The Colonel's Bequest Review

Screenshot of Laura Bow and Lillian from The Colonel's Bequest
It starts off as a harmless invitation to visit a friend'y family over the weekend

  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: Sierra On-Line
  • Publisher: Sierra On-Line
  • Release Date: October 1989
  • Time played: 5 hours 53 minutes

What is it

Every adventure gamer or gamer that played games in the 80s and 90s, would've heard of the company Sierra On-Line and probably played one of their "Quest" games during this period. What you might not know is that the company started to experiment with their existing adventure game formula by developing games like Conquests of Camelot and The Colonel's Bequest (which incidentally are still technically "quest" games since the word exists within "conquest" and "bequest" ;))

The Colonel's Bequest was designed by Jacqueline Austin with the story written by King's Quest creator, Roberta Williams. Unlike previous Sierra adventures, you can't actually earn puzzle points and there are a very limited number of puzzles. However, you will be assessed on how many pieces of evidence you gather or events you witness when you finally complete the game.

The Colonel's Bequest is set in 1925 Louisiana where you play the role of Laura Bow, a student from Tulane University, New Orleans. A friend of Laura's, called Lillian, invites her to spend a weekend at her uncle's mansion. Colonel Dijon (Lillian's uncle) decides to read out his will to the friends and family gathered there and this leads to a series of murders. In typical murder mystery fashion, you have to discover who is responsible for the murders but also ensure that you manage to survive the night!

The Colonel's Bequest uses an early version of the Sierra Creative Interpreter (SCI) engine which replaced the older Adventure Game Interpreter (AGI) engine in the late 1980s. While the engine allowed for improved graphics, audio and mouse support it still retained a text parser meaning in order to perform actions in the game world, you would still need to type them in.

The Colonel's Bequest received positive reviews when it was first released. In general, the game was viewed as not very difficult when compared to other Sierra adventures although appreciated the fact it was more story-driven than puzzle-driven. On GOG, the game holds a very positive rating of 4.4 out of 5 stars with users praising the darker, more mature themes, the setting, as well as the humour. GOG users did criticise the fact you could easily miss critical pieces of information and even accidentally enter a fail state.

How I got it

Ever since purchasing the old Sierra "Quest" games on GOG I decided I wanted to try some of the other games developed by Sierra during their heyday. A whole bunch of Sierra/Dynamix titles were on sale back in June 2017 which is when I purchased The Adventures of Willy Beamish, Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist along with the two Laura Bow games: The Colonel's Bequest and The Dagger of Amon Ra.

The games sat dormant for a while until last year Choona suggested I revisit all the Sierra adventure games as part of my Pile of Shame Initiative. I've already reviewed quite a few Sierra adventures over the past year and after completing reviews for other SCI0 adventures (such as Space Quest III and Quest for Glory 1 (EGA) ) it was time to give The Colonel's Bequest a go.

Screenshot of Misty Acres mansion in The Colonel's Bequest
And what a family it is!

What I like:

Typical murder mystery tropes

If you're a fan of the murder mystery genre and love books by Agatha Christie then this game doesn't disappoint. Just about everybody in the game could be a potential suspect as many have skeletons in their closets not to mention the fact that the host, Colonel Dijon (a nod to the character Colonel Mustard from the board game Cluedo) mentions that his inheritance would be distributed evenly amongst any surviving beneficiaries. Since all the beneficiaries are staying as guests at the mansion, this makes it very convenient for any would-be murderer wishing the inheritance for themselves.

It's a Sierra adventure but not

I have to give credit to Sierra for trying to change things up a bit with The Colonel's Bequest. For starters, unlike other Sierra adventures, there's hardly any puzzles for you to solve. You do have to pick up some inventory items and use them at the correct times, but most of the game involves you being at the right place, at the right time and observing what happens. There is also no puzzle points counter like you'd normally see in previous Sierra adventures although under the hood, the game is actually keeping tabs on how many clues you're collecting and will rate your performance at the end of the game.

Amusing ways to die

It wouldn't be a true Sierra adventure if there weren't amusing ways to die, and while there aren't actually many ways you can die in The Colonel's Bequest they still exist such as a tribute to Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" if you decide to have a shower or falling to your death if you lean against an old bannister. The most ridiculous way to die in this game has to be when the chandelier drops on your head since it only occurs if you walk directly under it… otherwise it stays where it is.

Screenshot of spying mechanic in The Colonel's Bequest
If you don't find the secret passages you won't be able to spy on anyone to gain critical information

What I dislike:

Ridiculous puzzles

Despite there not being many puzzles in this game the ones that do exist seem ridiculously difficult and probably impossible to solve without a hint book or call to the Sierra hint line. For example, at one stage of the game you need to walk around an entire chapel before you happen to find a loose floorboard which you can pry open with a crowbar: there's no hint that you're meant to be searching the chapel floorboards and if you're not actively searching for something, it'll only be by accident that you happen across the loose floorboard. There's also a part of the game where you need to oil a helmet on a suit of armour in order to retrieve a metal rod from inside of it: I'm not sure how you're supposed to know there was something useful inside the suit of armour let alone a metal rod that's meant to be used elsewhere.

The worst puzzle though has to be retrieving the crank: in order to do this, you need to find a cane in a secret passageway, then climb the bell tower ladder in order to oil the bell, climb back down, use the cane to pull a ring that pulls the bell down which is where you'll finally find the crank: how on Earth are you meant to know there was a crank in the bell? The game is filled with puzzles like this so I'm quite glad I had followed a walkthrough.

Unwinnable state

Many fans believe it's impossible to lose and enter an unwinnable state in The Colonel's Bequest but I managed to do this where time was refusing to move forward after a scene where Fifi the maid slaps Rudy due to his unwanted advances. I couldn't talk to anyone in the house except for Gloria and everyone else had disappeared. The unwinnable state I entered may have been a bug and consequently unintentional but in this game it's critical to be at certain places at certain times since not doing so can at best give you a really low final score but at worst, cause your game to enter an unwinnable state (and that's really one of my pet peeves with classic adventure games).

Can miss out a lot of the game

Another reason I probably entered an unwinnable state is just like the issue I had with my first playthrough of Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption: I missed out on a big chunk of the game because I didn't explore my surroundings enough. In the case of The Colonel's Bequest, you really can't go very far in this game until you realise the mansion has secret passages and you've determined how to access them.

It's still old

It's not as dated as the AGI adventures of the early to mid 80s, but low-resolution graphics, a lack of colour depth and MIDI-quality music means that even indie adventure games of today seem like technological marvels when compared to The Colonel's Bequest; although without games like The Colonel's Bequest to inspire the current generation of game developers (e.g. Julia Minamata who is working on The Crimson Diamond), there'd probably be a whole lot less indie adventure games today, so I'm definitely glad it does exist. It's also worth mentioning that The Colonel's Bequest was released over 30 years ago… that's a long time ago in the world of computing.

Score – 6/10 (Okay)

Sierra should be commended for trying their hand at something different and developing a murder mystery SCI adventure where the focus is on observing for clues rather than a total reliance on puzzle solving for gameplay. However, being at the right place, at the right time creates its own problems which at best, makes the game very challenging, but at worst, increases the chances of entering unwinnable states. I wanted to like this game but without access to a walkthrough, I would've found it too frustrating and would've likely abandoned it.

(I've placed the following disclaimer when reviewing Sierra games before and I'll say it again: before I get burned at the stake by the Sierra fans, I'm trying to judge this game on its own merits, playing it today in 2020. No doubt the game was highly regarded by fans in the 1980s, but nowadays, things have evolved and, in my humble opinion, generally for the better).

Is the game worth $7.99 AUD?: No. Considering there are collections out there where you can get other Sierra adventures for $5 or less, it seems a bit dear for a Sierra adventure back from 1989. However, the game often goes on sale so if you're wanting to try a 1920s murder mystery Sierra adventure, best to get it then.

If you like this game, you might like… [ LINK: The Colonel's Bequest @ GOG ]