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Infidel

by Michael Berlyn

Adventure
1983

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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
Very early Infocom, September 1, 2009
Despite the presence of some modern(ish) equipment, Infidel is set in the world of fantasy archaeology, like Indiana Jones or Tomb Raider, in which ancient monuments are storehouses of fantastic treasure waiting to be picked up, and the archaeologist's task is simply to dodge all the antique mechanical traps that lie in the way.

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.)

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Sean Huxter, June 17, 2010 - Reply
Infidel is perhaps the INFOCOM game I devoted most effort and time to, and was rewarded for it. Yeah, the parser is weak, synonyms few, but the feeling the game invoked in me, perhaps because I played it in a damp basement on a Commodore 64, really put me in the scene.

As for the dig location, I swear I spent at least a week roaming the desert outside the mapped zone looking for the entrance, because I could swear I tried the correct location and got nowhere. Later I got in, and kicked myself because perhaps I just didn't dig enough times in that spot.

But something to be warned about in INFIDEL - there is a bug that furthered my confusion. If you're in the camp and you "look up" it describes the sky. When you're in the pyramid, "look up" responds with "You see stones, what else?" (or words that that effect). However, if you roam into the desert beyond the in-package map and "look up" it says "You see stones, what else?" For quite some time I wondered if was somehow inside the pyramid and unaware of it... it was most confusing.

As for the ending, I thought it fitting and even though for a short few minutes I was left wondering where I had gone wrong, thinking I had to Restore and try again... I have to admit that it soon made sense, and I could see that I had successfully finished the game.

This game and Starcross were perhaps my favorite of the earlier INFOCOM games. It's no Planetfall, but it's a solid game.

Sean.
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