How many games have you played with a central character who is beset on all sides by ravening zombies? How many where you have to battle evil Nazis? For that matter, you've probably played a game at some point or another where you've actually killed Nazi zombies. That's gaming, folks. But look at this! When was the last time you played a game where the idea was to plan high-tech raids on art galleries to steal valuable paintings which you then hawk to help fund development projects in Africa?
None, I'd reckon.
Me neither. Which is precisely why 15 Days caught my attention. Developers House of Tales, the creators of cult hits "The Moment of Silence" and "Overclocked" are a big noise in the world of original ideas, and as their name would suggest, their primary goal is to tell a story. This is a great thing, of course - too many games are lukewarm on the storytelling and big on eye candy. HOWEVER, there's a happy medium to be aimed at. Force players to follow your story too rigidly and there's no room for actual gameplay.
This is a problem that pretty much all point-and-click adventures are afflicted with. There's one way to solve each problem in the game, and it's the designer's way. Three different quests which can be fulfilled in any order you like doesn't constitute free will. It's hardly even the illusion of free will.
Unfortunately for 15 Days, this is very much the case. Planning and executing a precise art theft is a pretty cool idea for a game, but when it comes to planning you're more or less just along for the ride. Not that this is necessarily a terrible thing - if it was all left to the players, we'd all no doubt be just wondering where we can buy a crate of MAC-10's and a kilo of plastic explosive.
That's not just me, is it?
It is, isn't it?
Ahem. Moving swiftly on, the planning elements in 15 Days are really no more complex than moving your mouse around the off blueprint, clicking on doors and stuff until someone says "Hold on lads, I've got an idea", or words to that effect. Even the jobs themselves are pretty standard point-and-click adventure fare, albeit mostly free of the whimsy that sometimes bests logical progression in adventure games. Still, you're going to get one play-through here - after that, there's nothing new to see.
I'm going to say Ocean's Eleven now. Because that's an obvious influence here. The opening credits show two masked figures rappelling down the front of Big Ben, stealing numbers from the clock face which turn out to be for a birthday gift for the third member of the team. Sadly, the easy banter that makes your common or garden heist caper such fun is notable in its absence, the dramatic void awkwardly filled with bickering and snippiness that makes it difficult to fall in love with the main characters despite their pluck.
The environments are fun and imaginative, and (without giving too much away) centre around the various art galleries where the heists take place. While mostly set in London, various other locations around the world come into play, with a little local colour to make them stand out from one another.
As you'd expect from a developer named ‘House of Tales', the story is the star. The player takes control of four different characters at one time or another, with primary control split between Cathryn, the most vocal of the art thieves and Jack, the cop who is dogging their footsteps. As you'd expect, he's a wisecracking divorcee who is constantly in trouble with the Chief. The action remains upbeat and fast-paced, if not particularly pulse-pounding, and the puzzles range between straightforward and head-scratching. A ‘skip' feature stops the more difficult puzzles getting in the way of progress but you may feel a slight sting, as Marsellus Wallace says. That's pride.
I had a horrible time with crashes to the desktop with 15 Days. It's a frustrating way to teach a player that they should be saving often, but it had the desired effect, I suppose. It's quick to re-load, which I suppose is something of a consolation.
15 Days sells on Gamersgate for about twenty quid at the moment. It's almost worth that on the grounds that - praise be! - it's something original and new. Not without its flaws, 15 Days will reasonably give you between about ten and twelve hours of interesting, intriguing gaming. For me, that's not bad.