What is your shameful gaming secret? Everyone's got one. Perhaps you've never played Halo. Maybe you think Dishonored is a bit depressing. Or perhaps you harbour a dark sexual fantasy involving Waluigi and Dr Robotnik, or that woman out of Final Fantasy with the rabbit ears, or all three.
Here is my secret shame: I had to look up a walkthrough for Pride and Prejudice.
That's Pride and Prejudice the "hidden object puzzle adventure", as it's described on the box, not Pride and Prejudice the novel. (As an English Literature graduate I possess an in-depth knowledge of Austen's work, having spent most of 1998 watching Clueless and Bridget Jones's Diary on VHS.)
Many thanks to Pride and Prejudice forum user "digij" for providing that walkthrough. Due to some imaginative formatting and spelling, digij's work reads like an existentialist haiku:
(By the way, the Pride and Prejudice forum is a great place to hang out when suffering from the weary despair caused by all the arguing and abuse on the internet - or as it's known scientifically, Neogafatigue. Go on, take a break from "Backwards compatibility is garbage" and "League of Legends streamer caught masturbating", and bask in the restful mundanity of "Please help, I can't find the 4th candle Stick and can't repair the glasses.")
In fact, the above excerpt sums up Pride and Prejudice the game. (Pride and Prejudice the novel can be summed up thus: confusion and dancing.) The player's main task is to find things and click on them. This is harder than it might sound as despite being 19th Century landed gentry, the Bennets live like sociology students in a Dalston bedsit. Each set of random objects (sample list: "hat, unicorn, kitten") must be found hidden in amongst reams of discarded gloves, fans, flutes, necklaces, dolls, bonnets, shoes, dogeared copies of Grazia and Tampax. I may have misremembered one or two of those but honestly, Jane Bennet's bedroom looks more like Tracey Emin's.
Then there are the keys. The Bennets love keys. So do all the people they go to visit, like Mr Darcy (not so much Smouldering Colin Firth here, more Baleful Miriam Margolyes). These people are endlessly locking things in cupboards and then hiding the keys for you to find. Sometimes, just to shake things up a bit, they bend the key first, so you have to find the poker and light the fire to straighten the key out before you can use it. The things people did for entertainment back then; no wonder they had to invent opium and war.
It would be easier to forgive this key obsession if the things being locked up were of any value at all. Don't know about you, but I do not religiously hide my corkscrew away every night in case we get burgled. Nor do I feel the need to secure my backgammon set.
Oh God, the backgammon set. It was that which sent me in search of the walkthrough - I could not find the second set of dice anywhere, despite having scanned the entirety of the Bennets' jumble sale of a drawing room with my face two inches from the screen. But digij came to the rescue, in inimitable style:
Brilliant. So at this point, with no warning, the game decides to start hiding objects behind other objects. There is nothing to indicate which objects might have stuff behind them and which won't. This renders studying the screen to search for items pointless, as what you're looking for may not be visible anyway. The only option is to click on literally everything in every room until you find whatever is required - the backgammon dice, or a key, or another key, or perhaps a key.
This is not much fun. Nor is the cross stitch mini-game, a bizarre reimagining of Sudoku with less numbers and more sewing. I do not blame poor digij for being defeated by it, so poorly explained are the rules. There's also a pianoforte mini-game but even typing those words has robbed me of the will to finish this paragr
It's all very nicely presented. The pictures are pretty, the music is pleasant and the storyline is true to the source material, although I don't recall Elizabeth Bennet ever saying "It's OK" or Mr Darcy talking like he's in a JRPG ("..."). But, as the great philosopher-poet Nicky Campbell once said to me: why not just read a book?
(This was when I had been invited on his Radio 5 breakfast show to talk about Desperate Housewives The Video Game. I had never seen Desperate Housewives or played The Video Game, but it was 2006 and I was hungry for fame and they said they'd send a car. I had not expected to be asked to justify the existence of gaming as a medium.
"You're right, Nicky. Video games are for morons. We should all be enjoying more highbrow culture, like Wheel of F**ing Fortune," I said. In the car home. In my head.)
The point is, in this case, you really might as well read the book. There has been a good effort here to produce a polished game that respects its source and its target audience. It is probably the product of the world's shortest brainstorming meeting: "Right, what do women like? Colin Firth, Sudoku and hidden object games. Write that down, Geoff."
But the basic mechanics are tedious, and they don't even work properly. To get much value out of this you'd have to be a serious Austen buff, or a really hardcore fan of finding stuff hidden behind other stuff. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a date with Colin Firth, Waluigi and Photoshop.