#16 Alfred Hitchcock – Vertigo
Alfred Hitchcock once dared a crew member to spend the night handcuffed to the set. The crew member foolishly agreed and Hitchcock left him with a bottle of whisky, for being a good sport. What the crew member didn’t know was that Hitchcock had laced the whisky with laxatives.
“The Master of Suspense”
Pranks aside, Alfred Hitchcock is widely considered to be one of the most important and significant directors of all time.
Hitchcock popularised the term ‘MacGuffin’ – “an object or device in a film or a book which serves merely as a trigger for the plot.” – as well as the ‘dolly zoom’ technique that directors such as Steven Spielberg would go on to famously use in films such as Jaws and ET. The dolly zoom is a camera effect where you move towards or away from a subject while zooming in the opposite direction. Hitchcock’s 1948 film Rope was one of the first films to give the illusion of one long continuous take. Rope was also hugely controversial for having homosexual characters, which in the late forties was deemed aggressively inappropriate for audiences of the time. In 1960, Hitchcock’s Psycho did the unthinkable in killing off the main character within the first twenty minutes of the film. North by Northwest, released in 1959, is said to be the prototype for James Bond films. It had a womanising lead, exotic locations, a charismatic villain, and the film depicted a world of secret agents. Hitchcock was also one of the first directors to experiment with 3D. I could go on and on.
Simply put, in his field of work, he was a genius.
In 1958, Hitchcock made Vertigo.
It is this film that has been the main inspiration for today’s promotion. So let’s take a look at the studio behind Alfred Hitchcock – Vertigo.
Pendulo Studios are an indie developer, based in Spain and founded in 1993 by four friends. They are the longest active Spanish game developer in the industry and they can boast creating the first graphic adventure ever made in Spain. It was released in 1994 and was called Igor: Objective Uikokahonia.
Igor: Objective Uikokahonia is a graphic adventure point-and-click with touches of humour, in the stlye of games like Monkey Island of LucasArts.
In this graphic adventure, you control Igor, an American university student who is in love with his classmate Laura, but she does not realise it. Instead, she goes after another boy named Philip. The biology students at the school will be taking a trip to a paradise island called Uikokahonia. Laura and Philip are both going but Igor can’t because he is not enrolled.
Your mission will be to enroll Igor in biology and raise the money needed so that you can go on the trip.
As the first graphic adventure in Spain, the release of Igor encouraged many other domestic companies to create within this genre. Pendulo Studios were leading the way and in 1997, they released their next adventure – Hollywood Monsters.
Hollywood Monsters takes place in an alternate-history in the 1950s. Creatures from the Golden Age Monster films are real and lead normal lives. Controlling reporters Sue Bergman and Ron Ashman, the player seeks to unravel a mystery surrounding the murder of Frankenstein’s monster. Throughout the game, players will travel all over the world, to locations such as Transylvania and Egypt, solving puzzles and interacting with characters such as Count Dracula, the Invisible Man, and the Mummy.
Hollywood Monsters is stated as being the game that put Pendulo Studios on the map. It was a big hit for them and they followed this up in 2003 with Runaway: A Road Adventure.
New York, 2000……Without knowing how or why, Brian, a student on the verge of graduating from college, is attacked by Mafia gangsters. During his desperate getaway, in the company of a mysterious striptease dancer, he ends up meeting a wide range of unusual characters.
Runaway was successful enough to have two sequels – Runaway: The Dream of the Turtle in 2006 and Runaway: A Twist of Fate in 2009. The series sold more than one million copies, but after growing tired of Brian – a character from the series, Pendulo Studios looked for something new. For a decade, people had been asking for a sequel to Hollywood Monsters. So the studio made a spiritual successor in the form of The Next BIG Thing, which would later be simply referred to as Hollywood Monsters 2.
The Next Big Thing is a great adventure game in high definition, loaded with laughs, tributes, mysteries and wacky puzzles!
The game earned solid reviews but was a commercial failure upon its initial release. It forced Pendulo Studios to regroup and rethink. They decided to move away from comedy and focus on drama. The result was Yesterday, released in 2012.
Yesterday is a thrilling and dark mystery from the masters of adventure, Pendulo Studios.
Sadly, Yesterday didn’t fare much better than The Next BIG Thing, but a sequel did appear in 2016 called Yesterday Origins. In 2019, the studio released Blacksad: Under the Skin.
BLACKSAD: Under the Skin – A dark corruption scandal in the heart of the New York City’s underworld for charismatic detective John Blacksad!
Blacksad: Under the Skin is an adaptation of the Spanish comic series Blacksad. The game was Pendulo Studios’ first dabble with a license and it was their first game to use fully 3D graphics. The game was published by French company Microids, who had suggested the project to them. The release did a lot of good for Pendulo Studios, garnering a lot of award nominations and helping to bring their studio to a much larger audience.
This brings us up to date. Pendulo Studios’ have had their ups and downs, but they are an award-winning studio, famous for creating strong narratives. As a huge Hitchcock fan, I’m very excited for Alfred Hitchcock – Vertigo. So, let’s play!
Can you trust your own mind? Immerse yourself in a psychological thriller of a new kind, playing with the limits between reality and fantasy. Freely inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s universe.
Right out the gate, I found this game very dark and even disturbing. Themes explored include trauma, obsession, manipulation, madness, murder, suicide, attempted suicide, self-harm, child abuse, and even paedophilia, to name a few. The tone is heavy from the get go and it doesn’t let up – if anything, it snowballs. This is for adult gamers and trust me when I say that it is brilliant. A game’s plot hasn’t gripped me like this in years, but it is certainly worth mentioning the above as the themes at play here won’t be for everyone.
Ed Miller is at the core of this sordid tale. He is a writer and manages to escape a car crash unscathed. We are introduced to him lying in the road, moments after the accident has taken place. No one is found within the wreckage but Ed is convinced he was travelling with his wife and daughter. Now traumatized by the event, Ed develops severe vertigo. As he begrudgingly embarks on therapy, believing himself to be going mad, it is your job to uncover the truth.
This is an original story, inspired by Hitchcock’s masterpiece Vertigo. As you load up the game, you can see that it has been produced by Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions and permissions have been granted by the Alfred J. Hitchcock Second Trust. That is a comforting blanket.
I played on my MSI GF65, with an i7 and an RTX 3060. I played with settings on ultra and it ran beautifully. I used mouse and keyboard but the game recommends using a controller. Gameplay consists of basic movement and interacting with stationary objects. The game features a generous autosave, lots of QTE’s and conversations have dialogue options, some of which are timed. This is a narrative focused game, so if you’re a fan of the Telltale outings or games such as Heavy Rain or the recent gem Conway: Disappearance at Dahlia View, which coincidentally took great inspiration from Hitchcock’s Rear Window, then you’ll settle in quickly.
A large part of the story is told in flashbacks of Ed’s childhood, during his therapy sessions. Throughout the game you’ll play as a handful of characters, but for Ed’s therapy, you’ll take control of Dr Julia Lomas. This involves trying to get Ed to open up and share pivotal moments of his life. Then Dr Lomas will hypnotise Ed to retread that ground and find out what really happened. Piece by piece, the truth will be outed.
Hitchcock loved a flashback scene. In 1949 he released Stage Fright and early on in the film there was a flashback in which he told a lie. He hadn’t done this before and it did not go down well with audiences – you can’t lie in a flashback. Later on, Hitchcock would claim it was one of his biggest mistakes.
The plot is the games strongest asset and I don’t dare talk too much about it for risk of spoiling it. What I will say is that I was instantly intrigued and my hunger for the truth grew ravenous as the game progressed. As the story unfolds, characters developer, their secrets burst, more and more questions rise to the surface, and the frequent twists range from ‘I knew it!’ to ‘oh my word I can’t believe it!’. It is fair to say I was hooked. For me, a thriller should be a slow burn and the pacing here is superb. Some gamers might find it a little slow but I think there is a confidence on display here, one which I imbibed. It is rare for me, but I was genuinely gutted when my time with this game came to an end. I want more.
The only issues I had with the game were audio related. Conversations were sometimes out of sync, audio levels didn’t seem quite right against certain background environments, and dialogues sometimes had unnaturally long pauses between interlocuters. These problems did stand out and would poke little holes in my immersion but they were never a major problem – just a bit of a shame. Other than that, I have no grudges to bear. In fact, one thing I feel compelled to mention, which constantly impressed me during my playthrough, was the games lighting. I would often stop and just soak it in. Hats off to whoever worked on this aspect.
I rolled credits in under ten hours, collecting 26 of the 31 achievements. As a hardcore Hitchcock fan, I loved all the respectful nods and cinematic homages to his work. Hitchcock had a phobia of eggs – he hated them. There are several films in which he demonstrates this and, being a big fan, it would have been really exciting to have included this somewhere within the game. I was also eagerly hoping someone would say “good evening” at some point but alas, it wasn’t to be. I would have wept with pleasure – wishful thinking.
If you enjoy narrative thrillers then I can’t recommend this enough. It is late in the year and I have played a lot of games, but this is surely my Indie Game of the Year. A few audio issues aside, this is a fantastic experience and one that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish.