In videogames, there always exists the compulsion to be evil. We can’t replicate these actions in real life, so we take it to the extreme by murdering scores of policeman with a tank in Grand Theft Auto, commanding an army of pint-sized thugs in Overlord, creating a feared master of darkness in Oblivion or drowning our little people in the swimming pool we just attached to their mansion in The Sims. Hey, escapism is one of the primary reasons we engage in almost any activity, and hammering out real-life frustrations by abusing our power has only been realised with the advent of gaming as a viable entertainment medium. Ceville flips this concept a little on its head. Yes, one assumes control of the bad guy, which admittedly is not all too common to see in an established universe, but we don’t actually get to be particularly bad.
This is at the same time both unique and frustrating. It’s not often that a game submits so readily its most interesting aspect as Ceville does, and the character himself is one of the point-and-click adventure genre’s more attractive anti-heroes in the last decade. He is a snivelling, sneering, despicable, abhorrent, three-foot high, moustached, all-out villain – and he’s brilliant. His quips and demeanour are torn straight from the Blackadderesque doctrine of nasty, 18th century Englishmen, and, if rarely laugh-out-loud funny, are often worth paying attention to. Unfortunately, the overriding plot of the game is a tad limiting as to how far his vile nature can stretch, and because of tightly scripted puzzles, he’ll often refuse to perform an action that, as is quickly conveyed to the player, he’d be expected to take great delight in pursuing. Often, his disobedience is marked by a “Why?”, and this jars further. Why? Because you’re meant to be horrid to everyone, that’s why.
That said, Ceville is on the whole a fantastic protagonist, and the experience would undoubtedly suffer were he replaced by a more bland, run-of-the-mill character. A little fire in the belly is no bad thing when it comes down to player controlled characters, and a goody-two-shoes can quickly become lame. The best leading lights in the genre are flawed, see Monkey Island’s Guybrush Threepwood, Beneath a Steel Sky’s Foster or Sam and Max’s headlining duo for evidence of that, so it comes as somewhat an annoyance when Ceville’s bitterness is counteracted by an archetypal sweet-girl named Lilly. Despite its best efforts – and they’re no doubt noble – the game never quite enters the Shrek school of anti-Disney cool.
That’s not to say it’s all grim. In fact, the puzzle design itself is fairly engaging. There are some unfortunate inconsistencies, but overall it’s neatly paced to drop little clues without giving the game away, and the way the player is led around the world is very well considered, encouraging exploration without ever becoming tiresome or chore-like. Similarly, the locales are overwhelmingly charming, with a nice variety that never steps into the realm of triteness that can sometimes be found in such virtual worlds.
The limited number of NPCs works quite noticeably in the game’s favour as well. They’re all well-formed and bursting with life, and each has had a ridiculous amount of dialogue recorded for every stage in the player’s progression. It helps put an intangible finishing touch to the Kingdom of Faeryanis, and a welcome one at that. Stylistically, the visuals complement the world and characters that populate it with a rare colour and zest, and it’s heartening that developers are still able to achieve this degree of polish on the basics of an adventure game – its humour and identity. Disappointingly, it’s about the only thing that is up to a truly great standard, and Ceville is painfully rough around the edges. The omission of any option for anti-aliasing is unforgivable in the days of widescreen monitors, and minute irritancies such as oddly placed and overlapping dialogue and subtitles with more technical errors than appears to be the norm begin to grate after several hours of play.
It’s all washed away, though, when we remind ourselves that there are actually those out there who still care about the genre and are willing to gift the old-school PC hardcore little treats like this. Adventure devotees will absolutely lap Ceville up no questions asked, but it’s not exactly likely to win any new converts. Although in an attempt to break the mould it falters, there’s no doubt it’s an enjoyable experience while it lasts.
Sadly, it’s just not a massively compelling adventure, and most certainly won’t be ripe for revisiting like the classics are yet years down the line, but to understate Ceville’s role would be a misstep. The deposed tyrant is an admirable and worthy addition to a long line of well framed player characters, and what he lacks in height he more than makes up for in attitude. Despite Ceville’s obvious failings, it has an inherent whimsical charm to it, and for that alone is worth exploring at least once.