Published in 1993 by a British software house called HorrorSoft which was more known at the time for doing the Elvira licenced games beforehand and the rather amusing and well rated Simon the Sorcerer adventure game series afterwards, Waxworks was in many ways HorrorSoft's last huzzah. It was a horror-themed graphic adventure with RPG trappings, much like Elvira II, the Jaws of Cerberus, with which it shared a tweaked graphical MUD engine. However, unlike HorrorSoft's previous games (Personal Nightmare I cannot comment on, never having played it) it had more emphasis on sheer nastiness and horrific imagery than the camp comic B-movie horror of the Elvira games.

The game's plot, though, is similarly B-movie-ish; it involves you, the protagonist, being sent to inherit the house of your creepy old uncle who has recently died and performing some sort of job for him, to wit, breaking a centuries-old family curse perpertrated by the evil witch Ixona back in the old country when your ancestor caught her pilfering a chicken and cut off her hand by way of summary punishment. She cursed all members of that family throughout all time, back and forth, to, whenever the family bore twins, have one of those twins serve Lucifer forevermore.

This is where you come in - your late uncle produced time-portal waxwork displays to a number of those twins' historical time periods which allow you, the player, to adopt the persona of the good twin and take out your evil twin.

This, naturally, provides lots of scope for slightly schlocky horror adventure with vast quantities of claret and red pixels spraying across the screen.

So what are these four time periods then? Well... they're these (and no, those are not official names for the segments, just the ones I've given them here.)

1. Ancient Egypt. In this one, you play the role of a bald royal prince who goes into the pyramid stronghold of your evil twin, who is high priest of Anubis and who is planning to sacrifice your betrothed in return for vast quantities of godly power. Needless to say, the pyramid is full of traps, bloodthirsty guardsmen, puzzle bits, and general unpleasantness.
Signature Puzzle: There's lots of it, most of which is lifted from Indiana Jones - including a rolling boulder trap. But the single signature puzzle from this waxwork has to be the pentacle number puzzle. This is made artificially difficult by an extremely tight time limit. Fail, and the floor gives way and you are impaled on razor-sharp spikes. Owch.
Gooshiest Death: The business with the crocodile, no doubt. You get pulled into the water and are treated to a first-person view of a large croc homing in on you then biting your throat out, upon where everything goes red. Ooohh, nasty!
Creative Anachronism: Tuning forks that you can discern the frequency of by looking at them, then using same to shatter blocks of glass. Did the Egyptians have tuning forks? Were they really au fait with the principles of resonance? Hmm.

2. Going Underground. Here, you are a safety inspector that goes down a mine where people have been disappearing... thanks to the diabolical machinations of your evil twin, who has become a gigantic plant monster and who is assimilating miners into other half-human, half-plant hybrids, all of whom want to pollinate you. You can beat this waxwork, but only with a little help from a (female) doctor, a military engineer, and a horticulturalist. Oh, and fights in this waxwork are almost unfair.
Signature Puzzle: Building a gas mask. For some reason, the giant plant monster who is your evil twin gives off massive quantities of toxic gas. You need to bolt together a rudimentary gas mask from bits you find around the place. Without a walkthrough I would never have thought of breaking up the charred pit-prop and wrapping it in a hanky to make a filter.
Gooshiest Death: Lots to choose from here. Very painful looking is what happens if you walk under those sinister twitching vines - they latch on to different bits of you and pull you apart, causing fountains of gore to fly out everywhere that are almost big enough to throw a coin into. But for me, being spanged by a giant seed-pod wins it. Here, a barbed seed flies into you, grows apace, and sprouts out your eyes, mouth, neck, chest, and anywhere else. That has to be one of the nastiest things in gaming that I've seen.
Biggest Annoyance: Those plant monsters that try to lick you - literally - with a ten-foot-long sting-encrusted tongue, like a walking Triffid. They don't respawn, but practically the only way to kill them is with the herbicide sprayer or by dousing them in petrol. There is a limited supply of both of these substances. Killing them hand to hand is practically impossible.

3. The Graveyard By Moonlight. ZOMBIES! ZOMBIES! ZOMBIES! ZOMBIES! ZOMBIES! Then a vampire and the big foozle, who's a necromancer and your evil twin. You, the player, are a groundskeeper who mislaid his toolbox.
Signature Puzzle: Given that this waxwork consists of dismembering zombies with a sickle for the most part, there isn't one, unless you count making a healing spell using the heart of a dead girl who wandered in and was got. To get the heart you reach into her cleavage and pull it out. Sexy.
Gooshiest Death: Being dismembered by said zombies. It looks like a death metal album cover.
YASD Moment: Going into the crypt and opening your own tomb. Your own spirit literally puts you in there. You idiot.

4. Saucy Jack. It's London, it's 1888, and your evil twin is murdering prostitutes. That's right, you're going after Jack the Ripper. You're just someone who's passing by, for the avoidance of doubt. There's no fights except with Jack himself, who is a well-built type with a big knife and a doctor's bag that he uses as a shield. You start this one at the scene of his most recent crime and with most of the Met after you. Not only that, but there's a lynch-mob rampaging the streets looking for the evil killer.
Signature Puzzle: This waxwork emphasises avoiding things rather than trying to blast through them, like the graveyard or mine waxworks, and as such the puzzles reflect this. Possibly my favourite is escaping the muggers in the alleyways, who will knock you out and nick all your stuff if you try to pass them. So what you do is blow the police whistle then run for it down to the end of the docks, and Inspector Knacker and his cronies will come and give them some serious wallop but won't find you and run you in for being the Ripper.
Gooshiest Death: There aren't any, really, considering, but being trampled by a lynch mob is certainly not pretty.
Frustration Moment: Going through every barrel in every back yard to find the one with a load of giblets in it, which you lace with sleeping pills and throw to the guard dog in another alleyway.

Once you've gone through these waxworks, you unlock the witch waxwork, which takes you back in time to Wallachia and to the incident where your ancestor was cursed for cutting the witch's hand off. To beat her, you use one item that you gathered from each of the other four waxworks upon winning, along with a few other bits, to slay the witch before she can curse you. If you're too slow, you get an eerie red text screen indicating how "You have failed. Your twin brother is doomed to serve Beelzebub forever. You dick." Apart from the last two words, which are just implied.

Waxworks is certainly a pretty creative game, and some of the puzzles are inspired. Others, however, are just frustrating. It's far too easy to do something slightly out of order and render it impossible to progress. For instance, if you leave the chemical sprayer with the doctor in the mine waxwork, but have used up all its charges, then she'll follow you about as she doesn't deem it safe. But she won't go into the big plant monster's chamber even with you, so you can't use the army engineer to plant the dynamite in there. Or, in the pyramid waxwork, if you forget to look in every last jar, vase, pot, and shelf, you won't find all the bits you need to solve the final two puzzles and get to the top of the pyramid, and will have to spend ages going back down it looking for it all. This is frustrating beyond belief. Similarly, in the graveyard, the fact that the zombies respawn constantly means you end up being nibbled to death a bit at a time by them - especially if you get a bit lost.

And that's Waxworks. Gory good fun it is too, if very annoying at times.

Wax"works` (?), n. pl.

An exhibition of wax figures, or the place of exhibition.

 

© Webster 1913

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