Waxworks was originally released in 1992 on the Amiga (congrats if you know what that is) and PC, and has been brought back to life by the fine people at Good Old Games. This old-school gem is a horror-themed hybrid that combines elements of action, RPG, and adventure, and laid the path for many future titles.
The story takes place in your uncle’s eldritch waxworks museum, where you attempt to lift a curse that has plagued your family for generations. There are 5 exhibits to explore, each transporting you to a different realm – ancient Egypt, Jack the Ripper’s London, a zombie-infested graveyard, a mine inhabited by hideous mutants, and the Witch’s Lair. Each area is a one-way trip – after entering, you will have to overcome the puzzles and opponents within before you can escape and return to the present. As you progress, you can invoke your uncle’s spirit using a crystal ball. He can provide valuable assistance in the form of advice and limited healing.
The most noticeable aspect of Waxworks is how difficult it can be. Gruesome and often-unexpected death awaits you around every corner. This is not one of today’s auto-aiming hand-holding games – do just one thing wrong, and it can be fatal. This game is unforgiving in the extreme and will challenge you extensively.
The first thing most players will notice is the complete absence of a map – this is exacerbated by the uniformity of corridors and scarcity of landmarks. You’ll have to resort to a piece of graph paper and a pencil if you don’t want to wander around endlessly lost. The puzzle and adventure components are well implemented, and you’ll be searching every dusty corner for potentially useful items.
Combat occurs regularly, and is a fairly unpredictable affair: your attacks miss much of the time, and the damage opponents deal varies considerably. Healing is not the ever-present factor found in modern title – besides the finite help offered by your disembodied uncle, there is almost no way to address your wounds. In one realm, he cannot heal you at all. You do find a med kit, but if you use it more than once the level becomes impossible to complete for various reasons.
This is just one example of numerous instances where a realm can become impassable. Many actions or omissions will effectively lock the level. The game generally doesn’t inform you when this occurs, leaving you to find out the hard way with great frustration further down the line. Unless you save regularly, this means a lot of restarts and wasted time.
Being a retro title, the graphics show their age (as expected), but could not be considered terrible – one acclimatises quickly as gameplay becomes the primary focus. Music is spooky and atmospheric by ’92 standards, but rudimentary to the modern ear – you’ll find yourself quickly disabling it and running Winamp in the background. Similarly, sounds are sparse and functional, simply highlighting a weapon swing or sudden trap.