Monet: The Mystery of the Orangerie Museum

Developer:  Wanadoo Edition
Publisher:   Media Factory
Year Released:  2000

Review by Steve Ramsey (January, 2002)
"The passing cloud, the cooling breeze, the sudden storm that threatens to burst and finally does, the wind that stirs and suddenly blows with full force, the light that fades and is reborn are all things, elusive to the eyes of the uninitiated, that transfigure the color and shape of the bodies of water." (Claude Monet)

The Musee de l'Orangerie sits in the jardins de Tuileries, not far from the Musee du Louvre in Paris. It contains over 140 works by French painters, produced between 1880 and 1930. A specially designed space was created in the Orangerie to house the 12 piece series The Water Lilies, painted by Claude Monet between 1918 and 1926, and gifted to France by Monet following the signing of the armistice. Monet's own garden and ponds at Giverny provide the setting depicted in these works.

It is an exotic and historic cultural setting around which to weave an adventure game, and a highly challenging task. It is in fact this setting, and the way in which Monet's artistic visions are utilised, which lifts this game above the mundane. His smudgy style and whorls of colour are present in the game locations, so they look like a Monet painting. Several locations are in fact created from particular paintings - that is, the scene depicted in the painting is the one in which you play.

A picture paints....
The pick of the settings is without doubt the garden at Giverny. It's a kaleidoscope of colour, from the swirling sky to the mottled lilly pond. Simply stunning.

You will also find his paintings in various places throughout the game, and clicking on them will provide a short comment on the painting and its setting, or perhaps on a feature of Monet's style of which this particular painting is a good example. Monet himself is present in some scenes and he too will provide thoughts about his paintings. The game is very light on the edutainment - it provides small insights rather than lectures.

Inarguably Monet is one of the worlds great painters, and his work is much cherished and admired. Regretably, the rather basic gameplay and reliance on timed puzzles will likely result in the game not being held in the same high esteem.

No enemy but time
The game is set in 1920 and involves a plot to blow up the Orangerie. You, the architect who has been chosen to restore the museum (a nice twist as the real life museum has been closed for over a year for renovations), must uncover the villains and foil the plot.

Your quest will take you from Le Havre, to Rouen, through Giverny and on to Paris. It will do so in fairly short self-contained chapters, each one with a smattering of things to achieve before the game will let you continue to the next chapter. You will talk to people, find the right item, use it in the right spot, and move on. It's all fairly simple and very straightforward.

In every chapter though you will have to deal with one or more timed puzzles. You might have to find a way out of a room before you are discovered, escape from a policeman, or buy a ticket for a train before it leaves without you. These puzzles are primarily responsible for the complexity level of the game. They are not difficult, but it's likely you will not complete them all without needing several attempts. Most likely you will fail on the first attempt, because you don't know you are going to trigger a timed puzzle until it's started.

The last timed puzzle may cause a bit more consternation. It's a mini maze in the sewers of Paris. Fall in the water and you drown; fall off the narrow planks you must cross and you drown. Several attempts will be needed to simply work out where you have to go and what you have to do.

Well, maybe one!
If you are unlucky, you will then be confronted with a glitch that will prevent you from finishing. I know of another player who has encountered the same thing. A saved game sent to me from just after this point enabled me to play the last few moments, but backtracking from the saved point encountered the same glitch. Put simply, there is a graphic missing. There was nothing on the website about this, and at the time of writing, technical support has not been forthcoming. I cannot say how prevalent it is. (Ed note: For save game file see below)

The game is played exclusively in the first person, using the keyboard for all movement, and the mouse to search for hotspots and to manipulate the inventory items. You have good freedom of movement within the settings, and can look up and down as well as completely around. You cannot reconfigure the game controls.

Monet will greet you when you start, and ask whom he has the pleasure of seeing. Different players can enter their names on the menu screen, and their saved games will then be presented. As you can perish, saving is recommended, although an autosave function will kick in at the start of each chapter. As the chapters are short, if you haven't saved before the time for a puzzle runs out, you won't have much to replay.

You can have a practice in moving around in the game from the menu screen, as well as adjust sound settings. There are no subtitles. The menu also gives access to a small gallery of Monet's work, with details on the paintings.

The character animation is somewhat crude, but I thought it actually suited the style of the settings. The characters play second fiddle to the scenes in any event.

Interestingly, some of the distant background detail of a scene only "pops" into view as you get closer. The major objects will be present, but others will appear as you approach. I assume this is a way of conserving graphics power, by only reproducing things as necessary (I could find no information on this on the maker's websites). Whether that is so or not, the game ran very smoothly, although as there is not a lot of motion going on that is to be expected.

It should take you about 4 to 5 hours to prevent the explosion (at which point the game ends rather abruptly) or to get to the glitch, whichever comes first. It is hard not to let a game stopping glitch colour your feelings about a game, but it was right near the end and by that stage I had already made up my mind. 

My overall impression was that Giverny was glorious.

The small (5k) save game file that will get you past the glitch noted above is available here. Thanks to LadyLinda and Jen at Four Fat Chicks for sending it to us. rating:  

Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2002. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Windows 95 or 98, Pentium II 233 Mhz, 32 Mb RAM (64 with Win 98), 16 bit sound card, 3D video card, 8x CD ROM, DirectX 7 or above.
The game also uses Intel Indeo 5.1 video codecs, and these will be installed from the cd.