Quick, what do you do when you wake up in a van in the parking lot of a private school dressed like a slutty version of Scooby Doo's Daphne, circa the 1920s? If your answer is "Nick a school uniform and blend in with the locals," congratulations! You're on your way to thinking like Kayleigh, the protagonist of Classroom Graffiti's debut offering, The St Christophers School Lockdown, a point and click adventure game set in the eponymous St. Christopher's school.
The plot of St. Christopher’s is refreshing, and a welcome change in a genre that usually strays towards fantasy and sci-fi or mystery stories. You play as Kayleigh, a 27-year-old woman (who looks like she’s 17) accidentally trapped in a school protest for free education at an expensive private school in England. After waking up hungover and confused in her van, which is parked in the school parking lot, Kayleigh panics over what happened to her the night before. Nicking some clothes and disguising herself as a high schooler, Kayleigh at first tries to escape the lockdown and then ends up getting just as involved in it as the students are. You do get to find out what happened to Kayleigh and to her brother Brian, but the mini-mystery is effective in drawing you into the game at first. I kept playing because I wanted to find out what happened. By the time I did, like Kayleigh, I was already involved in the plot.
The writing of the game is smart and snappy, and the plot is interesting. However, the tone of the game swings so wildly back and forth that it would give a penguin whiplash. The game is very serious in many places, and touches on the topics of kidnapping, blackmail, threatened gang rape and accidental murder. However, this contrasts sharply with Kayleigh’s snarky commentary on every little detail at the school and the sheer absurdity of some of the situations – a ten-year-old running a “store” with essentials during the protest and the hilariously petty inter-personal drama that carries on in the midst of the chaos. That’s not to say that the game has to pick comedy or drama, but it can be written together more smoothly and zigzag less than a drunk teenager on rollerblades. Still, for all the faults of the inconsistent tone, the writing is still good. The dialogue is believable and smart and the overall plot is engaging to follow.
If you’re looking for the PG-13 rated teenagers of kid channel shows, you’d be better off going elsewhere. I was pleasantly surprised to find that all of the students here are portrayed realistically and not in a watered down version that’s been censored for audiences. There’s sex, drugs, swearing, drinking, teenage pregnancy, bullying and more. The characters are well-thought out, if not completely rounded. Yes, there are stereotypes in the game – the jock, the D&D nerds, the chavs, the airheads – but none of them are portrayed as being just a stereotype. Because of the viewpoint of protagonist Kayleigh, the game doesn’t look down on teenagers because of drinking, D&D or any of their other typically teenage actions. That’s not to say Kayleigh is absolutely sweet about it though. She has a biting wit, and at one point even calls the protest a “playground uprising,” but when she unleashes her snark on them, it’s because of their individual failings – like being uptight enough that you take roll call for the protest and assign chores for it.
Despite my enthusiasm for the realism in the portrayal of teenagers in St. Christopher’s, there were a couple of points that I was actually uncomfortable. At one point the 27-year-old Kayleigh has sex with a high schooler who thinks she’s a fellow teenager, and at another point one of the other students attempts to blackmail her into basically being gang-raped. Both of these were once again indicators of the game’s inconsistent tone and contributed to my confusion early on. I know plenty of games tackle uncomfortable themes, but based on the way it was treated I wasn’t sure if it was meant to be taken super seriously – certainly, Kayleigh didn’t take either of these things seriously.
St. Christopher’s would be a top notch game if it wasn’t for two failings – a massive amount of bugs, and an unintuitive gameplay system. There are, to use a phrase, more bugs than a bait shop. Everything from the wrong name being shown during conversations to characters disappearing to getting stuck on the school roof every time I went up there. Every time I think I’ve found a workaround for the last bug, I trip and land in a big pile of even more of them. One of the bugs ended up forcing me to basically “Memento” my way through a plot, as there were 5 conversations that were supposed to be triggered in order, except it went in the order of 4, 2, 3, 5. You’ll notice conversation 1 is missing, and that’s not a typo. The biggest bug is what forced me to finally stop playing, as a conversational trigger with a student simply refused to work and I can no longer progress. There is a clear lack of beta-testers, which could have solved a great many problems and turned this into a top-notch experience.
Like the bugs in the game, the gameplay system could also have been improved with a more rigorous quality check. The game tries to buck the tried and true set-up of adventure games and instead accidentally proves why some things are the way they are. There is no hint system to the game, hints are mostly included in the dialogue or commentary. However, if you encounter a bug and the dialogue or the commentary doesn’t trigger, you’re up a creek. The marketing promised puzzles that you wouldn’t need to try random combinations of objects to find the answer, however I found myself spending most of the game doing just that. Just because a solution is obvious to one person, doesn’t mean it will be easy for everyone. Additionally, the inventory ended up getting clogged up with a collection of useless junk that I couldn’t rearrange, leaving me to dig through heaps of random acquisitions to find what I needed and trying to guess if a paper towel I acquired in the first 10 minutes was necessary for a puzzle several hours later. Speaking of clogged, the game also offers you many options for interactions that are there solely for Kayleigh to snark at. While I don’t mind one or two witty lines for the sake of being witty, by the time it got to the fourth or fifth object that I tried to pick up or interact with, only to be met with a smart response, it started to grind on my patience.
St. Christopher's really shines in its aesthetic. Drawn and animated like a grungy graphic novel, it’s detailed and looks wonderful. The style perfectly suits the plot of the game and looks like how a high school should be animated and drawn. The colors are bright, the character portraits are expressive and the character designs are all unique and detailed. The art of St. Christopher’s was what originally drew me to this game, and other than one or two slightly wonky looking animations, it really delivers beautifully. The quality lasts through the game, there has been no dropping off point as you meet more characters and fan out to explore more of the school.
St. Christopher’s School Lockdown is at its heart a clever game, with snappy writing, bright characters, and a wonderfully unique premise. Its execution, however, leaves much to be desired. Still, despite the bugs and many setbacks I encountered, I still somehow ended up loving this game. It’s a breath of fresh air in a genre that tends to get very wrapped up in fantasy and mystery, and I’m eagerly awaiting the patches on the first chapter as well as the continuation of the story in the second. If you’re looking for beta testers, call me and we can work something out.