in the world of Ben Jordan, as well as a little foreshadowing and even a suggestion for one of the puzzles. It is a nice touch, and while the writing is not exceptional, it is presented very nicely, right down to a label on the back cover proclaiming that this copy of the handbook belongs to one “B. Jordan”.
As with the cases prior to this, the music is good (sometimes very good) setting and emphasizing the mood of the story very nicely. While not omnipresent (being found mostly in certain rooms and at certain points in the story), it is, I feel, appropriate and effective.
Similarly, the sound effects are good, sometimes very good. Ambient sounds are used well in rooms that do not have music, generally setting an appropriate atmosphere for the room at the time. My only criticism might be that the volume of a few of the ambient sounds could perhaps be a little higher with respect to the other sounds in the game.
Graphically, Ben Jordan Case 4 continues the trend seen in the previous cases in the series: it may not be groundbreaking, but it once again improves a little on its predecessor. While a few areas show graphical errors such as visible seams at room corners, most are good and provide decent portrayals of their subjects.
The gameplay in Horror at Number 50 is for the most part the same as that found in the previous elements of the series, albeit with a few changes. The player controls the eponymous character via the mouse, which has available five standard mouse cursors, each corresponding to one type of action that Ben can perform. Through these Ben can be told to walk to a spot, look at an object or place, interact with his environment, chat to a person or interrogate or converse with another character. These cursors can be selected either by simply clicking the right mouse button, which causes the mouse cursor to cycle to the next available cursor with each click, or via their icons in a menu bar that appears when the mouse is moved to the top of the screen. Once the appropriate mouse cursor has been selected, a single left mouse button click instructs Ben to attempt to perform an action of the type indicated by the mouse cursor at the location of the click. Thus, by selecting the “walk to” cursor (a tiny Ben in mid-stride) and clicking on a spot on the floor, Ben will attempt to walk to that point, while selecting the “look at” cursor (an eye) calls for a description of the item or place indicated by the mouse click.
Also found on the menu bar is the inventory button, represented by an image of one of Ben’s pockets. Clicking on this opens the inventory, displaying for the player everything of importance that Ben is carrying at the time. Here items can be examined to gain a brief description of the item in question, used in and of themselves, as well as, perhaps most importantly, selected for use. When an item is selected, the cursor changes to an image of that item. While the item is selected this new cursor becomes a sixth available by right clicking – thus the player can choose to, for instance, walk to another room and examine an object before reselecting the item cursor via right clicks and using it on another object. In similar fashion to performing other actions, using an item on an object or place is achieved by clicking the mouse on an object or area in the game world (or indeed on another item in the inventory) while this item cursor is selected.
As with its predecessors, a notepad has been made available in which Ben occasionally writes down important information. However, this seems to be done infrequently, and so, I feel, a potentially useful addition to the gameplay lacks the utility that it might otherwise have had.
While the previous games in the Ben Jordan series had only a single "talk" cursor, this game has two. The first is represented by a speech bubble containing an exclamation mark, and indicates that Ben make small talk with the character indicated. The second, represented by a speech bubble containing a question mark, instructs Ben to engage a character in conversation, generally either to tell or to ask them something important.
The second change evident from the previous games is that Ben now has access to a cellular telephone, with which he can contact people outside of the house. At first only Professor Jones’ number is available, but it should not be long before players discover another person’s telephone number. This makes for a nice gameplay element, allowing the player to acquire information or aid from the outside on occasion. This telephone is represented nicely; the image used for it is good, although the numbers on the buttons are rather blurred. The sound effects seem realistic. One problem, however, is that the telephone begins to attempt to connect to a number a little too quickly, for me at least. When dialing, if the no more numbers are pressed for a rather short time, the telephone attempts to dial that number – if the player does not dial quickly enough, frustration may potentially result from the telephone dialing before they have finished entering the number. It thus might perhaps have been preferable to have had a separate button to initiate the call, thus allowing players to take their time dialing. Nevertheless, on the whole I found this to be a good addition to the gameplay.
A final, relatively minor change, is that in this game when the cursor passes over an object or place of potential interest that object or place’s name appears in a caption at the bottom of the screen.
The puzzles encountered in Ben Jordan: Case 4 are, for the most part, inventory-based, although there are a a few that might be classified as “investigative”, involving uncovering something in the environment, such as locating a hidden item. While points are also awarded for covering certain topics with certain characters in conversation, and certain topics open up new avenues within the game, one can gain these points and avenues by simply exhausting all conversation topics with all characters, and thus it is debatable whether these can truly be considered puzzles. The puzzles are, I feel, both fair and appropriate. They each have some degree of logic – I believe that I encountered none which gave the sometimes frustrating experience of solving a puzzle only to think something similar to: “how was I supposed to think of that?” None are particularly difficult; I would say that players are most likely to get stuck by not thinking of talking to the appropriate person (such as one of those who are available only by telephone), rather than not knowing how to solve a particular puzzle. Additionally, a few events are triggered by entry into a particular region at a particular point in the game, so when all else fails it can sometimes help to have another look around the house.
In conclusion, I found Case 4 of Ben Jordan: Paranormal Investigator to be a very enjoyable game with a solid climax. The characters are interesting, the story is engaging, and the setting is effectively portrayed through graphics, music, ambient effects and sounds. The game is free to download, is of decent length for a freeware game (it should provide at least an hour or two of play), and at around 22MB should not be too large to be a worthwhile download for modem users. While not perfect, it provides an interesting and entertaining story and experience, and continues, I feel, to improve over what has gone before in the series while continuing the story of Ben Jordan: Paranormal Investigator in an entertaining manner.
|PC System Requirements:|
|Pentium® 600 Mhz|
|128 MB RAM|
|Video card capable of 320x200|
|or 640x480 in 16-Bit Color|
|Windows® Compatible Sound Card|
|Keyboard, Mouse, Speakers|
|(Note: This game may well run on slower|
|machines than listed above)|