"Although there's a loose narrative that ties the adventure together, Safecracker is almost all about cracking safes. And, in spite of my whining, itís actually a lot of fun."
When Safecracker: The Ultimate Puzzle Adventure arrived on my review pile, the first thing I did was shoot an angry IM over to my editor. He replied quizzically: you like adventure games, he said, and you once wrote a glowing review of Bust-a-Move on the PSX so you must enjoy puzzle games, too! Isn't editor logic grand? I reminded him that if I was to take anything from the name of the game, Safecracker promised to be a game centred on cracking safes, not chibi-dragons firing shiny, imploding balls. Just cracking safes -- and little else. You're being cynical again, he replied, the game might be fun!
Turns out we were both right. Although there's a loose narrative that ties the adventure together, Safecracker is almost all about cracking safes. And, in spite of my whining, itís actually a lot of fun.
Similarities to the original Safecracker game (the one released in 1993 minus the huge moniker declaring it the best puzzle/adventure hybrid EVER) stretch over to more than just the name. But instead of trying to prove yourself as a competent safecracker like the last outing asked you to do, youíre already an established expert in your field. To this end, you have been hired by the Adams family to obtain the credential of oil tycoon and crazy eccentric, Duncan W. Adams.
Like all rich eccentrics ripped right out of a failed Dallas spin-off (apologies to reader base far too young to get this comparison -- it wasn't especially clever, promise!) Duncan W. Adams was an avid collector of safes of differing kinds before his death. Not content to just own these crazy storage devices, he also decided to lock all his wealth, documentation and mundane items such as the key to the next damn room in them. The widowed family members have hired you to try and disarm the safes, if nothing else than to be able to get any further into the house than the hallway.
Inconveniently, immediately after entering the mansion, you find the huge wealth of antique doors around you locked. Most are locked from the other side, but one offers up a T-shaped key-hole while a more hi-tech looking metallic door comes complete with a numeric keypad. A little exploring will also find a cut-away alcove containing yet another door locked from the other side and your first safe to tackle. For this, you are given three siding tracks with fixed coloured beads placed at pivotal points. The goal is to slide these beads around the safeís face until the correct colours are matched up. Itís a simple puzzle, and, in completing it, you gain the numeric code for the key pad and are able to progress further into the mansion.
This leads to a number of other locked doors held by odd locks and unique safes which all need a puzzle solved to open them. Each safe you bust open provides you with a key, a numeric combination needed to bypass a key-pad, a clue to where to progress to next or any number of little gadgets that are vital to your progression.
For instance, in the next set of rooms after the hallway, youíll discover a door with a busted electronic lock that will need repairing. Instead of something as mundane as a key, you will need to crack several safes in the near vicinity -- including a follow-the-trail puzzle, a sliding puzzle that asks you to recreate the familyís business crest and a complete bastard of a maze game that asks you to employ magnates to guide a ball bearing past a bunch of metal walls and into on the of the holes littering the puzzleís floor -- to gain possession of the bits of circuit board needed to repair the lock and open the door. (Cleverly, once theses items have been used, a big red X crosses them out of your inventory, which is smoothly displayed at the bottom of your screen.) Itís one hell of a deceased paranoid tycoon you find yourself dealing with. But itís his odd love of locking anything of slight importance up that gives you excuse the duel with some real time consuming brain teasers.
If anything, the difficulty of these puzzles has been ramped up from the original, so itís also of good cheer to note that the somewhat off-putting time limit the original implemented is no more and youíve time to exercise the little grey cells without hurry. You can slave over the Sudoku-like puzzle as long as you need to, try to break word codes without rush or take your time in trying to work out the string of numerical algorithms needed to open another. The puzzles vary widely not only in difficulty, but in how they need to be approached. Some rely on scrutiny of your surrounds, some on clues collected earlier and some just on cold, hard logic.
And while there is indeed a well-captured 3D mansion to explore, complete with dusty bookcases, expansive gardens and any number of letters and postcards dotted around for you to nosily peruse, this is no more a means to lead to the next safe. The puzzle-locked storage boxes lay out in ahead of you like intertwining branches, demanding that one (or three!) safes need to be broken into to allow you passage to the next one. Whereas wily players can get away with leaving a couple still locked up and secure, thereís still a great deal of sleuthing that needs to be done before the game is finished. In this, the mouthful of a moniker bears fruit: Safecracker: The Ultimate Puzzle Adventure may be just that. Sure, itís going to cater for a niche fanbase, but anyone wanting a decent mental workout with more variety that you can wave a math book at wonít find this title wanting.
As Duncan W. Adams wasnít placed in charge of the publishing of the game he stars in, you can even just wander down to a shop and purchase it rather than slog though 30-some safes to acquire a copy. Handy, but not nearly as rewarding.
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