(Review archived from March 12, 2018)
The Colonel’s Bequest wears its murder mystery inspirations on its sleeve. This is a ‘murder mystery in a mansion’ that plays it fairly straight as an homage to the works of Agatha Christie most prominently. The heroine detective, the time period, and the menagerie of possible suspects are all very reminiscent of the trappings you might find in a Christie novel. I also detected some Nancy Drew DNA running through The Colonel’s Bequest insofar as the protagonist is a young ‘all American girl’ out doin’ detective stuff. Finally there’s a pretty strong Clue (the board game) vibe running through the whole thing. I mean the titular Colonel in The Colonel’s Bequest is Colonel Dijon, an obvious riff on the Colonel Mustard character in Clue. I’d go so far as to say that most of the characters in Clue have similar allegories to characters in The Colonel’s Bequest. I suppose this makes sense due to the fact that Clue was similarly inspired by an Agatha Christie ‘murder mystery in a mansion’ framework, but it’s slightly problematic in terms of The Colonel’s Bequest. It muddies the waters in terms of inspiration and makes the game feel a bit uninspired and dare I say … derivative. It would be like forming a Led Zeppelin cover band in which a large part of the inspiration was drawn from … an earlier Led Zeppelin cover band. If you’re looking for a thought provoking or even subversive take on the classic murder mystery formula, you won’t find that here. If you’re looking for a fun Sierra styled adventure romp through bog standard genre tropes, you’re in luck.
Like most Sierra games from this era, The Colonel’s Bequest utilizes a familiar combination of text parser plus point & click interface. The text parser is required for most contextual actions in the game as well as all conversational dialogue, but the mouse can be used for navigation and cursory inspection of most objects. I’ll be honest, text parser games live or die based on the sophistication of the parser itself. An overly strict parser rapidly devolves into a meta-game of searching for the exact necessary wording to carry out your desired actions. Luckily The Colonel’s Bequest is fairly lenient in this regard. I did encounter a couple of situations in which the parser suddenly wanted more precise wording (i.e. ‘put key in control’ worked whereas ‘use key on control’ did not), but for the most part those situations were notable only for their infrequency.
I’ve made mention of the characters being slightly derivative, but it’s worth pointing out the ways in which they make the game unique. Based on my experience I’d say that The Colonel’s Bequest contains more dialogue than the large majority of the Sierra library. Exploring a myriad of conversational choices with each character often reveals interesting interrelations between characters. I suspect that many of these conversations are merely decorative in terms end-game completion percentage, but they definitely add a richness of texture to the plot and characterization. Roberta Williams has always had a knack for well written flavor text, and The Colonel’s Bequest is no exception in this regard.
Despite some interesting ways in which The Colonel’s Bequest differentiates itself from other games in the Sierra playbook, there were only a few moments in which I felt like it captured the same magic as other widely heralded Sierra classics. Its use of secret passages as a means of spying on other characters in the house is rather inspired, and although the puzzles are somewhat scarce they’re still quite satisfying. Still … I’m not sure that The Colonel’s Bequest ever quite rises to the high water mark found in the best of the Quest for Glory or King’s Quest series. All the same, a middling Sierra game means that it’s still better than most adventure games from this time period. I’d definitely recommend The Colonel’s Bequest for murder mystery buffs or players seeking to explore the entirety of the Sierra catalog. Apprentice adventure gamers might be better advised exploring the classics before investigating the darkened corners of the Colonel’s estate.