Have you ever sat down and politely sifted through a towering stack of your friend's latest amateur holiday photos and thought, "If someone would just add a few voice-overs, this would make a great adventure game"? Probably not, but that's what A Quiet Weekend in Capri will remind you of. This program includes both a virtual walking tour and a point-and-click adventure set on the island of Capri, off the Italian coast. Both components are built around a Myst-style slide-show presentation. "Slide show" really hits the mark here, too, because the gameworld is made up of about 4,500 photographs of the island: Nearly every little alley, stairway, park bench, and villa seems to have been photographed by an overzealous shutterbug. A computer adventure set in a real-world locale could have been a thrill. However, what's good in theory isn't always so good in practice, and A Quiet Weekend in Capri has so many weaknesses that it only merits a very guarded recommendation.
The program's sightseeing component begins as you board a ferry and head to Capri, situated in the Bay of Naples. From there you take a cab up some of the rocky island's narrow, winding streets to a central square in the capital town. You grab a map and then start walking wherever you choose in the pedestrian areas of the island's eastern half, where the game is also set. You'll see beautiful seaside panoramas; rugged, sun-drenched hills; and quaint, flower-lined lanes. Along the way, occasional characters or an offscreen narrator will offer bits of tourist information about Capri's history, climate, and attractions. Some of this information is pretty colorful: You'll learn how author Oscar Wilde aroused the indignation of some of the locals with his open homosexuality during a visit and how Lenin refined the ideas of communism while staying on the island. Then again, much of the information is dry and quickly forgotten tourism pamphlet fare.
A problem with the sightseeing mode is that you can only jump directly to a limited number of locales, and there's no guided-tour option. It can feel a bit overwhelming as you wander street after street without any guidance. The island's roads and paths aren't laid out in any convenient grid, either, but rather twist and snake in all kinds of unpredictable ways. This makes them very picturesque, but it also makes getting lost quite easy unless you check your map every five seconds, yet its lettering is often too fuzzy to read, anyway. It's too bad the program didn't give you a better map and an onscreen compass. At least there's the occasional street sign.
Perhaps the biggest flaw of A Quiet Weekend in Capri is its obsessive, almost indiscriminate treatment of locales. Instead of showing you one or two dramatic photos to represent a certain passage, promontory, or piazza, the game gives you a whole string of images for every twist and turn and viewing angle. Thus, you end up with a massive and overwhelming number of mini-locales to visit, even if many are ultimately just small parts of the same small area. As such, walking down a simple lane can require an inordinate number of mouse clicks.
Many of the problems with the tour mar the adventure game portion of A Quiet Weekend in Capri. In fact, this whole part of the program is often disorienting and disappointing. The game begins with a bland and vague text prologue that simply tells you that you're visiting Capri and someone or something is plotting against you. That's hardly the most dramatic and enticing way to draw someone into a game. Still, you gamely head to the island, get a map, and start for your hotel. Suddenly the screen swirls, almost all the people disappear, and you find that your hotel bears a "closed" sign.
So there you stand, with no clue at all as to what you're supposed to be doing or why. That leaves you with one option: wander around aimlessly until you find some clues as to what the game is about. Occasionally, you'll find characters who call you Rafele--part of the obscure and uninteresting mystery. These shopkeepers, farmers, and fishermen might give you an object, like a cigarette, "fruit converter," or "narcissistic object transformer," before inexplicably vanishing right before your eyes. You can't talk back to any of these static "characters," and often you don't even see them but just hear them over a front door's intercom. In addition to what these people might hand you, you can pick up many objects on your own, but they're unlabeled, so you can't even tell what some of them are. Frankly, all of this doesn't seem mysterious, so much as needlessly obscure, clumsy, and silly.
The game also gives you precious little motivation to first find and then solve the puzzles. One of the chief motivations for solving puzzles in an adventure game is that they usually open up exciting new areas for you to explore. But here you can explore just about everything right away in either the game or the tour mode. By offering such a vast area to explore right off the bat, the game also overwhelms you and leaves you laboriously hunting for needles in an island-sized haystack. You'll actually have to find single pieces of fruit somewhere on the island and locate tiny walnuts at the base of a tree in a grove, which is a tedious chore even if you know the grove to look in and have the help feature turned on that outlines hot zones in black. Get ready for outrageous amounts of "walking" to and fro as you search in vain for items.
In addition to making you search for minute objects, the game forces you to embark on exhausting and mundane "FedEx" delivery marches back and forth across the island, where you pick up some arugula or hand a newspaper to someone you neither know nor care about. Where's the sense of wonder, mystery, and adventure that you expect from an adventure game? Not in playing grocery delivery boy.
Things do get more complex--expect some tough puzzles--and a tad more interesting if you can suffer through the early going. There's actually a certain odd charm to the game's surreal story and clumsy writing, too. The main saving grace, though, is that the game plays out on such a quaint, pretty island, and you can certainly feel the developers' enthusiasm for the place.
Despite that enticing source material, A Quiet Weekend in Capri's presentation does it few favors. It all seems very amateurish and cheap. The program was created almost entirely by two men, a father-and-son team, so it's unreasonable to expect superslick, big-budget production values. Still, you do expect a certain level of polish from a professionally published game, not the antiquated, ugly, low-tech feel on display here. The game's audio, for example, is marred by bland voice-overs and unconvincing, simple sound effects reminiscent of 20-year-old games. The music is uneven at best: A few tunes are mildly pleasant, most are bland, and one or two will make you cringe and hurriedly reach for the mute button.
As for the visuals, the menus and icons look gaudy and hand sketched, and text appears in simple, ugly fonts. Occasional hand-drawn objects superimposed on the photos often look comically fake. There's no animation, and the thousands of still images only take up part of the screen, so their impact is less than it might have been. The sheer overabundance of photos further weakens their impact.
For that matter, the photos seem for all the world like those taken by an amateur tourist photographer. They're certainly competent--no fingers over the shutter or cropped heads--yet they're often marred by predictable and boring composition, fuzzy details, or blurry highlights. Some players might find that these flaws add to the whole you-are-there tourist vibe of the program, but it would have been nicer to see professional-quality, discriminating, artistic shots of the island.
By starting you out utterly clueless and giving you scant motivation other than mere curiosity, the adventure portion of A Quiet Weekend in Capri gets off to a horrible start. It doesn't improve very much, typically ranging from boring to silly to confusing, with only the odd moment of interest to keep you trudging along. Hardcore adventure gamers willing to ignore a lot of serious flaws might find the game somewhat amusing, though most gamers will likely want to steer clear of this virtual Capri. At least the tour component, despite its flaws, should be of real interest to potential visitors. Capri certainly seems to be an enchanting island. It's just too bad you don't get an adventure to match it.