Author's Note: This the second part to a two-part series. Here's a link to the first episode in case you missed it:
- The Quest For The Worst Adventure Game Puzzles - MTV's Club Dead [Part 1] (At Least Scroll To The End For A Twist)
CONTENT WARNING! There's A Gross Transphobic Scene In This Game!
During my first blog post about Club Dead, I made a few passing references to how parts of this game reminded me of the first Ace Ventura movie. In particular, the way its larger-than-life characters gesticulated and talked felt like weird facsimiles of Jim Carrey's performance. I wrote that post before finishing the game, and now I stand here to report regretfully that Club Dead shares another highly deplorable similarity to Ace Ventura. One of the game's villains turns out to be Lana Powers, BUT Lana Powers is ALSO the oddball doctor performing the autopsies for the hotel's investigation. When you discover this, the doctor permanently switches to the voice used for Lana Powers, suggesting the character is meant to be trans or, at the very least, gender fluid. I should note the game does not outright have the doctor come out and say they are a trans person, and instead, has a morphing effect wherein the villain switches between their two "personalities." Nonetheless, the male actor makes a high concerted effort to sound effeminate once you experience this plot twist, and their mannerisms moving forward repeat a LOT of the familiar tropes film and media associate with gay men. For example, there's a point when they do a Z-Snap. Finally, though the doctor is henceforth referred to as "she" by everyone who is not the protagonist, the protagonist appears to misgender them deliberately as a taunt.
Now, a handful of you might read that last paragraph and think, "Well, what if the character is trans and they also happen to be evil?" As someone who played the game, I can tell you definitively that's not the case, and the doctor character, much like their Ace Ventura counterpart, is very much established as switching their gender to employ an evil plot. This trope trivializes the soul-wrangling those in the trans and gender-fluid communities go through and depicts gender reassignment as a simple flick of the switch. Yes, this game takes place in the future, but that doesn't change the fact that it repeats other harmful stereotypes in films and games regarding trans people. What makes this even more distressing is that the doctor is revealed to be mentally ill and that their "confusion" about their gender, the game's words, and not mine, are connected to that. It's utterly disgusting and a MASSIVE black mark on the game, even if you enjoy its wacky story and bizarre supporting visuals. And in the off-chance, you're still unconvinced any of what I described is not okay, one, know I don't want to be friends with you, and two, consider watching Disclosure on Netflix.
Puzzles From 9:00 am to 11:25 am - [Rating: 6.5/10] - I needed to break my "retrospective" on Club Dead into two parts because October 31st is a BIG CHUNK of the game! Worse, the first two hours of this day are an absolute SLOG! After Nick Offerman helps you nab a bunch of aliens doing their best Roman senator cosplay, you enter your apartment only to experience a HILARIOUS cutscene in which your character's estranged girlfriend catches them hanging out with Lana Powers, but more on that in a little bit. As was the case before, your primary gameplay interactions involve:
- Fussing about with the in-game PDA.
- Checking messages/emails to gain new items.
- Moving random tat into and out of your character's hands.
The kicker here is that there are THREE long-winded emails to mull over instead of the usual one or two. Likewise, it's not immediately apparent which of these has your next storyline-required item, as each is relatively thorough. Finally, the item in question is a pallet swap of a previous one; in this case, the "ticking goggles" look very similar to the ones you've already used. To add insult to injury, you must discard the ticking goggles almost immediately after you enter the hotel lobby. The goggles don't even appear in a cutscene and exist as an entirely artificial barrier to your progress.
After watching another video, Sam, your character, needs to review a new bevy of PDA files before moving a "personal access badge" into his hands. Apparently, after arresting the evil space Romans, the hotel's security team felt the need to deputize you, despite you still being the primary suspect in a murder. With the badge, migrate to Lana Power's room. After a quick back-and-forth with her, review new documents and emails before hitching a ride on an elevator to floor ten and, after seeing a cinematic there, make it a priority to go to the Medical Room on floor fourteen. While there, Sam needs to perform an autopsy on the Space Roman Nick Offerman killed so he can yank a CD from his gullet. However, it is worth noting that this action will only trigger if you remember to read the relevant email that details that the doctor that performed a preliminary autopsy found the CD in the first place. If you elect to blow off the emails, this entire sequence will not pop off, and you'll be unable to complete the game. It would also be best if you moved the disc into your main inventory so you can download and review a new PDA file which will allow you to trigger a new cutscene upon entering Sam's hotel room.
Weirdest Video: It's a tie between your girlfriend catching you mucking around with Lana Powers and your character going elbow-deep into the throat of a corpse. The walk-in scene has the expected punchline of Sam's girlfriend making a pretty honest appeal for him to open up to her about his current issues, but the endnote wherein Lana walks into the frame without warning and turns directly to the camera to blow a kiss while saying "I can't endure interruptions. Night, baby!" is the sort of fourth-wall-breaking nonsense I can get behind. The scene that ties this one involves Sam realizing there's more evidence to collect from the long-dead obese Space Roman. He then shoves his whole arm into its corpse, THROUGH ITS MOUTH, so he can grab a CD-ROM that got there for unknown reasons. And to cap it all off, after pocketing the CD, the ghost of the dead Space Roman shouts at him to return the CD where he got it.
Puzzles From 12:00 pm to 3:25 pm - [Rating: 5/10] - Things indeed start on a "bang" with you needing to mess around with the Chipman Interace again! In case you have forgotten, the game makes you click on attachments in emails to complete puzzles; it also has an in-game permutation of unzipping files in the form of the Chip System, which oddly mimics 7-Zip in terms of the steps you need to follow. After watching a new video, download a few files before going to the Fantasy Room. Upon entering the room, you'll see a montage of the dreams and aspirations of each person murdered at the hotel up to this point. Scudder wanted to play with puppies, and Richie 7 wanted to start a rock band. After copying these dreams onto a disc, you can head to the Surveillance Room. But before we do that, I must note that using the disc during this bit is incredibly fiddly. After leaving the elevator, and not a second later, you must put the disc in your hands until you find a reasonably obtuse door at the end of a hallway. After the cutscene with the dreams is done, you need to place the disc in your main inventory, and if you leave it in your hands, the cutscene in the Surveillance Room will not trigger. Once that task is done, it's time to download and review more PDA files and emails before walking to the Body Station.
While the Body Station is typically a fun location, it's, unfortunately, time to repeat the game's routine involving PDA articles and emails before moving to your next location, Central Control, on the first floor. However, it would be best to move the disc from your inventory to your character's hands again. The good news is that you burn this disc after interacting with Logan and don't have to worry about it again. The bad news is that Sam needs to book an appointment for Spenser in the Pod Room, where he experienced the demonic Teletubbies. You find Spenser designing a new holographic virtual reality program, which involves him shouting orders to designers and engineers while he inhabits a video game world because that's how video game development will work in the future. Because this is a cyberpunk hellscape of a video game, Spenser attempts to call security, with Dali-inspired melted clocks interjecting in between every other word he says, only for Sam to declare that Scudder is dead. Spenser continues to ignore your character as he dematerializes you from his program.
Weirdest Video: Did I remember to mention that Nick Offerman's character dies? He's the best character in the entire game, and they kill him at the halfway mark. At least the game knows to send him off in a fitting fashion. As the doctor examines his corpse, he notices a white ice-like substance covering his body and takes his fingers, uses them to caress Offerman's mustache, and then begins to smell and eat whatever killed him. This action allows him to determine his time of death to the hour. Logan, also your estranged girlfriend, is promptly named the head of security at the hotel. She's shockingly competent at her job and the game's "straight man/woman" in many regards. Nonetheless, the hotel doctor being a weird pervert that can only make diagnoses if they can lick their patients, was a choice.
Puzzles From 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm - [Rating: 4/10] - It could be Stockholm Syndrome, but it was around this point when the game's annoying interface became less of an impediment and everything it needed me to do felt increasingly automatic. I knew there would be files for me to peruse, and considering there had not been a new item when I started the next level, I knew there was nothing in my hands I needed to consider putting there. In this case, it is time to return to the Medical Lab before returning to the Pod Room. If there is one quibble for me to relay, it's the game's on-again/off-again relationship with the personal access badge. There are a handful of new environments that are only accessible if you have the badge in hand, and it needs to be active regardless of however many times you've been there previously. There are also some new environments where you only need to have it in hand the first time you enter. Finally, some locations during the game's second half don't need it at all.
Alas, if only that were my only issue with this segment! Before attending to things in the Pod Room, place the personal access badge in your character's hand and enter. It's time for you to have a WONDERFUL cutscene involving Spenser in his virtual reality world AGAIN! After watching a video, remove the badge and head for the lobby. Watch another cutscene, review new emails, and consult files in your PDA. Finally, head for the Body Station on floor fifteen, but mercifully, this situation does not require you to have a specific item. And if you are keeping record, the game has now repeated the same formula at least six times!
Weirdest Video: The part with Spenser in the virtual reality program is undoubtedly the most memorable part. It has the most 90s-era appropriate flashing geometric patterns while Spenser repeats familiar fashion guru tropes in a faux-gay accent. Sam acts surprised when Spenser blows him off, but considering he just met him and decides to call him "Spense" to his face, who can blame him? But the weird ways the game attempts to remind you that it takes place in the far-flung future slay me. When Spenser attempts to use a digital device to call for security, it's a giant green bong-like speakerphone because when this game was made, cell phones were not the cutting-edge technology they are today. The protagonist even references wanting to vent their frustrations on Spenser using "instant messenger." And the background art during this dialogue must be seen to be believed.
Puzzles From 6:05 pm to 7:55 pm - [Rating: 8/10] - During this segment, it is CRITICAL that you be careful when checking your messages. These messages are tucked away in a separate Inbox panel and entirely different from your PDA files the game already expects you to review as part of your daily goings-on. Nonetheless, move a "Digitizer" from your main inventory to your character's hands and use the elevator to move to the Surveillance Room on floor sixteen. This action nets you a digital drug-sniffing dog called a "Video Bloodhound." After you watch a weird cutscene in the Surveillance Room, you need to find a new file attachment and note it shows an image displaying the letters "AC." Replace the Digitizer with the Video Bloodhound in your character's hands and use the Chipman Interface to listen to an audio recording. After you listen to the chip, head for the hotel lobby and use the Tele-FX, which nets another cache of documents you need to read and review. I will warn you, the final hour of this game makes you interact with a TON of fiddly menu systems, and it drove me up the wall.
After you review those documents, head for your character's hotel room to watch an incredibly in-depth cutscene to learn about the hotel's sub-basement. Unfortunately, when you attempt to use the elevator to get there, you'll likely take note of a locked door that blocks your progress. Remember when I said reading the documents during this level was important? Do you also remember when I told you one of those emails had an attachment with the letters "AC?" Yup, the password to this door is in an incredibly easy-to-miss file attachment and impossible to figure out anywhere else. Also, there's an additional log-in you need to input, "LUMIEL," that you only get in an email AFTER you first enter the sub-basement! You'll never forget any of this information during additional playthroughs, but it is goddamn infuriating to butt up against the first time!
Weirdest Video: When you enter the sub-basement, you discover it is a furnace, and a British sci-fi coal miner is one of the few people that work there. Despite that, he's wearing a German World War I Stormtrooper uniform. Also, he speaks in sentence fragments and riddles like he's a Skaven from Warhammer Fantasy. However, the best part is when he introduces himself as Lumiel and says, "Lumiel is always here to give you a hand," upon which he gives you a SEVERED HUMAN ARM and then runs away. IT'S NOT A PROSTHETIC; IT'S AN ACTUAL HUMAN BODY PART! Apparently, our friend Lumiel has been toiling around in the hotel's furnace and encounters random human appendages all the time, and like a cat that has recently slayed a mouse, he wants to show that he likes you by giving you viscera. Oh, and you don't need to chase after him and give him his goddamn arm back. If you do, he welcomes you to use it as he thinks you need it more than him! As a result, you now have a human arm on top of your usual inventory clutter.
Puzzles From 9:00 pm to 10:15 pm - [Rating: 6/10] - As you might expect, you need to move the human arm into your hand and then go to the Hotel Lobby and make a beeline for the Tele-FX. After you finish your business with the Tele-FX, move the arm back into your main inventory and head for the Pod Room. A weird and scary video depicts Lana Powers' death, and your character decides to book it for her room on floor five. Upon entering, you find the room empty, and nothing happens. That's because this is one of the few times the game is time-sensitive! The following cutscene, which happens to be the transition between this day and the next, will only deploy when the clock hits 11:00 pm, even if you have all the required items to trigger it! Luckily, there is a button that moves you forward in time, but I have been avoiding it to give you a better sense of what it is like to experience the entire game. This scenario is one of the few times when the game requires you to be aware of the in-game clock, and it's easy to see this example being a frustrating roadblock. The dongle that speeds things up is easy to miss, and the previous time you needed to check the clock to progress the story was ages ago, and the game incentivizes you to take your time and not bother with it!
Weirdest Video: Despite my disclaimer at the start, I simply MUST talk about the reveal involving Lana Powers. When it seems like the doctor is about to perform a lobotomy on your character, Lumiel pops out of nowhere and comes to your rescue. You met him exactly once prior to this scene, and he declares you one of his best friends, so he attempts to rescue you. He also uses a comically oversized pair of garden sheers to cut you loose. He hisses and squeals like a rat, but he's your buddy for the rest of the game! There is an earlier scene wherein you watch Lana Powers get murdered, which is incredibly creepy. The dream sequences and murder scenes all feel like they owe a debt of gratitude to David Lynch, and that scene, in particular, is no different. But something about a character you meet in a game's final act being the crux of the entire story tickles me pink.
Puzzles From 12:00 pm to 2:20 pm - [Rating: 8/10] - Alright, it's the final day of Club Dead, and now we need to talk about a new mechanic on top of all its annoying menu-based nonsense! This new mechanic involves you needing to save people on specific floors before exceeding a time limit. If you fail, you get a "Game Over." It is worth noting how playing certain parts of this game out of order or attempting to interact with other characters or environments without the necessary equipment will end your adventure prematurely. For your first rescue mission, you must find Logan Kane in Central Control on the first floor before the clock exceeds 12:20 pm. When Lumiel rescues you from the evil doctor, the game starts at 12:00 pm. With such a narrow window to complete this task, is the game cognizant of this fact and stop with the file downloading and email reading bullshit? NOPE! You still have to interact with the rigamarole you always do when starting a new level or sequence in this game. Plus, when you save Logan Kane, you need to use a syringe when entering Lana Power's room which ducktails into you needing to head to the Surveillance Room on the sixteenth floor. It's around here when the game shows that it has run out of ideas of how to string together sequences, as the gameplay amounts to visiting every location at least once to see if someone needs saving from the evil doctor. After the Surveillance Room, you head for the Pod Room, followed by the Sub-Basement. Because the murderer is loose, if you visit things out of order, YOU DIE! That last part is infuriating because there are so many levels to choose from, and while the previous three days allowed for some open-ended exploration, this final one does not.
Weirdest Video: When you enter the Surveillance Room, you find the doctor attempting to inject your girlfriend with a large syringe. Moments before they can kill her, your character comes to the rescue. However, after wrestling the needle from the doctor, our good friend Sam decides to rekindle his relationship with his estranged girlfriend instead of CHASING AFTER THE MURDEROUS DOCTOR! Sure, sticking around reveals some critical information about the doctor and how they attempted to shut down everyone's access codes, but did our good friend Sam need to have a tender heart-to-heart on top of his lore dump? However, the scene that takes the cake has to be the one you see when you break into Lana Powers' room. After snatching some incriminating evidence, a bizarre blue hologram taunts Sam. I do not know what this hologram is meant to depict, so I'll post an image and hope one of you knows what it might be. I think it might be a Smurf put through a Vitamix.
Puzzles From 3:25 pm to 4:55 pm - [Rating: 5/10] - After the cutscene in the Sub-Basement, you need to examine a new PDA file to acquire an item for a future sequence. That item is a wedding ring, but it is crucial that you not put it into your character's hands until after you do a few things. First, head to Sam's apartment to trigger a new message and then leave to use the elevator to return to the lobby. A new PDA file should pop up, and this one will net you a printout that needs to be placed in your character's hands so you can use it on the Tele-FX. Once done, remove it from your character's hands and read over a new batch of PDA files before heading to the Medical Lab. After that, you should eventually get a PDA file that bestows a picture of a clock and place this in your character's hands like the previous picture and then move to the Body Station. When you finish the cinematics there, replace the photo with the syringe and then go to the seventeenth floor, which normally houses the bar, but this time use a wooden door that you have never used before. As you might have guessed, the pictures are all one-off items and are a nuisance. Knowing when to use them and when to tuck them away is never particularly clear, and that's an endless source of irritation.
Weirdest Video: This part of the story makes no sense to me. Your character collects tapes from Lana's room and then has the security guard play them, and it is discovered they are the tape recordings of everyone the doctor has killed. They show perfect evidence of the characters killing themselves, and the security guard even acts nonplussed that they exist in the first place and even quips that they came from the cameras already installed in everyone's hotel room by default. So, if the hotel knows there are suspicious activities and a possible serial killer, why didn't they notice that their security camera footage was missing in the first place? Regardless, the security footage is a riot, with the highlight being the discovery that Nick Offerman's character called his taser "Sparky" in memory of his dead childhood dog.
Puzzles From 5:20 pm to 7:20 pm - [Rating: 3/10] - When you enter the Tiki Bar with the syringe, you should be able to save someone named "Red Moses." You must do this before the clock passes the 5:20 pm mark. After reading over some new PDA files, move the syringe and then go to the hotel's tenth floor. After helping the people there, read a message that gets you some cash, and then head to the Pod Room again. Move the money to your hands, enter the room, and net a new object called a "V Timer." Move that object into your character's hands before moving to the Fantasy Room, and after you are done there, move it back to your main inventory. With all that out of the way, head for the Surveillance Room. This chunk of the game was BY FAR the tamest of all its sequences during the final day. You don't have to do anything new, and it is easy to figure out where you need to go, given only a few rooms are left. Moving crap around is still more complicated than it needs to be, but that's about it.
Weirdest Video: When you enter the Surveillance Room at the end of this sequence, Sam's girlfriend asks why they don't just leave the hotel. Despite being the sanest proposal we have heard in the entire game, Sam dismisses it, saying they still need to definitively point the murders on the doctor, as if we haven't already done that. After that quip, the doctor attempts to communicate with the two by billowing, "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears," and then lays out their entire evil scheme for all to hear. Their transmission looks like something ripped directly from Max Headroom, with static, 90's stylings, and other random icons like flaming skulls and casino slot machine cherries also gracing the screen. And guess which floor their secret lair is! Yup, it's on the thirteenth one!
Puzzles From 7:55 pm to 10:30 pm - [Rating: 6/10] - It's time for the BIG FINALE! Your character hints that "only one person knows how to get to the thirteenth floor," and that's our buddy in the Sub-Basement. Check your inboxes and PDA before and after entering the basement. After an extensive cutscene, check for messages and new PDA files and acquire an elevator access button. Return to the Pod Room and place the bidirectional transductor back into your hands before entering the door to the main room. I must note this is an item you have used precisely ONCE PRIOR, and it was during the first day! That is what I call a "dick move." Once you are done with the Pod Room, move the elevator access badge into your hands, and when you use the elevator, you should be able to access the thirteenth floor. After a cutscene, place the wedding ring in your character's hands, and it is critically important to check for and read new PDA files before AND after entering the elevator. To save time, you don't even need to use the elevator, but for whatever reason, the game only triggers the email containing the solution on how to beat the doctor if you enter the elevator. However, you die if you mess around for too long in the hotel. The best course of action is to download the files after the first cutscene on the thirteenth floor ends, enter the elevator, and review the new files that pop up. The final "skill check" regarding if you beat the final boss is if you read the required files and have the wedding ring in Sam's hand. That's it, but trust me, it's a bastard.
Weirdest Video:The ending to Club Dead is a work of art. I don't think any of you will be shocked to learn that Club Dead has a fever dream of a finish. When you first enter the thirteenth floor, you find a giant container with the brains of the doctor's former murder victims. Nearby you find their corpse hooked up to a machine that can send people's consciousness through the internet. After Sam uses the contraption for a hot ten seconds, his girlfriend yanks him out moments before he fries his brain. After the two discuss what happened, a new antagonist reveals themselves. It turns out the doctor was trying to use the brains as a sacrifice for an evil spirit that lived in the hotel and wanted to be freed by using the internet. The woman is Alexandria Romanov, a long-forgotten descendant of the Romanov family and wife of Lumiel. She reveals that the owner of the hotel took her brain and fused it with the computer, and now that she is free, she's going to get her revenge by killing everyone in the hotel and then downloading her consciousness into the internet to send a message that will melt everyone's brains.
I know this isn't how the internet works, and this sounds a LOT like The Ring, but it was the 90s; what more can I say? The evil internet witch begs Sam to hand over his brain, and she attacks your girlfriend by shooting out internet BASIC from her hands. Sam pulls out the wedding ring, which is the witch's Kryptonite, and Sam shouts for his girlfriend to stop the upload of the brain-eating super virus. When she fails, the creepy girl that constantly hung out in Sam's hotel room pops into the scene, calls the evil internet witch "mommy," and then breaks the machine that was about to send her brain-melting internet message. I cannot emphasize enough that none of this is foreshadowed even the slightest bit. The brain witch is defeated, and the remaining survivors of the hotel book a flight on a spaceship before it explodes. Sam and his girlfriend decide to adopt the girl that helped them defeat the brain witch, and everyone lives happily ever after.
NOT! The game implies that Lana Powers uploaded her consciousness into Sam's girlfriend's brain while she was knocked out during the fight against the brain witch, essentially killing her, and the ship's pilots are those demonic Teletubbies from earlier.
Should You Play MTV: Club Dead? (Answer: Probably Not)
In the first episode, Sparky_Buzzsaw made the cogent point of saying to most people amused by the concept of Club Dead that their best option was to find a YouTube video with all of the cutscenes spliced together into a single fifty-minute video. At the time of my first blog, I had not fully finished the game and was aghast at the suggestion. I was entertained enough by the game's harebrained moments that the work I put into it still felt worth the effort. Then the repetition of the gameplay kicked in, and I reached the more involved segments and found myself defaulting to Sparky's judgment. It does not help, as I indicated at the start, that there's an incredibly off-putting plot twist involving a trans-person, and their gender feels less like a point of empowerment and more like a cheap shock-jock comedy bit. As a result, I burned out on Club Dead far quicker than I had envisioned. It's a bummer but par for the course in multi-media video games. Rarely, if ever, do non-Myst, non-Tex Murphy, non-Journeyman Project, or non-The Beast Within FMV adventure games know how to maintain their momentum.
Despite those issues, this game is an incredible time capsule. Never before have I seen a single video game encapsulate the social fabric and aesthetical milieu of the 90s quite like Club Dead. Every creative, narrative, and aesthetical choice that needed to be made in the game defaulted to the most potent and quintessential notions and hopes of the 1990s. The idea of instant messengers and PDAs dominating the technological landscape in the future? That's here. The concept of the internet being a portal to Hell and the afterlife? Yup, Club Dead has that! Are you nostalgic for the Jazz Solo Cup design? Well, you are in luck because it's in this game! Do you want a game that reminds you of your sticker-filled elementary school Trapper Keeper? This game might be for you, but be warned, it is not for the faint of heart. The game takes a note from Myst and puts next to no emphasis on solving puzzles, but unlike Myst, it relies on inventory management and object "skill checks" to gate away its nonsensical cutscenes. It's a complete bore to play, and as I said at the start of this series, I don't know a single gaming-based demographic where that feels worth the barrier to entry. But maybe you are up for the challenge because FMV games of this ilk give you a rush. Maybe you exist, and in that case, give it a shot.