An adventure game designed by Roberta Williams for Sierra Online. Published in 1989 for DOS systems. Unofficially know as ”Laura Bow 1”, this is the first of the two games in the short-lived Laura Bow Mysteries series.
The plot runs like a pastiche of so many Agatha Christie’s murder mystery novels and the board game Clue. The player is Laura Bow, a college student in the 1920s. One weekend, her friend Lillian asks her to join a ”family reunion” at his uncle’s manor. As this is a murder mystery, the old Colonel’s dying, and wants to leave his legacy to those present. Those still alive after the night, that is…
The story walks the line between a tribute to campy mysteries and a gentle parody of the same. All the flaky characters are of familiar stock, with ditzy old ladies, creepy doctors and dashing young actors in their usual roles. Still, all the characters have personal backstories and connections to the others, making them possibly the best developed Roberta Williams characters ever. Even the Manor itself has a hidden tale for the player to discover.
The game runs on a time system like the one in Cruise for a Corpse. There are eight acts, each lasting an hour in game time. Whenever the player discovers something important, time advances by fifteen minutes. The plot progresses from act to act, and many puzzles can only be completed at a specific time. This makes for a refreshing change from typical adventures with static worlds and characters that never leave their spot.
Since it’s easy to get ahead by just bumbling around, it might seem that there’s nothing much to do in the game. In reality, there’s a staggering amount of puzzles and plot to be discovered through detective work and ingenuity. The Colonel’s Bequest has a great amount of freedom; the more effort you take, the more you can get out of it.
Unfortunately, there’s also a downside. Since this is a Sierra game, after all, you can die all too easily for taking a false step. A bigger problem, however, is the lack of a reward. Despite how many clues you might find and jot down, there’s no way to truly affect the ending. You get, at most, a choice between an ambiguously happy and an ambiguously sad one. An opportunity to actually catch the murderer, and possibly some kind of quiz to see if your conclusions were correct, would have improved the ending greatly.
In summary, a game with some great innovations which I’d like to see used more in adventure games, but disappointing writing and design towards the end.