With The Bunker and Late Shift both under its publishing belt, Wales Interactive has some strong FMV games on Switch. Its next foray into the genre comes from D’Avekki Studios, and this time you’ll need a clipboard, your best Freudian accent and plenty of patience.
You are the replacement psychiatrist for the eponymous Doctor Dekker following his gruesome murder in the very office you now occupy. Each patient is a potential suspect and the police are apparently happy to let you play detective while your patients pay through the nose for your professional services. It’s your job to prod their tortured psyches and unravel the mystery behind The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker.
You cycle between patients at will with ‘L’ and ‘R’ and browse possible questions from a list. Following specific branches reveals new options and important information is automatically noted in a journal on the right D-button. Case evidence (documents and photos) periodically appears for you to cross-reference and there’s a hint button if you’re completely lost. The touchscreen is fully supported, although icons and text are a tad too small to select consistently with a finger.
As with the patients on Doctor Dekker’s books, the game has issues. Mechanics aside, FMV games live or die on the strength and coherency of the performances, and here results are mixed. The intimacy of the camera on the psychiatrist’s couch magnifies every inflection, subtle or otherwise, and you get the sense some actors are accustomed to projecting to the back row rather than having the lens in their face.
Which wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if the game could settle on a tone, but it flits between naturalism and moustache-twirling theatrics. It’s difficult to know what type of game you’re playing, and the actors seemingly shared that confusion. Is this B-movie shlock or serious psychological horror? Should I try to offer these disturbed people genuine advice or assume the inappropriate sleazeball role the questions push me towards?
The precise consequences of your choices are rarely made clear and we found ourselves wanting a Telltale-style ‘Marianna will remember that’ pop-up. Questions from the patients insinuate your sinister involvement in their lives, but there’s little context to go on. If the intention was to keep all possibilities and interpretations open and valid, the disorientation makes it very tough to invest in the story. You’ll spend a long time listening without knowing what’s relevant, and we began to appreciate why therapists charge so much for their services.
Stats on the main menu indicate your progress through each of the game’s five acts and how many responses you’ve found. Pressing ‘A’ skips responses but it takes two button presses to ask the next question – one to open the list and one to select it – which gets tiresome. Once you’ve asked a sufficient number of questions, you can skip to the next day or exhaust every branch before moving on. Of course, not wanting to miss anything, we did the latter but it was quite the slog. Occasionally, a visual effect will liven up proceedings, simulating a distorted perception of some kind. During responses, the image occasionally cuts to different portions of the frame for dramatic effect, but all shots appear to be from the same static master. Image quality is fine, although you’ll start to notice video artefacts on the back wall as your mind wanders. There’s a lot of content here - 9.7GBs worth – if you’ve the stamina for it.
One interesting mechanic is the ability to type your own questions. Tapping ‘X’ brings up the system keyboard interface and you can ask whatever you like. Keywords suffice, so entering names or locations generally works as well as full sentences. We exorcised our boredom with our finest schoolboy queries and encountered plenty of canned, "I don’t know anything about that," although unique responses are available if you think carefully enough. However, the lack of a proper keyboard makes this time-consuming and, beyond one or two specific sequences, the rewards don’t justify the laboriousness of typing hit-and-miss questions.
Perhaps methodically going through every single response isn’t what you’re supposed to do, but it fits the role of psychiatrist and detective and is obviously a legitimate approach. Maybe we’d have had more fun as the sleazeball preying on his attractive young patients. At the end you’re asked to identify and accuse the killer, which changes every playthrough. We chose one that seemed vaguely possible and turned out correct, but were left feeling confused.
While the central conceit sounds promising as an FMV experience, The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker fails to find a consistent tone or fully engage the player in its story. It offers a couple of nice ideas and the odd smile, but if you don’t care about the central mystery, you’re left with madness, and the disparate threads never weave together in a satisfying way. The two ominous notes of the soundtrack (only a mild exaggeration) are left to supply tension, and with The Bunker and Late Shift showing how the genre can be relevant and entertaining in 2018, it’s hard to recommend this over the alternatives.