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About the StoryInfidel finds you marooned by your followers in the heart of the deadly Egyptian Desert. A soldier of fortune by trade, you've come hither in search of a great lost pyramid and its untold riches. Now, alone, you must locate and gain entry to the tomb, decipher its hieroglyphics and unravel its mysteries one by one.
Through the Antechamber, the Barge Room, the Chamber of Ra, death will lick at your heels as you race to the shattering climax of this match of wits between you and the most ingenious architects, builders and murderers of all time - the ancient Egyptians.
Michael Berlyn's writing helps bring the pyramid to life, although I found some sections of the pyramid to be a bit weakly written. [...] My wildcard points went to the game's hieroglyphics. I had a lot of fun trying to decode them, and they made many of the puzzles solvable on the first try. (Stephen Granade)
I was disappointed with the other living characters, though: there aren't any! What's a good desert adventure story without a few scorpions, asps, and mummies? (Derek S Felton)
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I have just read a Stephen King book in which he says all authors and readers have the "gotta" syndrome ..... "Gotta" know what happens next. I certainly was under the spell of "gotta" in this game. I just couldn't leave it alone, blow the housework and any other mundane tasks, I had to know just what was around the next corner.
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Number of Reviews: 2
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Infidel can be rough going for a player used to gameplay refinements introduced even a few years later. It doesn't understand many common abbreviations -- most painfully, it misses X for examine. The opening phase of the game features both hunger and thirst timers. Guess-the-verb problems make at least two of the puzzles significantly harder. (Spoiler - click to show)(If you're having trouble breaking the lock on the chest in the prologue, or throwing the rope down the north staircase in the pyramid, you're probably on the right track but using the wrong wording.) The knapsack you need to carry around your possessions is especially irritating, since you'll have to wear it and take it off again dozens of times over the course of play. There is also some justice in Andrew Plotkin's spoof Inhumane: Infidel will kill you a lot, and not all of the deaths are well-signaled in advance. You'll need to keep a lot of save files, and examine everything carefully before you interact with it.
To balance this, though, there's quite a lot right with the game as well, especially once you're past the prologue. The meat of most of the puzzles involves deciphering the meaning of hieroglyphics, which instruct the player in how to get past traps. There's a lexicon in the feelies for a few of these symbols, but the rest you'll have to work out as you go along, by comparing the labels on objects or making guesses based on their pictorial quality. (The hieroglyphics are in ASCII; make sure you've set your interpreter to a fixed-spacing font in order to read them properly, because Infidel unlike many later games is not able to set the font automatically.) These puzzles give the game a feeling of thematic coherence lacking from the Zork trilogy; while the effect is not exactly realistic, Infidel at least seems to take place in a self-consistent universe.
Space was at a premium in these very early games, and that shows in Infidel in both good ways and bad. Descriptions are often terse and not every possible object is described. On the other hand, what descriptions exist are sometimes rather evocative, and the constraints make for a fairly compact game with multiple uses for some of the objects.
Infidel is famous for not following gamers' expectations for a game narrative, and opened up some new possibilities in interactive storytelling. (Spoiler - click to show)The game ends in the protagonist's death, a punishment for having been selfish and cruel to his colleagues and workers, and having driven away everyone who could potentially have saved him. This follows naturally from the premise: the feelies and the prologue of the game clearly establish what kind of person the protagonist is. In my opinion the ending works a little less well with the puzzle-solving midgame of Infidel, however; in particular, the player experiences so many meaningless deaths before the game's end as to make it hard to regard the final "winning" death as narratively significant. Later work has gone much, much further in this direction, but it's worth looking back at early efforts.
Note: it is impossible to get past the game's prologue without information from the feelies. (Spoiler - click to show)(Specifically, the dig coordinates for the pyramid.)
Infidel managed to set me right on that aspect. I can still get completely engrossed in IF. I can still love every minute of it. It can still increase my heartbeat. And it can still leave me not feeling like the dumbest person in the world.
One of Infocom's "Tales of Adventure" series, the other one being Berlyn's (IMO) vastly inferior Cutthroats, Infidel does a very neat trick right from the start, which is noteworthy even if nowadays many other games have done it and also done it well: you get to play a rather despicable PC. The personality you piece together from the feelies is so realistic it hurts - it's not that he's a bad person... well, in fact, like all people, he's rationalized away all the reasons why he's not a bad person. But there's a streak of greed, anger and frustration welling up inside him that make him a most unlikable character.
And it's this greed and frustration that lead him to this adventure - seeking out a lost pyramid. Except that he angered his workers so completely they drugged him and left him there. Except that he didn't inform his "partner" (who is his superior and his better in so many ways, and in another sort of game would, in fact, be the PC), so he can only rely on himself. Except that he had just written a letter where he lied through his teeth to his employer, telling her how stupendous everything was going. Except that the black box which would tell him the exact latitude and longitude of the pyramid is broken, and the replacement still isn't here.
Thankfully, you don't see these character traits, or even much of the PC's character at all, once you're properly in the game. Why should you? You saw it as an outsider when you read the feelies, but in-game, you just have to go with the flow. You don't even have the chance to notice his failings, because at that point you are, just like him, trying to get to the heart of the adventure. So you aren't reminded (as you'd probably be in a more modern game) of the unpleasant character of the PC. Which is one of the reasons why playing this game is so enjoyable. If I was being constantly reminded of the PC's character, I'd probably have quit very soon.
Gameplay is strictly puzzle oriented. One of the puzzles in rather mechanical in nature, and is rather broad, having about three game areas in scope. The others are more about interacting with your environment. In true old-school style, you are left to your own devices, with no hand-holding whatsoever.
Nowadays, people are trying to emulate that. I've just played Cacophony, for instance, and it tried to do the same thing: "Here you are, explore, have fun, it will become clear if you do". But rarely do modern games actually manage to get it clear. Cacophony certainly didn't, not for me, at least, and it seemed quintessentially "Here you are, figure it out".
In Infidel, it works wonders. Maybe it's because Infidel actually gives you something to work with, without actually spelling anything out for you. You have a series of hieroglyphs which, onde decoded, will help you out. You find a series of situations which may not be straightforward at first, but further exploration will allow you to start making connections.
And of course, making the connections is the really rewarding thing about IF. At least, about puzzle-based IF. Actually solving the puzzle isn't really as good as the moment of figuring it out.
The pacing is simply great. From the moment when you enter the pyramid, you will go through the various stages of exploration - checking it out, then thinking about what you see, then overcoming obstacles, eventually getting more and more excited as you realize the exact things you have to do. By the time you reach the endgame sequence, you have that wonderful feeling which seems to have left the modern-day-IFer.
The feeling that it's time, this is it, this is the final puzzle, the showdown, and *you know exactly what to do.*
Sure, maybe not exactly, but you know what you're going to do. I can't stress this enough, and if I may be permitted a bit of a rant, I've had enough of games with extra-hard ending sequences. There is nothing as satisfying as entering the final sequence with a clear image of what's going to happen - an image that I built myself, from the various pieces of information I've gathered throughout the game. I feel like I'm going in, and I'm going in armed. I feel like I can do it. I feel the urge to move on, and the satisfaction of everything going as I knew it would is just too big for words.
This doesn't mean there can't be surprises, or twists. In fact, the entire finale of Spellbreaker is played by ear. But as far as gameplay goes, this has to be the most satisfying way to finish a game. Rarely seen, because it's hard to do right.
Well, Infidel does it right. Infidel does it wonderfully. That is enough for me to give it a 5/5 rating.
The puzzles themselves aren't too hard, either. A couple of sticking points, to be sure, but it's nothing a persistent adventurer won't overcome quickly. The inventory limit is more relaxed than in many Infocom games. THe mechanics of working the knapsack and lighting the torch take some getting used to, but it will eventually feel perfectly natural because, really, it's not gratuitous. It feels real.
The prose is among the best I've seen in Infocom. Berlyn succeeded in making me feel as though I was truly exploring the pyramid, matching wits with the ancient Egyptians.
I'm fond of saying that, despite all that Sokoban-style crate-pushing, "Broken Sword III" puts the "Adventure" back in "adventure game" - because it feels really adventurous, as opposed to just going around collecting items and using them properly. Infidel is also an "adventure" game, in exactly the same way.
And the very final twist, of course, is so apt it feels satisfying, even if the PC disagrees with you.
If you enjoyed Infidel...
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Recommended ListsInfidel appears in the following Recommended Lists:
PollsThe following polls include votes for Infidel:
NPC-less Exploration by Dannii
Supposedly one of IFs strengths is for exploring places with few other people, often abandoned places, but I can't think of many works which have zero NPCs and consist of a lot of exploration. Usually there's at least one NPC, or the...
Solved without Hints by joncgoodwin
I'm very interested in hearing truthful accounts of at least somewhat difficult games (or games that don't solve themselves at least) solved completely without recourse to hints, walkthroughs, etc.
This is version 4 of this page, edited by Edward Lacey on 6 March 2013 at 12:21pm. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item