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Voyeur (Mac) artwork

Voyeur (Mac) review


"Preface -- Just like the game it describes, this review is recommended for Mature Audiences only (15+). Both game and review are unsuitable for younger gamers, and will bore and confuse younger gamers, so if that's you I'm just trying to save you some time here! "



Preface -- Just like the game it describes, this review is recommended for Mature Audiences only (15+). Both game and review are unsuitable for younger gamers, and will bore and confuse younger gamers, so if that's you I'm just trying to save you some time here!

Okay, now that only the interested parties remain I'll proceed.

Voyeur

... is a term which the English language plucked from French, along with such other goodies as 'risque', 'cri du chat' and 'beret'. Though when it was pointed out to Shaun Micallef that he had a beret on his head in one episode of 'The Micallef Program', he tore it off in terror before tossing it in the gutter, jumping up and down on it and finally heaving a sigh of relief. 'Thanks mate,' he said.

Voyeur, unlike beret, is an extraordinarily important word and concept in Western culture. This description of the person who derives gratification from watching others - and in the original sense of the word there's an emphasis on secretive, sexual or fetishistic overtones - applies to all of us at times. It's a driving force behind the way films and TV (and in an increasing number of cases, videogames) engage with us and our desires.

Voyeur the game is a cool, smart, sexy and slinky multimedia adventure from 1994 in which we play a would-be-detective spying through the windows of a presidential mansion with a video camera!

Trivia Break

Voyeur was the winner (I'd say the rightful winner) of 7 Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences awards for 1994:

Best Actor (male)
Best Actor (female)
Best Interactive Film
Best Drama
Best Soundtrack
Best Story
Best Direction

The game also considerately comes with a PIN lockout so you can watch out for the well-being of younger folk who may share the computer.

The Set-Up

The tyrannical and downright nasty millionaire Reed Hawke is running for office, and has gathered his 'flock' - two daughters and a son, and their partners, and his sister - to Hawke Mansion for the weekend in order to weed out his friends and foes. All of the family members have dirt on him, but who's willing to use it for personal gain or to wreck his election chances? Whom might Reed have to KILL to save his skin? And can we warn off the targeted family member, or better yet even capture the murder on tape for the police?

(Okay, well obviously that's not better for the dead person.)

We have to solve this mystery by the end of the weekend because we've got to stop this evil man from becoming the President of the USA, and his press conference launch is scheduled for Monday morning.

The game comes to your Mac (or PC) from the CD-I, and brings the 'CD-I' style with it. My initial impressions were not so hot. I felt that this was yet another muddle demonstrating what was wrong with the multimedia craze, being too confusing to watch in the fashion of a movie and too minimal in gameplay to be enjoyed interactively. Just understanding what was going on, let alone solving a murder, seemed entirely daunting and possibly even like a chore.

Now it took some persistent playing, but my feelings for this game completely about-faced! Once I started to get a handle on the story I suddenly realised just how stellar the direction, script and acting all are in Voyeur. Just so there's no confusion, yes, these are entirely live-action filmed scenes which were digitised for this game. Voyeur is also a triumph of dense plotting with up to a dozen individual stories running at once. You can really see how a CD-I game in which the player chooses which plotlines to chase after was a great venue for such a convoluted tale.

The Game

A new game commences with a very moody rendered graphic of your classy apartment's interior. Here's your bed, alarm clock, telephone, obligatory piece of modern art on the wall, and most important of all, your video camera set up in an arc-shaped glass balcony overlooking Hawke Mansion on this fine Saturday afternoon. The apartment screen serves as your cosy HQ and the game's menu screen.

Click on the TV and you can catch an introductory gossip-filled news report which sums up the state of play with each of the four troublesome family members:

Reed's son Zach was unceremoniously evicted from a top secret military position when his dad made a beeline for the top job. MURDER CANDIDATE!

Reed's elder daughter Jessica is an outspoken and high-flying environmentalist with mysterious Japanese boyfriend in tow. And she knows all about those third-world villages that Reed Industries deluged with toxic waste. MURDER CANDIDATE!

Reed's younger daughter Chloe is a wild child. Bikes, leather, lesbian flings... real President's Daughter material. And she's got a yuckier memory from the past to whip out of Reed's closet which she'll fling at him this weekend. MURDER CANDIDATE!

Reed's sister Margaret... well she's clingy, highly strung, and she's a bit more sexual with Reed than brothers and sisters should be. She's also up to her neck in corruption with Reed, which makes her... MURDER CANDIDATE!

When you're ready to rock, you can lick your lips and click on the video camera to commence your surveillance of Hawke Manor.

The display is now filled by the camera's viewfinder. Hawke Manor is at least 3 game screens long by 1.5 high, and using the mouse you can scroll all over its seductive facade studded with 20 windows over 3 floors. The architecture is spacious and glassy, and graphically it's all very finely rendered. The cursor icon transforms when over the various windows to indicate whether there's any evidence to be gathered by looking into a window at this particular moment, and also reveals what kind of evidence that will be.

An eyeball icon indicates a live action scene is taking place, an ear indicates that the shutters are drawn but that you'll be able to hear a conversation, and a magnifying glass means that there's physical evidence to be checked out. This might be a note you can read, a photograph, a newspaper, or just some interesting personal possession.

Clicking on a window commits to zooming in and videotaping what's going on in there. And the nervy catch and crux of gameplay is that everything is happening in real time.

The game is divided up into sessions of the weekend: Saturday 4 PM, 7 PM, 7:30 PM, 8 PM, and then Sunday 10 AM, 2 PM, 4:30 PM, 8 PM, 8:30 PM etc... up until 10:30 PM. In each session, particular events will occur in the 20 different windows at prescribed times, many of them simultaneously, and it's up to you to decide how long to watch any particular scene for. You will variously see the characters arguing, plotting against each other, making passes at one another and ferreting about for muck to rake. If you want to bust Reed Hawke you must guess at the usefulness of various scenes in solving or preventing a murder. A 'useless' but very sexy scene may distract you from a crucial one. The game brilliantly plays off your voyeuristic tendencies against your desire to solve a mystery. And ultimately, because you own the game (right?) you will be able to enjoy both aspects of play.

The time left in each session is cleverly depicted as the battery meter on your camera, and when it runs out you move onto the next session. You experience time's influence very powerfully, not just in terms of deadlines and of which events are taking place and when, but in terms of atmosphere. The sun sets, you'll see the manor descend into night, lights come on in the windows, shutters and blinds are opened and closed, and the mood of the orchestral music shifts accordingly.

As you spend more time playing you'll come to learn the layout of the mansion. Now your voyeurism can take on more focus! You'll know where the bedrooms for each character are, where their offices are, and where to expect certain kinds of scenes to crop up. In turn you are able to pursue the kinds of scenes or people which interest you. The physical evidence adds texture to the game but it has never helped me solve a case, and I felt that I spent an unnecessary amount of time chasing up 'dead leads' in this department until I learned this fact the hard way.

There are some fine atmospheric flourishes. Whilst watching the mansion you'll receive calls on your apartment phone which are picked up by your answering machine in the background. Some are mundane - 'Your car's been repaired'. Others are the opposite. You'll listen to taunting and tempting monologues about voyeurism made by Reed's secretary Chantal, who knows that someone is watching.

Mmmmm, the music is also incredibly lush - and played by a real orchestra! I'd bet that composer Garry Schyman was a fan of Angelo Badalamenti and the dark string score for Blue Velvet, because similarities are great. There are about 6 different themes which play over the manor screen to evoke different moods and times of day...

'This is all really nice', you might be thinking, 'but is this review all tease? This game is called Voyeur, so WHAT CAN I SEE?'

Lesbian confusion, recollections of murder, lots of come-ons and softcore sex and lingerie. Zach's wife Laura is hit upon by three other characters! Incest?! Yes, you can see sister and brother acting very close, and be surprised by how much murkier this is when you witness it rather than just think about it as an abstract concept. There's also another kind of incest here that's much worse. And ultimately you may witness an onscreen murder yourself.

On the lighter side, Reed's foxy secretary Chantal runs around playing dominatrix of sorts to the moronic security chief Frank, which is good entertainment.

But if I just recounted all of the sensational stuff on its own I'd be misrepresenting the game. These goings-on would be empty sleaze if they weren't attached to the superb dramatic core. There are genuinely affecting romances, some successful, some thwarted. Reed himself, as played by Robert Culp, is tremendously threatening. You will feel severely in jeopardy as you see him move to physically prevent a daughter-in-law's exit from a bedroom, for instance, or make veiled threats or menacing phonecalls. There's political intrigue and plenty of mystery too. Where's Zach's secret-filled computer disk? Who is Jessica's Japanese boyfriend really? What's that buried in the garden? I'm just scratching the surface here because I don't want to give it all away.

Graphically the Voyeur window is small, smaller than a 640x480 screen. I'd guess this is a symptom of it being originally formatted for a TV screen when played on the CD-I, but it won't bother you too much. The most important thing is that the visual quality of the digitised sequences is excellent, with perfect framerate and enough resolution to capture everything expressed by the actors and in the scenery. I'd guess that audio was compressed to 22 kHz to fit it all on the one CD, meaning it sounds fine and is generally clear, but not crystal clear, and suffers from very infrequent moments of distortion.

Decor of the mansion is fantastic. Different colours and furnishings capture the moods of different rooms. Chloe's is a purple girly bedroom from childhood, Reed's office has an executive desk and regal arches, Margaret's room is cloying and secretive. In short, production values are awesome, and you will never doubt the atmosphere of this millionaire's mansion for a second! To top it all off, you're always looking at the action through windows, often framed by the slats of blinds or shutters which visually emphasise your voyeuristic activity and drive home the themes of the game.

It's true that in absolutely concrete terms, gameplay variation is minimal. Most of Voyeur unravels in the same way every time you play it, with a small percentage of scenes randomised to produce one of 4 possible outcomes in each session. But it will take you a LONG time to experience every scene the game has to offer (I'm sure I probably still haven't), or to even see where all the variations are, and to build up the story in your head to the extent that you will be able to thwart a single murder. This unchanging quality is the only downfall of the game, but remember it's one that's not apparent until after you've already spent tons of time with Voyeur and had a great dramatic experience. It just means that replay beyond a certain far-off point is 'dead' gamewise, but as cinema (which it often is), well, you'd watch it again the same way you'd watch a movie you enjoyed again, or show it to a friend.

The Performances

Voyeur would be nowhere at all without its actors, and a couple of other knockout performances demand special attention!

Margaret is played by melodrama queen Grace Zabriskie. She spent about 5 minutes crying non-stop in one take as Laura Palmer's mother in Twin Peaks, and we ALL benefited from that. (You say you're not old enough to know about Twin Peaks? Well more recently Grace was seen in Gone in 60 Seconds.) Her mastery of neurosis is unquestionable as she fidgets, moans, cries, stalks and sneers her way around this game, pining impossibly to be First Lady to her brother Reed.

Chantal is played by the ever-stunning Musetta Vander. Now here's a woman who speaks 5 languages, was amazingly lucky with looks and is always a terrific actress, and yet she's constantly typecast in B-parts in A-films (one of the foxy but non-speaking bad ladies in Wild Wild West) or A-parts in B-films (Sindel in Mortal Kombat Annihilation)! When is she going to have the two As she deserves? In Voyeur she's once again giving %150 to her role, that of the evil secretary and the teaser on your telephone.

At the other end of the spectrum, the king ham of the game is the cop who comes around to your apartment when you ring the police in order to show them your videotaped evidence. He's got a crazy grey trenchcoat, crazy cigar rolling around in his gob, crazy gesticulations and a crazy Brooklyn accent. Since his presence tends to make me burst out laughing, I'll forgive him for not being convincing.

The End

So in Voyeur you've got some of the best drama and production values ever committed to a multimedia game, and definitely one of the best concepts with a perfect marriage of form and content. But as ever for this genre, gameplay is the sore area. There are only a few possible outcomes. It will take you a fair while to crack any of them, but once you pass a certain point of knowledge it can become a chore moving through all of the unchanging scenes again next game, hoping that the outcome this time will be different.

The honeymoon period with the game is the time in which you are initially piecing together the stories. This is totally consuming, and for me it was the first time I felt that anyone had fully cracked the potential of an interactive movie to produce a new kind of story experience, and one that really worked. This is a HUGE DEAL because years later I still feel that %90 of games in this genre are completely tedious! Voyeur is a success story with fantastic performances, direction, atmosphere and involvement. It's also something exceptionally rare: A game with complex ideas and themes which it interrogates in its form. You can concentrate on solving murders, or you can just chase your favourite characters around with the video camera.

This is definitely one to grab if you see it about. The only problems are the daunting way into the game (you'll have no clue what is going on for a few games) and the gameplay limit issues. It may be telling for the genre when even an example as good as this one can't entirely solve the gameplay dilemma.

But in the end, you too will love to watch.

-- Voyeur -- 7/10 --

Rating: 7/10

bloomer's avatar
Community review by bloomer (February 06, 2004)

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zippdementia posted December 23, 2008:

Wow, this review really made me want to play this "random-as-hell" game.

Only one thing seriously disturbed me...

He called Wild Wild West an A-Rate film. I have to wonder about any recommendations from this source, now.

Which I suppose is good, because the chances of me digging up this game from the buried wastelands of Ebay are slim.

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