Recently, Rachel over at the Official PlayStation Magazine tweeted something about a game that was coming out on the iPhone. That game was The 7th Guest, and I dimly recall mentioning it as part of the last Blast From The Past.. Spooky, I'm sure you'll agree. “Why not write about that?” I thought. “Then you might get some of those hipsters with their fantastically expensive mobile devices reading your words for a change,” I thought again.
After a few more synapses connected to others via a system of electrical impulses, fingers flashed over the keyboard and out spewed the following words about a ground breaking and controversial game that heralded the near death of one way of playing and the birth of a new, distended rectum of a genre.
One that was flecked with diamond dust in places, but generally the 'Interactive Movie' was a plague on the houses of all computer and console owners during the 1990s. Huge budgets led to expensive cast lists, with the likes of Mark Hamill (Wing Commander series), Clive Owen (Privateer 2) and Christopher Walken (Ripper) strutting their poorly digitised stuff on our crappy 14 inch monitors or blurry TV screens. The one thing those big budgets could rarely deliver was actual, genuine decent gameplay. You know, the thing that makes us want to play games in the first place.
Watching Dennis Hopper mug it up in The Black Dahlia without the ability to involve yourself much in the actual playing of the game didn't work out in the long term. Yet, when the CD-ROM was this fabulous new shiny tech thing that not everyone had access to, the fact The 7th Guest came on 2 of the sods made it stand out. The fact it cost £70 in places also helped it become infamous quickly.
Set in a creepy mansion, the player takes the role of an amnesiac (…) who has to make his way through the different rooms, completing puzzles to unlock the next element in the relatively convoluted plot. Movement is strictly flick screen, static backgrounds, and the puzzles often verged on the mind-boggling. Luckily, there was a hint book in the library of the mansion that allowed progression through 95% of the game.
As it's essentially just a collection of puzzles joined together by pre-rendered corridors, the plot is what keeps you interested. The mansion belongs to Henry Stauf, a toy maker who made it big then went a bit nuts with the visions and such. After a self-enforced isolation in the mansion, six guests are invited to a party, the visions of which you get to see as FMV sequences when puzzles are completed. I won't spoil the story by revealing who the seventh guest is, but it's definitely worth persevering through the really hard puzzles to unravel the story and see what the scheming of Stauf leads to.
The legacy of games such as The 7th Guest and its sequel, the even harder 11th Hour – which was pretty much exactly the same and, therefore, is worth playing for the exact same reasons as its predecessor – can be seen in things like Heavy Rain, which is, it could be argued, even less interactive than its genre brothers of so long ago. It's certainly very similar in style to something like Blue Toad Murder Files, except with a lot of evil. And more fiendish puzzles.
So why bother playing it? Well, it's an interesting turning point in the history of gaming, marking the direct time that low capacity storage devices were finally ditched in favour of CDs. The 7th Guest was the first game to come out exclusively on CD-ROM and can be pointed to as championing this new method of delivering games. It might be difficult to get hold of it now other than by, er, less than legal means that we could never, ever endorse (…) but to see a moment when gaming changed forever, and to beat a devious AI at draughts, well, it's worth trying to find it.