"Most of the time you play, you'll probably be thinking that you must have missed something. Sometimes the hero will muse about a possible solution and point you in the right direction, but typically that only happens once you've finally figured it out for yourself. Even then, he doesn't always have anything worthwhile to say. Suggesting that a safe looks like cipher puzzles from the Civil War is all well and good, but what if you have no idea what that even means? The game simply demands too much of the casual gamer that it is likely to attract."
Wealthy men are permitted more eccentricities than the rest of us. Such was the case with Duncan W. Adams, an oil tycoon who left behind a real mystery: no one could find his will. Given who he was and how he operated, the surviving family members decide that he must have locked it away in one of the many safes located throughout his home. Little iron boxes with indecipherable levers were, after all, his passion. That's where you enter the picture. Apparently, you have a stellar reputation as the go-to man when someone needs a combination cracked. At the behest of Duncan's next of kin, you'll wander through the old mansion in search of the missing will.
It's pretty clear that Safecracker was built with PC and gamers first in mind. Navigation involves pointing to distant parts of the architecture until an arrow appears to let you know that you've found a suitable anchor. Then you can press a button to advance a few steps. This triggers a brief load screen and then you're at that next zone, free to look around. Load times are more frequent than feels warranted, suggesting that the developers meant for you to play this off of a hard drive install instead of a disc, but mostly the system works in spite of such issues. In fact, the only time you'll really hate exploring is when you have to consult the map. Each time you do so, there's a significant delay of 15 or 20 seconds before you can get back to the action.
Perhaps 'action' isn't the right word, though, considering how much time you'll spend wandering the mansion in search of clues and safes. When you're not on the prowl, it means that you've stopped to put your brain to use as you attempt to open a safe. Thus, your 'adventure' is really just a series of puzzles linked together by dull walking sequences.
That probably sounds worse than it is. After all, there's certainly no shortage of intriguing puzzles. You'll find somewhere around 30 safes scattered throughout the mansion. If you think that cracking every one of them simply amounts to turning a few dials, you're in for quite the surprise. Even early on in the proceedings, the solutions can be quite obscure. Which, of course, is one of the game's problems...
When I first started playing, I wasn't sure what to expect. I wandered forward to a door and found that it had a four-key number panel. While I certainly could have tried 10,000 combinations, I decided (correctly) that the game's developers probably had something less pathetic in mind. So I wandered off toward a side room, where I found a puzzle waiting for me. Miniature orbs sat positioned on three interlocked rings, each of varying colors. Pressing buttons to the side would rotate any one ring, which of course changed the positions of each orb. The game provided no clues for me, but I finally deduced that I should line up the various orbs along the outer edges of each ring so that they corresponded to the general color tone of the levers. This proved to be the correct solution and that was one puzzle out of my way.
With Safecracker, though, there's never just one puzzle. You move slowly from one to the next. Another example that I stumbled across was a panel puzzle. These have long since ceased to be even remotely entertaining, given how many times they've appeared in every sort of game imaginable, but I wasn't particularly surprised to see one make an appearance here. The problem was that I had no idea what picture I was supposed to form. It turns out that you can see the solution ahead of time by looking on nearby furnishings--not exactly an obtuse solution, granted--but even then you'll have to go through the hassle of sliding the tiles around to form the picture. For someone, this is clearly fun. For me it is not.
Most of the time you play, you'll probably be thinking that you must have missed something. Sometimes the hero will muse about a possible solution and point you in the right direction, but typically that only happens once you've finally figured it out for yourself. Even then, he doesn't always have anything worthwhile to say. Suggesting that a safe looks like cipher puzzles from the Civil War is all well and good, but what if you have no idea what that even means? The game simply demands too much of the casual gamer that it is likely to attract.
Overall, your personality will be the primary factor that determines how much you enjoy Safecracker. People who appreciate it will generally be the sort of folks who get an adrenaline rush from solving a Sudoku or crossword puzzle. There are a lot of folks like that--really, there are--and this is their game. Everyone else should leave safe cracking to the virtual professionals.
Staff review by Jason Venter (January 18, 2009)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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