Though most adventure games tend to be defined by their puzzles as much as the story elements they contain, it’s rare to see such a title that ditches nearly all traces of an elaborate tale and compelling character interaction in favor of an emphasis on raw puzzle solving. Two years ago, Kheops Studio treated PC gamers to a streamlined adventure title that did just that. Revolving almost solely around completing tricky mechanical puzzles, Safecracker has now found its way to the Wii.
While serious adventure fans may find the game to be missing some of the requisite personality of other entries in their favorite genre, there’s just enough of a tale here to warrant straining your brain to tackle each obstacle thrown at you. With little flash or gimmick, Safecracker delivers a straightforward, challenge heavy experience. Thanks to a light plot and exploration elements that link one puzzle to the next, it’s far more cohesive than your average puzzle mini-game collection. Players with a good measure of problem solving skill should find ample difficulties to overcome and rewards hidden within the walls of the Adams’ mansion.
Following the death of Duncan Walter Adams, an eccentric billionaire who nursed an obsession with safes that borders on lunacy, no one can seem to locate his last will and testament supposedly containing the declaration of how the remaining wealth is to be divided up. Even in death, the clever devil manages to have the last laugh: he’s hidden the document in a super-sealed vault that can only be opened by obtaining clues and objects hidden throughout his mansion and inside numerous locked safes. Desperate to locate the elusive document, his wealthy family has hired you, a renowned safecracker, to rummage around Adams’ estate, solve its many mysterious puzzles, and uncover who will be the recipient of the deceased man’s remaining material wealth. Your task is a lonely one, since the mansion is completely empty of any and all inhabitants. You’ll come across plenty of documents and images that provide hints, spurring you to muse to yourself aloud about their significance to your mission, but there’s no one else around to chat with.
While solving the many puzzles found in the mansion is your main objective, simply finding them and locating the means to access each one adds another layer of complexity to the game. Cracking the codes to the 35 safes Adams has lying around often requires you to hunt down written clues, keys, swipe cards, mechanical components, and other items stashed throughout the building’s many rooms. Some are hidden behind locked doors or in the safes themselves; others are sitting out in plain sight. Exploring the mansion provides a broader context for the different challenges and gives the game a good flow. Puzzle fans are going to dig it for its tough challenges, but the quasi-adventure trappings make the experience more interesting.
Safecracker uses a mostly point-and-click interface, though the controls are divided between the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. Using the latter lets you turn the camera around in almost any direction to scour for clues both high and low. The C button lets you skip dialogue, while the Z button lets you access your inventory menu. Pointing the Wii Remote at the screen moves a reticule that changes when you move it over hotspots. This is used with the A button to interact with items or move from one area of a room to the next. Movement and room transitions come in the form of brief warps, instead of walking smoothly like in a first-person shooter. Generally speaking, the controls work well for exploration and interacting with the game’s puzzle elements.
There’s more to the puzzles in safecracker than merely cracking safes. Granted, you’ll encounter many keypads that require you to input codes culled from clues hidden in the game, and plenty of safes that utilize a mixture of unusual and traditional locking mechanisms, but the mansion’s depths contain more than a few challenges to match the eccentric nature of its previous owner. You’ll also find these are balanced by a reasonable number of simple item-specific puzzles, whether it’s a matter of finding the right key or using a certain item on a location.
The difficulty of the puzzles fluctuates wildly. Some are easily solved by inputting an obvious code or by fiddling with the mechanisms for a minute or two. Others are so difficult that you’ll likely want to have a walkthrough handy just to keep from getting too frustrated when you’ve spent an hour on a brain bender to no avail. The game is obviously more fun when you solve the puzzles on your own. It’s extremely rewarding when you get them right without resorting to desperate measures, yet there’s no harm in having a helping hand available when needed.
Visually, Safecracker has a smooth style with a nice level of detail that’s on par with the PC version. It’s not stunning by any means, but it’s a clean presentation that matches the straightforwardness of the gameplay. Without characters to interact with, most of what you’ll be staring at consists of finely decorated rooms and intricate puzzle mechanisms. It’s about as stimulating as you’d expect roaming around an empty mansion to be. The only real issue that detracts from the game is a significant lag that arises when transitioning to the map screen and somewhat lengthy load times between certain rooms. As a result, it often takes a lot longer to move from one end of the building to the other than it should.
Hardcore puzzle fans who also like to dig into adventure titles now and then will find Safecracker to be quite a refreshing and enjoyable challenge – one that can be gruelingly difficult at times. The variety found in most puzzles is enough to keep players from getting bored in that area, though folks used to more excitement and stimulation may find the game lacking. Players with only a passing interest in tough puzzles with a mild adventure flavor should steer clear. Otherwise, it’s a good title that fits a very specific niche.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.8 Graphics
While there are not many people to look at or action to enjoy, the puzzles and environments are nicely detailed. 3.7 Control
The Nunchuk and Wii Remote take over the task of a PC mouse reasonably well. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Tense music crops up occasionally, and you’ll sometimes talk to yourself, but it’s otherwise pretty quiet. 3.3
If you don’t get too stuck, the puzzles and exploration offer a few hours of solid fun. Those who don’t stumble with the challenges as much will find the game on the short side. There’s not much replay to be found here either.
3.6 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.