I had many a kind word (2210, to be precise) for the original Missing / In Memoriam alternate reality adventure. I loved the way it handled its puzzles, weaving real history with fictional mystery, and turning you loose with the entire Internet as your reference. More of the same can naturally be expected from the 13th Victim expansion pack (which does require the original Missing to run). However, part of my great surprise was that the original Missing remains a workable adventure some eight years on. Time has not been as kind to the expansion.
You would also be forgiven for noticing the expansion seems critically short of new ideas. There’s another young woman (Carolina) captured by The Phoenix, with another intrepid European reporter (Alex) and his trusty cameraman on a quest to find out why. The CD is again broken into tiers, with suspiciously well-produced live action video chronicling Alex’s investigation between puzzles. You again are required to register with the SKL network and receive emails to your real-world inbox from fictional characters working the case alongside you. Truly, an expansion through and through.
What has changed is that the skill-based minigames are completely gone. You will still need to click around some creative puzzles to uncover clues (one displays a letter in a 7 letter word based on how many times you click), and there’s a nefarious sliding block puzzle, but you will never be called upon to display skill, steadiness, or reaction time with the mouse. No dragging things around and avoiding walls. This removes my biggest complaint about the first.
Ol’ Phoenie ups his puzzle game too, with some particular mindbenders and multi-tier solutions. For example, after decyphering some symbols using a website from the first game, you’ll get a Gospel verse, but that’s not the answer. An email suggests you find the policeman who ran the investigation, but his name isn’t the answer either. A search for his name references a site, but that website’s not the answer either. It’s the name of the author of an article on that site which ties back to the verse, and by now, your brain has leaked out on the floor.
Unfortunately, some of the enjoyable parts of the first game are lost as well. You already know what The Phoenix is about from last time, so you won’t be uncovering his twisted manifesto. There’s no parallel investigation (like Jack’s search for the film reel victim) to keep you hooked or offer alternative puzzles. Instead, it’s all about Carolina. Meaning, almost all the puzzles are based around the life of a character created for the game, and not around history or real-world locales.
This is pretty much the worst thing they could have done in terms of longevity, and it shows. You’ll be trawling planted blog comments and fake local webzines for scraps of information related to fictional crimes or characters’ genealogy. To be fair, every website created specifically for the game is still up, but with varying degrees of functionality. Many of them no longer load pictures, and absolutely none of them appear anywhere near the first 10 pages or so of a Google search. You’ll hit walkthroughs for the game and Alexa-style site reports long before you find the sites themselves.
There’s also greater reliance on emails to deliver crucial clues, so when support is completely pulled, this will be even more of an exercise in frustration than trying to play the first. These appear to be triggered if you don’t make progress on a puzzle, and you’re again expected to log off for a day or so and wait for your emails. These are not hints though – many emails contain the crucial clue needed to proceed. It’s a neat part of the alternate reality, but it’s another point of failure as time goes on.
Though some enterprising player has created a Facebook account for Carolina, using image captures from the game’s videos. It’s not helpful for solving any of the puzzles, but good on you sir or madam. It’s admittedly asking to much to wish that the rest of the game’s Internet presence was as modernized.
Critically though, international support for this expansion is noticeably lacking. You could always spot a website that was part of the first game’s fiction, as it would be the only private photoblog in the world translated in five languages. Here, most websites are in French and nothing more. Google Translate will get you by, but it’s an additional stumble atop a game that’s already seeing its pathways covered by the sands of time. This extends in-game as well, with a sloppier translation of The Phoenix’s instructions. One puzzle tells you to look for “His” name, when they actually mean “Her” name. A simple mistake, but one that obviously causes issues.
Since the game originated in (and seems targeted for) France, it should come as no surprise that the best walkthroughs for the game are in French. Search for “La Treizieme Victime solution” instead of relying on the paltry English guides.
Graphically, it’s the same show as the original with an identical interface. You’ll be using flash to manipulate bouncing dots or video while nightmarish collages sit in the background. Video is all shot handheld in Germany and France, looks nice, and tells the story well. Audio is mostly recycled, with much less emphasis on using tones and cues to solve puzzles. The background ambiance sets the mood though, and there’s all the scratchy effects you could want.
Overall, the expansion is way more Internet-heavy than the first, which is almost exactly what I wished for. Unfortunately, it’s simultaneously heavy on its own fiction, instead of using history or referencing real-world locations – those challenges are here, but far fewer. This means when its custom blogs, ancient guestbooks, and real-world email server go down, it will be even harder to follow along with than the original Missing. It’s lackluster original support outside of France also seem to contribute to its accelerated aging. One for the super-fans for sure. I’d recommend the rest skip on ahead to the sequel, Evidence.
If you played this when it was first released, and you speak French, you would have found an excellent expansion that focuses more on internet investigations than skill minigames.
If you’re playing this now, and you speak English, you’re going to find a alternate reality game that has slipped past its expiration date. Its focus on character fiction and single, planted sites containing the only clue is hurting its long-term playability.