Dr. Stanley's House 2
"A long, long time ago...I can still remember how that music used to make me smile..." Or shiver, I can't remember which. Oh yeah, it was shiver. What I'm reminiscing about is the creepy incidental music to a game we first introduced way back in 2005, Dr. Stanley's House, a point-and-click adventure created by James Li that was by turns moody, mysterious, and downright spooky. Now, many years later, Dr. Stanley, his house, and much of the original cast are back in Dr. Stanley's House 2, a continuation of the story that while still moody, mysterious, and creepy, has also added mind-blowing to the now extra-long adjective list.
In the original you played Mr. James, a private detective called in by Dr. Stanley for...well, for what is a bit unknown. When you arrived at the house you found it deserted, except for two injured men and a mysterious intruder who helpfully sets the guard dog on you. Or, at least, you would know this if you could read Chinese, since the first game was entirely in that language and some of the story was lost in the translation. Not to fear, however, as the entire plot is recapped for you at the beginning of Dr. Stanley's House 2, and this time in English, which is a good thing otherwise you'd be pretty lost right from the start.
Where were we? Oh yeah, the plot. In the first game you came across a young guy with papers whom you assumed was the thief, and an injured old guy whom you assumed was Dr. Stanley. Wrong. It was, in fact, the other way around, and now the old guy has made off with the papers, while poor Dr. Stanley is now in the hospital with a concussion. It is now your mission to find a way to speak to Dr. Stanley (being semi-competently guarded by a sleeping security guy) and figure out how to get back the papers and other objects that were stolen. Sounds pretty straightforward, doesn't it? And it is, until you encounter the old guy again and you have to go back to that creepy house, solve your way past a whole mess of new puzzles, and eventually run into more plot twists and turns than found in The Entropy Effect.
As the game begins remember to choose the English option (unless you can read Chinese) and enjoy the spooky intro and music. Eventually you will find yourself outside the hospital where Dr. Stanley has been brought for treatment. Navigation is a mix of simply clicking on doorways or other areas, along with blue arrows that appear to navigate you in other directions such as right, left, up, down, and occasionally into another dimension. Rather than an onscreen inventory control (it would get way too crowded with all the things you have to pick up) you have a valise in the lower left corner of the screen. Simply click on the valise and you can scroll through the contents. With some objects merely having them in your possession will allow you to use them (without the usual bother of selecting and highlighting an inventory item), with other objects you may have to click on them in your inventory and use a multiple choice menu (use? combine? discard?). It all may seem a little unintuitive at first, but eventually you get used to the eccentricities of the control and navigation structures.
What you might not get used to, however, is the strange "now-it-works, now-it-doesn't" changing cursor. The arrow cursor will change to a hand to indicate some clickable areas, but not takeable objects, raising the specter of pixel hunting, especially in some of the darker scenes. And brace yourself; this is rather a long game. Fortunately it comes with the ability to auto-save, so you can quit in frustration if you can't solve a puzzle or you become lost in the hospital air ducts (easy to do) and come back later after a refreshing beverage and a little down time.
Analysis: Dr. Stanley's House was good and popular back in the day, but that day was six years ago; Flash-based point-and-click adventures and the puzzles they contain have matured since then. So, has the sequel kept up with the times? The answer is a resounding "YES!" The graphics—although a little dated—combined with the soundtrack still set quite an eerie atmosphere. The story has moved beyond a simple crime caper and wanders into Twilight Zone territory about halfway through the game, keeping the player on their toes.
The puzzles are mostly of the found objects variety, with a few pure logic puzzles and at least one wicked color puzzle thrown in for a little variety of the extremely frustrating kind. Dr. Stanley's House 2 is also not for the faint of heart or the squeamish. Although there's no blood to be found, be prepared to do anything to accomplish your goals, up to and including throwing things, shooting at people, and messing about with pharmaceuticals that amateurs should, strictly speaking, not be messing with. Don't worry, it will all make sense in the end. Maybe.
Dr. Stanley's House 2 is not a perfect game. The odd navigation can get frustrating at times, as well as the "now-you-see-it, now-you-don't" changing cursor. However, if you're looking for a fantastic point-and-click adventure that combines mystery, suspense, pharmaceuticals, science fiction, and an extremely goofy English translation, then look no further. Take two shots of Dr. Stanley's House 2 and call me in the morning. Presuming, of course, that you ever find your way out of the air ducts.
Cheers to Cyberjar88 for sending this one in! :)