The 11th Hour continues the story introduced in The 7th Guest but from a different perspective. You take the part of Carl Denning, whose lover and producer, Robin Morales, has gone to the tiny town of Harley on the Hudson to do a story on the enigmatic Stauf Mansion. Now she’s disappeared and you must track her down. The mansion, although familiar to The 7th Guest players, is somewhat different, as the decoration in certain rooms and the contents of others have altered or changed.
Lots of new pictures in the mansion are intertwined with puzzles that need to be solved. In the first game, solving puzzles in one room opened up additional rooms to explore, whereas The 11th Hour requires you to find objects at the behest of Stauf who provides clues through your portable computer called The Game Book. You not only receive clues on this device but also watch videos of Robin’s investigation into the Stauf mansion, your own explorations of the house and historical scenes. The videos are rewards for solving Stauf’s puzzles and finding objects (39), all of which must be found to win.
You still must solve game puzzles, such as the spider puzzle on the floor in the bathroom and the changing chess pieces in the entry hall, to gain entry into other rooms. Although some are reworked from the first game with different solutions, others are totally new. As before, your viewpoint is from a first-person perspective but, unlike the earlier game which contained fluid and smooth motion, The 11th Hour suffers from a jerky and hyper feeling caused by faster movement. You feel hurried and desperate, which may be appropriate, as you’re supposedly under a time limit imposed by Stauf.
The game contains some rather grisly videos not recommended for those with weak stomachs and the horror aspect can’t be over stressed. If severed ears, melting heads and people being eaten by slug-like creatures bother you, stay away — it’s fodder for nightmares. The 11th Hour combines horrific sights with atmospheric music and sounds that enhance the horror show.
Animations are smooth and the game itself doesn’t require a great deal of disk swapping, unlike that required to watch the “The Making of The 11th Hour” mini-documentary. That said, the film is extremely interesting and worth watching at least once despite the annoyance of excessive disk swapping which can drive you to distraction.
Saving at a strategic point near the end of the game is mandatory, since The 11th Hour offers you a choice as to which character to rescue, unlike The 7th Guest. There is only one correct choice and all incorrect selections result in Stauf being unleashed upon the world.
In summary, the game has plenty of atmosphere and great gameplay. Even the cursors evoke a horrific atmosphere, from the beckoning skeletal hand to the skull with eyes and a throbbing brain that indicates a puzzle location. While it can be very different from its predecessor, you get good return on your investment with lots of puzzles, exploration and mystery inside the mansion. Despite having only an hour’s worth of video, which is doled out in snippets and a longer sequence near the end of each disk, The 11th Hour won’t be solved quickly — prepare for a significant time investment to put Stauf to rest.
The mansion is satisfyingly creepy and deserted and the snippets of video are smooth and fluid. Even the jerkiness of first-person movement manages to add atmosphere.
The music for the first floor involves plucked violins and manages to make you feel anxious without quite knowing why. The second floor music is more somber and spooky, with each room having its own unique background score. Together, the sound is impressive and adds to the atmosphere.
Lots of gameplay is assured with plenty to see. Although much of it will perhaps turn your stomach, it adds up to a strong and coherent whole that thrills as it horrifies. Horror is a strong theme in the game and those who enjoy being scared should enjoy the vicarious thrills and chills.
Some of the starting positions of puzzles change but not much else. There are three possible endings to the story but only one of them is correct. The others result in the death of your character.
The manual is on disk and, while it contains the back-story, credits and some information on gameplay, there really isn’t much useful information.