Insert Disk collects The 7th Guest for the PC.
Today’s retro game review is The 7th Guest for the PC. This retro gaming horror classic is a puzzle based game. Enter Stauf’s haunted mansion and solve the mystery by completing a range of puzzles and brain-teasers. This early CD-Rom based horror game was an early killer application for the CD format and paved the way for later horror titles such as Phantasmagoria. The 7th Guest is frustrating at times but it is a genuine PC horror classic. Ideal if you need to get in to that Halloween mood.
Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s rather creepy retrospective of the 7th Guest. I hope you’re sitting comfortably for a good old fashioned puzzle game of horror and mystery. 7th Guest is a game with an interesting history and one of the pioneering games to break through to the masses on the PC CD format.
The game is best described as an interactive movie puzzle adventure game with a strong theme of ghostly horror. As a game the 7th Guest is quite divisive when it comes to general reviews. Hopefully I can give a balanced view in this retrospective and reasons why I believe that the 7th Guest is a collectable worth tracking down. In that vein I’d like to start with how you can track the game down. Although the physical release to PC CD was way back in 1993 the 7th Guest saw resurgence in 2015 on Android devices and also full PC releases in 2013. The download version is easy to find on game download sites such as Steam and GOG. However, as a collector it’s likely that you’ll want to track down the physical release for your shelf. This is the first edition of the 7th Guest from the UK and I have to say the packaging and marketing from Virgin Interactive and Trilobyte Incorporated are outstanding.
The box is really well constructed from very think cardboard and the overall design mimics the style of a hardback book. It’s a really classy way to present the game. Future releases of the game were never quite so grand. There are a few features worth mentioning on the packaging.
Firstly the “May not be compatible with some S3 accelerator cards” sticker.
Around the early 90’s home PC’s were undergoing a huge transition. With Windows 95 on the horizon hardware and software were also both in the stages of upgrade. Everything from accelerator cards to the latest soundcard and modem were flooding the market as enthusiasts built their own computer setups cheaper than a pre-made system could be. With Windows 3.1 and Dos the dominant operating systems at the time there was often a lot that needed to be configured when installing a game. Around this time compatibility issues were rife and you never quite knew if your game was going to work straight out of the box. This is also reflected on the rear of the box as the minimum and recommended configurations were given.
Reading the minimum requirements is rather entertaining now time has passed. Who ever thought that we’d be playing this game on our phones 2 decades later?
The rear of the box also gives you the game back story and huge call outs of the CD-ROM feature and a 3D haunted mansion. The game has a huge 22 rooms and was also awarded an age rating of 15 from the BBFC.
Don’t be scared by this rating though. A 15 rating is far in excess of what the game deserved, 7th Guest is actually a rather tongue in cheek family friendly affair. So with an excellent box cover let’s look inside. Ah, well this is disappointing. No lavish manuals or extras to be found here. 90% of the box is just well, padding. In fact the CD jewel case is the only item of substance. Since the manual is on the CD the publishers went for the minimal effect inside the box.
The manual itself is well written but a large amount of room dedicated to setting up the game, configuring and troubleshooting. You’ll also find that the second disc also acts as a music CD. Yes, that’s right, put it in your Discman and away you go listening to such hits as “Dolls of Doom”, “Ghost of Didly” and who can forget “Skeletons in my closet”. There’s a great note here “A good tune by my brother Dave, and a wonderful performance by Kris who can sing anything”. Yes, we were certainly proud of CD technology back in the day. The CD’s themselves are well printed and carry the Version history number on them. So let’s spin disc 1 up on our brand new 2 speed CD Rom drive. Many configurations later…
The setup time was worth the wait. The game opens to a well-illustrated title screen and really puts you in the mood for some haunting fun.
The introduction to the game plays out giving you the back story of the main character, Henry Stauf. We learn that Stauf was a homeless man who fell in to a life of crime, stealing and eventually murder. After a bizarre dream about a doll, Stauf sets about making his own copy of the doll. In exchange for the doll Stauf is given food and room at a local inn. From there Stauf dreams of a puzzle box which he then also creates. Before long everyone in the town wants a Stauf toy and the money is rolling in for Henry Stauf. One day though a strange virus begins to inflict the child owners of the toys. This leads to a further dream that Stauf must build a house which in itself is a puzzle. In terms of a game premise I think that 7th Guest is actually one of the better that I’ve seen.
You find yourself invited to Stauf’s mansion to try and survive the night, you’re reminded that there will be only one survivor. The other guests arrive one by one. There’s a variety of colourful characters and I’m guessing that these were mostly out of work part timers as they really ham up all of their lines. I’m not going to criticise though as the overall script and over the top delivery is at least consistent. Conveniently your character has amnesia so the game will act as a journey of discovery. The game mechanics are fairly self-explanatory, you take control of a rather nifty skeletal hand to point and click your way around the mansion. There will be doors to unlock and secrets to discover. This brings us on to the games themselves. They’re best described as a collection of mini games. They’re very much in the vein of older Windows desktop games where the emphasis is on point and click.
There’s a variety here, I think that most will begin with this introductory word anagram. The solution shouldn’t pose too much difficulty for most. I did find it frustrating how the narrator would butt in every few moves when I just wanted to get on with solving the puzzle. There’s an excellent puzzle where you must divide a cake equally between the guests. It’s tricky but was fun. By this point I was enjoying the overacting and general vibe of the game.
Then I came to the can puzzle in which you had to spell out words using all of the cans. Now I’m a university educated native English speaker and even I had to resort to a walkthrough on this one. I mean how often do you see the word “Tryst”. Personally I felt that this particular puzzle really damaged the flow of the game. Other tasks such as sliding grate were tolerable if not a little mundane. The game picked up though with the skeletons in the coffin task. Here the player has to open and close coffin lids with the aim of closing all. As you close one coffin the adjacent ones open so you have to plan you strategy carefully. It’s not a game that’s going to set the world alight but it was at least a genuine brain teaser.
Upon completing certain tasks there’s often cut scenes that move the story forward and a nice use of the new CD technology. If you’re anything like me you may have a difficult time in making up your mind on 7th Guest. Is it a classic or just a well know game? Is it fun or just frustrating? Personally I can definitely confirm that for an early PC CD ROM game 7th Guest is a really nice example of why CD’s superseded the humble floppy disk. The game is really competent in using the FMV and definitely gave the player something new.
That something new though, was it that good? For me I think I can just about justify that yes it was. Seeing 3D rendered environments and the scale of the game it’s definitely a landmark experience. However, I can’t get away from the nagging issue of the mini games themselves. They range wildly in difficulty level. One minute you’re solving a simple riddle the next you’re up against rock solid difficulty. Had the games been more evenly paced I think that the game would have benefitted tremendously. The game premise, plot and technical execution are all very sound. The acting is about as bad as it gets but that’s not an issue if you take the game with a pinch of salt.
7th Guest did keep me occupied for hours but I’m not certain whether I had fun or not. If I did it was certainly in small victories rather than a sustained level. In terms of collecting I’m pleased to have the physical copy though. This particular big book box edition has now become very difficult to find. I’ve so far been unable to find a reliable trade price but it’s likely to be over the £30 mark here in the UK. All other big box editions are available from around £10 in the UK but just $10 for US editions.
There are special re-released of the game that include a VHS making of which are worth looking out for the really avid fans. In terms of collecting this will all come down to what you’re interested in. With the game available to download very cheaply with no install and configuration fuss of the original physical release I’d say the game is worth a few hours of your time if you’re just looking for a standard puzzle game to play on a rainy afternoon.
As a physical box collector I’ve been lucky enough to have bought mine some time ago before the price rose sharply due to the reignited interest due to the re-release. As nice as the packaging is the game probably just hasn’t aged well enough to warrant the purchase for most collectors. At the time 7th Guest was a clear hit. As one of the first games released on CD only it was an early killer application and certainly deserves recognition for shaping and driving forward horror games. The game did impress many at the time, enough even to warrant a sequel. The 11th Hour.
Personally I’m not a fan of the 11th Hour as it comes off as a second rate version of the 7th Guest. I may review it at a later date though if there is enough interest.
One final note on the 7th Guest is that it’s mini games also feature on a rather obscure release from Trilobyte. Uncle Henry’s Playhouse (Uncle Henry’s Mindblower here in the UK) acted as a compilation pack of games from the Trilobyte Trilogy, 7th Guest, 11th Hour and Clandesitny. It’s an interesting gaming oddity for the seasoned puzzle game collector. Although perhaps not worth going out of your way for if you have the main games.
As for 7th Guest, it’s a long lasting favourite for collectors. Whether you’re collecting for the nostalgia or the fiendish puzzles you can’t go too far wrong here with this creepy classic.