In this five-part series, Kathryn and Hayley discuss some of their favorite indie mystery games. First, they do a deep-dive on “Remedy,” the first installment in the Carol Reed series, and discuss the game’s charming atmosphere and captivating storyline. “Reed” into it below, or listen to our audio transcript!
Created and edited by Kathryn Cooperman and Hayley Garden. Transcript edited for clarity.
All images courtesy of MDNA Games.
Hayley Garden 0:00
We’re talking about Carol Reed. Carol Reed is a mystery game [series] about a British girl in her 20s solving mysteries in scenic Sweden. I am new to Carol Reed. So, Kathryn, as the Carol Reed veteran, would you like to go into more detail about what we are chatting about today?
Kathryn Cooperman 0:20
Oh, absolutely. So, this is a franchise I got into recently, having come off of playing the Nancy Drew mysteries. I’ve played all of them – I think the plotlines are really clever, and I love going through the series of the games, picking up clues, talking into different characters as you uncover more about the mystery, and the Carol Reed franchise, I’ve gotten into more recently. It’s very similar to Nancy Drew, but each of the frames where you interact in the spaces are still, and the characters are just photos that are not animated, but there’s a very cool kind of indie quality to it, and there’s more of a focus on just solving the mystery. There’s nothing distracting you from doing that – everything is pretty straightforward. And Hayley and I have been playing these games together, and we recently played the first in the Carol Reed mysteries, which is called “Remedy.” It came out in the early 2000s. And of course, the background – it’s not a present day mystery, so everything has [an] old school quality to it, each of the frames are – they look like impressionistic paintings, which I personally love. I think it gives it a very homey quality. But, Hayley, you said that you found fault with that; you didn’t like that experience.
Yeah, I felt like it was a little hard for me to tell what was going on in each environment, to the point where I felt like I couldn’t find – like I didn’t know what to interact with because I was so caught up in the aesthetic. The look and feel of these altered images, versus in some of the later games where it’s just still imagery and I felt like it was easier to see, or get a sense of what was meant to be interacted with in each frame, because there wasn’t that – that disconnect – but despite me having some troubles getting used to the aesthetics, as sort of someone who’s coming from a very Triple A role-playing game with characters and a lot of budget, I was very, very charmed by this first Carol Reed game. I really enjoyed it, and it gave me a new appreciation for what an indie game can do, and what you can do even under less circumstances with a lower budget – with just photos, a basic idea, and some really simple coding. There’s a lot you can do, there’s a really good story you can tell, and I think the first Carol Reed game really exemplifies that in a good way. It was a great game. I had a great time with it, and I am a capital G gamer for sure, so I’ve played games in a lot of different genres, different types of combat by all different developers all over the world, but I was really impressed by this.
Good, yeah I’m happy that I’ve converted you and brought you over to the mystery games. Yeah, but I find them really fun. As you were saying about the simplicity – I thought the plotline of this game was very simple. So we first meet Carol, she’s a young British detective that goes to meet her friend [Lovisa] in this small town called Norrköping in Sweden [100 miles southwest of Stockholm]. And she finds out that her other friend there [Conrad] who runs a murder mystery kind of detective company has died, so she’s there. She’s staying at her friend Lovisa’s apartment, and is trying to uncover more about the death of her friend, and that leads to other characters, uncovering different deceits, and different secrets that you need to unfold. I think it’s very cool – there’s more of just a focus on the story itself, and there’s not a lot of, I guess, Easter eggs, or things in the background that are distracting you from that; it’s very clear cut, straightforward, and you can play it in a couple hours, so it’s not something that you get sick or bored of, and it’s something that you can come back to from to time.
And now that I’m thinking about it, especially, I just really like that these games are set in Sweden. I think that’s just very cool – I feel like video games are either set in the States, or I know Japan is a big creator; a lot of video games come from there, but a lot of them are fantasy. So you’re either in this fantasy world or you’re in New York or in post-apocalyptic America, and I just think that Sweden as a setting in general is not really something I see a lot in media, so I really appreciate it. It felt fresh for me, as someone who plays a lot of games and watches and consumes a lot of media, just being in Sweden and seeing these authentic Swedish locales in the photography, just really added this sense of wonder to it, because I liked exploring this country that I am thoroughly unfamiliar with, and [one that] does not often get explored in mainstream media. So I think another thing I really appreciated about these games is the unique setting and how well it works. Sweden almost feels like a character in the game, in a way, because you’re exploring the city and you’re exploring nature and you’re interacting with it and that’s sort of the main “combat” of the game, and it really gave me a newfound appreciation for Sweden, and I would love to see more stories and TV shows and anything that’s set there. And I think this is a good, very underrated, but very good piece of media that gives Sweden the spotlight it really deserves. So, that was another thing I really appreciated about this game, is how well it utilized its environment.
Absolutely. Coming from playing the Nancy Drew games, she kind of goes all over the world to solve mysteries, but Sweden was never a country that they set any of the games in. I would say, geographically, maybe the closest they got was Germany and Iceland, which had great scenery and kind of taught you a little bit about the culture, but I loved the setting in Sweden for Carol going there. And each frame was a different place in Norrköping, and you can look it up on Google – these are all places that she interacts with that are actually present throughout the city. There’s a lot of focus on the environment, I find, a lot of shots with outdoor greenery, a lot of people have these terraces outdoors when she goes to the different suspects’ homes and tries to question them. A lot of focus on recycling and bicycles. There’s a plot line where you have to water her friends’ plants, which I think is very cute. And it gives you something to do where you feel like you’re furthering the plot. You go to his private attic space and you water the plants, but then you find a photograph that [serves as a clue that] furthers the mystery. So yeah, it’s a lot of these background shots, but they are helping to create the space for the player and to forward the plot of the game.
You really understand why Sweden is voted best country to live in in the entire world. Yeah, because it’s so lush, and it’s all authentic, in a way that can be hard to replicate in games like Nancy Drew, where they’re doing more CG modeling, as opposed to using real photography, like real photographs. [We know] that’s real, there’s nothing artificial about it, it’s real, all the way down, and I think that really enhances the experience. It really helps with immersion. It’s easy to get immersed in these games, because of how inviting and lush and well-shot all the photography is. So, very impressive work on what I assumed to be kind of a shoestring budget. Right, so it all comes together really, really nicely.
Absolutely. I loved how – well, each of the shots in these earlier games is based on a photograph, but they’ve been edited to look, I would say, kind of like an Impressionist painting, and as an art historian who loves that period of art, it kind of brought me back on my own art historical journey, and I really enjoyed interacting with the different spaces and characters. Against that backdrop, I would say.
And I also – I liked the plot of the game. We are going to do our best to not spoil it. Everyone should play Carol Reed “Remedy,” and all the sequels, they’re, what, like 5-10 bucks? We’ll include a link in the description, best 5 bucks you’ll spend on anything [Editor’s note – each game is $14]. What I also really appreciated about this game is that it was very well paced. Games, especially Triple A games, in my experience, they really like to pad things out. Maybe to justify the $60 price tag that the average Triple A game will kind of come with at launch, because they have a million-dollar budget and they can do those kinds of things, but I feel like it’s very hard to nail the pacing of anything, really, but especially video games because it’s so hard to really get that mix between, “this is fun, the story needs to tell itself,” and also, “this needs to end.” And I think, for the most part, this game did a really good job of keeping everything brisk, and keeping me engaged, and not really hitting any points where I felt bored or taken out of the story. Because I want to know what happens next, and I want to know who the culprit is, but there’s never really any sections in this game where I felt like I was being taken out of it. In fact, I wish it were just a little bit longer. I wish they gave me a little bit more than what I had. When it ended, I was like, “Wait, it can’t be over, I feel like there needs to be a little bit more!” So, this game actually had me wanting a little bit more than what it gave me, but I almost feel like I’d rather have that, then have a game that drags, and I’m bored, and I don’t want to play anymore, and I’m stuck in this area, and I have to look up the answers. So I really appreciated that this game was able to strike that balance of well-paced, keeping me on my toes, and not ever making me feel bored or disengaged with it. So, I appreciated that. I think it did a really good job finding that balance of how to pace the story.
I agree. Yeah, it did feel a little bit short – as I said earlier, you can finish it in a couple of hours – but I find with these indie franchises, the earlier games are very short and very plot-focused, but then I think game developers [in subsequent installments] focus more on multiple subplots, maybe there are too many locations you can go and explore. There’s maybe too much, and you can’t really focus at that point on the mystery. At that point, you just want the game to be over, which is never a fun feeling, you know, you want to be engaged the whole time. But I felt that this game – it was their first game, and maybe they were trying to figure certain things out about the plot and the characters, but I did think it overall did a good job with the pacing.
Yeah, for a first game, this is a home run. I did appreciate how simple [the] gameplay was, too. There isn’t a confusing menu, it’s just point and click. It’s literally that simple. And sometimes simple is the best, because if you’re also – if you’re sitting and you’re trying to figure out how to play a game, it can take you out of the game, so I appreciated that I didn’t have to think too hard about gameplay, everything was nice and straightforward and I could just focus on the mystery.
There were very few clues that you needed to pick up, there were some puzzles, but they were all very straightforward. That’s where I find fault with a lot of the Nancy Drew games. The puzzles can get very complicated and almost not feel relevant to the plot, but it felt like every puzzle in this game helped to further the plot, and none of them really felt pointless, they all felt like you were kind of immersed in the story, which was great.
Yeah, I noticed that as well. Especially comparing it to Nancy Drew, which is very puzzle-heavy, and I know that’s kind of the appeal of the Nancy Drew franchise, but I also noticed that in Nancy Drew, there are a lot of puzzles that are just there for the sake of being puzzles. And I can find those frustrating because I’m not personally a huge fan of puzzles in games. I like games as a vehicle for storytelling. And the combination of player agency and storytelling, that’s sort of really what appeals to me about games. So, when a puzzle is difficult just because it’s time for the end game, I find that kind of frustrating, but what I liked about this Carol Reed game and the future Carol Reed game that we played [Bosch’s Damnation] that was made a little later down the line, is that the puzzles didn’t feel too difficult. They were appropriately difficult but still solvable in a way that didn’t feel frustrating. I had to think, I had to use my head and figure out the solution, but it wasn’t, “this is just nonsense,” and “why is this even in the game.” I think they really were able to strike that balance of puzzle development that felt relevant to the plot. It was always, “figure out how to open the safe, so we can get the note that brings us to this next part of the plot,” versus sometimes in Nancy Drew it was just like, “here all these strings. Make them – arrange them in a certain way,” and it’s just, what’s the point, it’s just frustrating to play. And I think Carol Reed did a really great job, also, with its puzzles. I think, nothing is out of place, nothing is frustrating, everything is just the right amount of manageable to make me feel satisfied. I get the endorphins rush when I solve a puzzle. I feel good. I feel like I’ve achieved something, but I didn’t kind of have to tear my hair out in frustration to get to that point. I really think the developers who work on these games did a great, great job, striking that puzzle balance, so kudos to you, Carol Reed Team! Really nailed it.
Yeah, whenever we play games together, Hayley, I find that if we can’t figure it out in five minutes, you’re like, oh let’s go on Game Boomers – find out what the spoiler is. And then I always want to try to solve it, but then I just get frustrated sometimes and end up going there anyway. Yeah, we didn’t have to do that this time.
And I think that’s just, we get different things out of video games. There’s nothing wrong with liking the difficult puzzles and figuring it out the long way as opposed to me being like, “I just want more story, I just want to know what happens next!” The puzzles can feel like an obstacle to the story sometimes. But with Carol Reed I never felt that. The puzzles felt like they were a roadblock, but not so much that I felt like, “Ugh! Why is this here, why am I not just finding out what happens next?” kind of thing. So, I think, great – really, really great job.
Definitely. Nothing really felt out of place, I find.
Join us next week for part 2!