[Disclosure: A review copy was provided for the contents of this article]
When it comes to describing The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker, the most accurate comparison I can think of is the full motion video adventures of the early 1990’s. It was a time when compact disks had become the established norm, but three dimensional graphics were still in their infancy, and developers sought the means to engage with an increasingly expectant audience.
Like those games, Doctor Dekker is more of an interactive experience than it is a game, but if you enter it with your expectations correctly aligned, that need not be a problem. The premise is simple; players take on the role of a psychiatrist who inherits a number of patients from the deceased Doctor Dekker. The intimation from the outset is that one or more of them either know of, or were responsible for the death of the doctor, who we at informed was murdered.
The game takes the form of a series of interviews between the player and the patients. Patients introduce themselves, and the player must listen for clues in their statements and probe them by asking questions (via a free text field) and responding to any question directly leveled at them, such as “are you going to cure me, Doctor?” The patients are fairly varied in age and sex, but all are white and fairly young, so there is a distinct “drama class” feel about the cast of characters.
One nice feature is that players can jump from one patient to another at any time, rather than being forced to complete each interview in isolation. Even though this rarely enables opportunities for cross examination, it does often mean that if you get stuck with one patient, you can move to another. There is also a hint system in place to help out if you get really lost, but you’re unlikely to need it from a gameplay perspective.
Now, one thing that I really liked about Doctor Dekker was the fact that the murderer is randomised at the start of the game, so whilst I can say that there are multiple ending possibilities and several side interviews to undertake, I genuinely don’t know if you’ll see the same things as me. This is without doubt the coolest feature in Doctor Dekker, and the dev team (and the film crew) must be credited with having managed to weave multiple story strands within the game structure, even if it is in a relatively simple format.
One thing which I found less successful (although I was able to work around it) was the fact that many of the conversation trigger words seem to be extremely specific, and sometimes a bit unfair. What I mean by that is that you might type ask a patient a question such as “have you ever been arrested?” And what the game wanted was something more specific like “what did the police take you in for?” Between these two examples, the second one works and the first doesn’t, but I still don’t know what the trigger word was, and when you think about it, the first is the one that most players are likely to think of. Whenever you ask a question that the patient has no specific answer for, there are about three or four pre-baked responses, so variety is never lacking, just sometimes useful information to move the player forwards.
I said earlier that the hint system isn’t needed for gameplay reasons, but it is needed to combat the obtuse nature of some of the response cues. I am certain that on maybe twenty or more occasions throughout the game, I had the right line of questioning, but hadn’t hit the specific word that the patient wanted to hear.
The game does stress the use of specific words and repeating what a patient has just said, but that didn’t always work. The player character does jot hints into a notebook that can help, but this feels a bit like a sticking plaster that the developers use to correct these issues, rather than having had to refilm footage that had already been made, and didn’t come together quite as hoped.
In the end though, Doctor Dekker is fairly interesting in a voyeuristic, curious kind of way. Despite my earlier ” drama class” comment, the acting is well done overall, and no one drops the ball at any time in a way that breaks the suspension of disbelief. The sound and video production is fairly low key, but it works well with the sobering and conversational subject matter. The game itself is mostly interesting because of the story that it presents and the varied outcomes that can occur, but the gameplay mechanics are limited to typing only, and hampered by some of the issues that I’ve already described.
The long and short of it is, if Doctor Dekker sounds like your kind of game, then it probably is, whereas if it sounds like a marathon snoozefest, then you should avoid it. Oh, and if it helps, it’s only £6.99, so what’s the worst that can happen?