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The end of Act 4! Told you it was short.
So, after getting the boot, our next stop is back in the central statue room. You know, exactly where we were before we went to go get the boot. I can only assume this is part of why later versions of the game fixed the boot thing.
Reaching that room again immediately triggers a "Meanwhile" cutscene. Which is... a little odd, for reasons I will get into in just a moment.
Uh oh. Things aren't looking good for the Countess.
I would just like to take a moment to remind everyone that Doctor Olympia Myklos is, in fact, a doctor. She possesses a doctorate, which she received after several years of dedicated study in graduate school.
Aha! The game did make a clever attempt at pointing some circumstantial red herrings at Kent Kissyface, but this seals it. If the whole Ernie alcohol thing somehow wasn't blatant enough, the only thing that could be more of a dead giveaway than this would be if O'Riley himself appeared, dropped his disguise, and started in on a Bond villain monologue. Surely the game is now finally dropping all pretenses of--
O hai, doctor.
And with that, Dr. Myklos takes off, leaving Laura and the players to wonder what the hell that was all about. Yeah, whatever, you go look for O'Riley I guess. Have fun getting killed.
Wait, what am I saying? She probably would.
All right, so, let's take a break from the action to analyze this scene, because I feel the need to put on my writer hat for this.
See, (as originally revealed to me by xyzzysqrl, thanks for the educational explanation!) the Williamses weren't exactly known for having an iron-fisted micromanagerial rule over Sierra. It was more like, "Are you guys making a game? Okay, carry on." Sometimes, they might do a quick check to see whether the Space Quest team was up to anything that would get them into legal trouble. Sometimes.
(This is why this game's actual official title is the long and awkward "Roberta Williams' Laura Bow in: The Dagger of Amon Ra." It's to signify that it's Roberta Williams' character in a game that was actually by Bruce Balfour. Williams' role as Executive Producer was basically just to make sure that Laura's portrayal was accurate and faithful and more or less in-character.)
Thus, it is entirely possible that this entire scene was someone's first draft of the script that no higher authority ever saw or questioned. So, I'm going to question it. Apologies if this gets pedantic.
This is the first and only "meanwhile" cutaway in the main game. The only other time I can think of anything being shown to the player not through Laura's eyes was the boat murder in the prologue. Once the game started? We are Laura Bow, we learn and discover things because Laura Bow learns and discovers them. Until now!
You are, of course, allowed to break your own conventions. You could write a novel in mostly past-tense third-person narrative, but then have one single chapter somewhere in the middle that's in second-person present like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. The thing is, if you're going to do that, you need a reason, or people are going to point to the part that sticks out and ask, "Buh?" In other words, this is the only "meanwhile" in the main game. Why?
It can't be because it was just so important that we as the audience see this scene that Laura the character couldn't witness. Actually, from a storytelling perspective, I would argue that this scene hurts the story and should have been cut even without the sudden new gameplay mechanic contradiction.
First off, this scene weakens if not completely neuters the Countess' death. Up until now, Laura has stumbled across grisly (and logically improbable) murder scenes, always after the fact. That's because turning a corner and finding a body is surprising. This time, though, we know we're about to walk into Dr. Myklos' office and find the Countess, because we already just saw her there. I would say the game more or less spoiled itself, except that it's hard to compare this to that one time when it actually literally spoiled itself.
Granted, the corpse surprise could be wearing thin after this many of them. I'll admit that. However, that just makes this approach even more of a problem. If the problem is that the deaths don't have an impact anymore, the solution isn't to make this next one even less impactful by comfortably easing the audience into it.
But wait! There's more! Beyond ruining the moment, this scene also made Dr. Myklos look both as sympathetic and as intelligent as Peter Griffin. It also gave away that Det. O'Riley is the killer, again.
Seriously, can we talk about the pacing for this mystery? After spending most of Act 3 with bodies piling up and no real leads as far as who was behind it, the game finally and rather blatantly gave away that O'Riley was, if not the killer, at least a killer by making it very, very obvious that he murdered Ernie Leach. Great! But then, in Act 4, after it gave you that answer, it pulled a quick "But wait, what if it was actually someone else?" job with the circumstances surrounding Yvette's murder. But then, immediately after it does that, it goes right back to "haha just kidding it totally was O'Riley." Thus, even if you actually fell for the feint, the game clears everything up again in the very next scene.
So with all these drawbacks, did this scene actually accomplish anything for us? Surely it was included for a reason, right? Well... not really. The shock of the Countess' death would have been better served if you'd just come across her body after the fact, the intrigue of the mystery would have been better served by not removing all the doubts the game had just tried to raise one scene ago, and Dr. Myklos' character would have been spared an assassination even more grisly than the Countess' murder if only none of that just happened. From a writing perspective, we lose much and gain nothing.
So... from a gameplay perspective, maybe? It... it clues you in that you need to go to Dr. Myklos' office next, I guess.
Admittedly, you never would have gone back there without being pointed toward it. But... there had to be a better way to handle that. Hell, even if they didn't handle it and left it up to sheer "apparently I need to go here next because that's what the walkthrough said," it would be far from the first time this game has done that.
I don't know. Whatever. Let's just go investigate the next murder, currently in progress. We'll make sure to save before we do, though, because oh, by the way, this next part is tricky.
We recover from our (my) rant and enter Dr. Mykos' office, and... oh.
It would seem that the Countess' killer is still on the loose. This is Dr. Myklos' pet cobra, Barney, for those who didn't remember his introduction back in Act 3 because these updates are so slow.
Um... hi, there, Barney. I, uh, don't suppose you'd be willing to just let me take a quick peek at the--
Ha ha, of course not. Gosh, how could we have known that was going to happen?
"THEY NEVER LISTENED! I TRIED TO WARN THEM, BUT THEY NEVER LISTENED! YOU FOOLS! NOW YOU SEE!!"
Fortunately, I came prepared. Remember when I had to go through that bit downstairs like three or four times just to get into Ernie's office when he wasn't around...
... just so I could take the (wire cutters and) SNAKE CATCHER?
Fortunately, Laura knows that when I instruct her to use the snake catcher on the snake, what I REALLY mean is to stand there perfectly frozen with a vacant expression on her face while the snake very slowly slithers up to her, thinks about it, and then gives her a good chomp. No, take your time, that's fine.
I know, I know, the real answer is the snake oil. Which... uh....
It happened too quickly for me to screenshot, but the animation for "Use snake oil on Barney" looks more like Laura sends some sprinkly drops into the air about a foot in front of her, and then Barney wanders off to a different position in the room. Seriously, in that last screenshot (with the bottle icon nestled in between Laura and Barney,) the actual snake oil spritzing made it about halfway to the bottle. There is no way that was meant to be Laura using anything on the Barney, even though it is actually triggered by using the snake oil on him. If it was, she has the range of that guy from Lagoon.
I can only conclude that she must be using the oil on herself, and it's a... snake repellent? Maybe it's that bad-tasting stuff you put on dogs to keep them from licking themselves? "Use in case of proximity to bitey snakes, makes you slightly less tasty?"
Anyway, I haven't died yet and I have control again. Can I catch him now?
Oops. Guess not.
That was progress, though! The snake moved. That was definitely a thing that happened. Maybe... oh, of course. There are something like four doses per full bottle. Clearly what this situation calls for is MORE SNAKE OIL.
Dose #1 makes him slither over to the desk, as previously shown. Dose #2 makes him slither to the other side of the desk, and dose #3 into the corner of the room. Dose #4 gives you that "Okay, now what?" message. I would like to point out that after three rounds of Barney just silently moving to different positions, with no prompt or response or anything, the fourth dose finally gives you the first and only textual acknowledgement of anything at all in this entire exchange. This fact will become important later.
"Now what?" she asks. Um... now snake catcher?
Yay, snake catcher! With great amounts of snake oil comes great snake-catching ability. I now have a snake.
Oh crap, I now have a snake. Oh God he wriggling and thrashing and is there a time limit? There's probably a time limit before he breaks free and kills me because oh man he is not holding still and being a good boy. I need to put him away, fast. Oh God clicking the snake catcher on those cages on the right does nothing, is there some other command syntax it's looking for? Oh wait no those can't be the right cages, he'd just slither right out between the bars. FUCK HE'S STILL THRASHING WHERE IS HIS CAGE WHICH ONE IS HIS CAGE HE WAS IN IT LIKE TWO CHAPTERS AGO BUT I DON'T REMEMBER AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AHA! YES! THAT'S THE ONE! I REMEMBER NOW! AHAHAHAHA! Whew. There you go. Into snake jail with you, snake criminal.
Wait. Hold on. THAT ONE HAS WIDE BARS TOO.
You know what? Fine. The murderer has been apprehended, so we can finally examine the....
Actually, hold that thought. The Countess isn't going anywhere, right? Okay. Be right back.
Okay. Now, finally, we check out the table...
... and Laura does her usual gasp at the discovery, because apparently she somehow hadn't noticed there was a body there until just now?
Okay, okay, fine. We're trying to sell this as though it were still a surprising development, even after all this.
Oh my God! In the most shocking development yet--I hope you're all sitting down for this--it seems...
The Countess is deeeeaaaaaad!!
DEATH #6: BARNEY'D!!!
Victim: Countess Lavinia Waldorf-Carlton
Gruesomeness: 7.5 / 10
Absurdity: 7.5 / 10
Poor dear. If only she had received some sort of help in a timely manner.
Since the game did everything in its power to rob the her of her moment, I suppose it falls to me to make this death impactful again. And as the Countess shuffles off this mortal coil, I can think of no more fitting a tribute than a sepia-toned recollection of the last time she shuffled off this mortal coil.
And it seems to me
you lived your life
like a candle in the wind
never knowing who to cling to
when the rain set in....
Ah, Countess. So many memories. Remember that time we dramatically confronted her about her schemes like we were about to arrest her, then just sort of let her go, and nothing ever really became of that? Remember the time we did that like three or four times because I kept forgetting stuff and having to backtrack?
Ah, Countess. We'll always have those memories.
Okay. There. Moving on.
So, this one manages to be a bit more grim even without bloody injuries or the like. That's a hideous expression topping off a full body rendered in a rather uncomfortable pose, and the tying-up job with the rope is thorough and rather unfriendly-looking as well. Make no mistake, our killer may be convoluted to the point of comical with some of these deaths, but he is brutal.
By contrast, I almost wanted to say this death was fairly grounded and plausible by Amon Ra standards, but actually pulling it off must have been a trick. I'll get to that in a moment, but first....
... Sure, why not.
I think the game was trying to make it clear that it was the snakebite that killed her, not anything else, but instead it just made even the snakebite part much more absurd. Try to imagine, if you will, how our killer tied up the Countess and fed her to Barney (in either order, really; neither makes this any easier) without there being any sort of struggle. She was still alive when Dr. Myklos checked on her, so you'd think she would have at least squirmed a little at some point. Did this start as some sort of consensual kinky role-play and she only realized something was amiss after she was fully bound and bitten? This isn't Yvette.
Oh, and speaking of her still being alive, remember when I said dragging Ernie's body to the mastodon room was a bad move because it gave O'Riley away? In this case, his chosen means of dispatching the Countess left her alive long enough to say his name. He was only spared from being busted right there on the spot because Dr. Myklos rolled a sudden 1 on her Perception check.
So, that's about all we're going to find poking and looking at her with the naked eye and there's no sign of any hidden tiny clues anywhere, so we're probably done here.
Just kidding; of course we're not. Magnifying glass on invisible hotspot time!
These were in her... mantle, apparently? Somewhere?
In case anyone was wondering what happened to Barney's other fang, there you go. I don't think we're going to need Gabriel Knight's scale-matching powers to identify the correct murder snake here.
Okay, now we're done.
The clock strikes 4:15 as soon as you exit the examination screen, and yeesh, we've been up all night. Then... well, nothing happens immediately, so I guess if you missed the grapes and smelling salts, you can go back and look at the Countess' body again. That's about all you can do, though. Once you try to leave the office....
It plays a little tune while keeping the camera there....
And then Act 5 is upon us.
Act 5, as I may have mentioned in previous updates, is a point-of-no-return that doesn't exactly give you a chance to do... well, anything. If there's anything at all anywhere in the museum that we missed, it is now officially too late.
Which leads me to a point from earlier I said I would revisit. I said in my previous update that the thing with the boot was so bad that they actually fixed it in later versions of this game, even though I could argue that the snake oil (which they didn't fix at all) was even worse.
I could argue that. And now I'm going to.
There is, indeed, an instance coming up in Act 5 that requires snake oil to pass. A full bottle of snake oil contains four quarts (one quart consumed per use,) all of which we used to subdue Barney, even though we'll need one more and the game clearly couldn't have intended for us to take that abrupt emergency refill break when we did. How does that math work out?
Easily, if you're psychic.
See, it actually takes three quarts of snake oil to subdue Barney, not four. The game just doesn't tell you that he's now safe to handle until you use the fourth, which prompts that "Now what?" message from Laura.
Let's examine that more closely.
- Upon first entering the room (0 quarts of snake oil used): Barney is parked in a certain spot in the room. No one says anything; there is no message prompt or textual reaction of any kind. Attempting to use the snake catcher on Barney at this point will get you killed.
- Upon using 1 quart of snake oil: Barney silently moves to a different spot in the room and then parks there. No one says anything; there is no message prompt or textual reaction of any kind. Attempting to use the snake catcher on Barney at this point will get you killed.
- Upon using 2 quarts of snake oil: Barney silently moves to a different spot in the room and then parks there. No one says anything; there is no message prompt or textual reaction of any kind. Attempting to use the snake catcher on Barney at this point will get you killed.
- Upon using 3 quarts of snake oil: Barney silently moves to a different spot in the room and then parks there. No one says anything; there is no message prompt or textual reaction of any kind. Attempting to use the snake catcher on Barney at this point will successfully capture him.
- Upon using 4 quarts of snake oil: Barney remains in the spot he in which he had parked himself after the third quart. Laura says, "That's it...I'm out of oil. Now what?" Attempting to use the snake catcher on Barney at this point will successfully capture him.
There's always a risk that complaining about "this puzzle is ridiculous" can backfire and just make me sound clueless for having trouble with it, but... this puzzle is ridiculous. Every sign in the world points to using up all four quarts of snake oil on Barney, and every natural inclination is to examine the Countess as soon as Barney is put away. She's right there, that was the entire reason we entered the office in the first place, and there is no indication whatsoever that the Act is about to end as soon as you're done with her. Thus, you naturally want to use the entire bottle of snake oil on Barney and then immediately examine the Countess, even though that sends you into Act 5 with no snake oil, a classic Sierra unwinnable state.
The only way to successfully complete this game (on top of getting the boot and, you know, every other missable item in the last few acts) is to do one of two things: either catch Barney after using the third quart of snake oil even though there is no encouragement from the game implying this is even possible (if anything, it's specifically discouraged by the fact that you die trying to catch him after 1-2 quarts) or do what I did, using up the entire bottle and putting Barney away, then running downstairs and getting a refill before examining the Countess. The latter option lets you come into Act 5 with a full bottle instead of one quart (I don't think that matters, but I just feel safer with more) at the cost of there being a small random chance that Wolf Heimlich could be patrolling the lab at this hour, preventing you from getting the refill even if you try.
This would have been such an easy fix, too! Give a confirmation message upon using the third quart on Barney, and disallow the player from using the fourth. There! Now the player has to go into Act 5 with at least one quart of snake oil. Was that really so hard?