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Gateway 2: Homeworld, by Mike Verdu and Glen Dahlgren

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
TransWarp Adventuring., January 26, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF
In your previous Gateway adventure, you saved Earth from the Assassins out of pure altruism. That you also got a gazillion space-dollars for it means that you can now afford comfortably lounging in one of your penthouses on the 300th floor of a San Francisco skyscraper, living the easy life.
But what's this? Suddenly you get a call from the chief of the Corporation. A starship has been sighted on the far edges of the solar system. Because of your previous alien experiences, they want you to train the ambassador for a diplomatic mission.
And what's this? You get a second call warning you that a religious sect has sent a squad to kill you, hoping to sabotage the diplomatic mission and travel to the Artifact (as the alien starship is known) themselves.
From this moment on, you are sucked into a fast and thrilling adventure to save Earth once more, from multiple enemies at the same time.

Gateway 2 - Homeworld is extremely well paced. The first chapter is a race against time and against the terrorists who want to claim the FTL-ship. You have to get your sequence of actions just right while you hear the sect members closing in on your radio. Very gripping.

In the next chapters, the tempo goes down a bit, leaving more breathing space for exploration and wonderment. The driving force of the story remains strong though. I found myself solving puzzles not just "to read/ find out what will happen next", but to genuinely solve a problem and help the NPCs in-game. The motivation came less from being an interested reader and more from being involved in the events in the game-world.

On the surface, the story is an action and adventure-packed SciFi romp. You fly different spacecraft to various alien worlds, solving the problems at hand with a variety of futuristic tech-gadgets.
Somewhat deeper in the game though, through dialogues with and lectures to Heechee NPCs, thoughtprovoking themes come up. There is a philosophical/theological debate about death, resurrection and personhood with a learned alien priest. At a certain point, you are asked to give lectures about Earth to the aliens, and these go into ecological issues like overpopulation and depletion of resources. In another lecture, your character talks about human tribe mentality and nationalism as an obstacle to solving societal problems. All pretty deep.

Don't let this spook you though. The dialogues are all menu-based and the different options mostly don't matter much, making room for some comic relief in your choice of responses. The lectures are cutscenes, so if you get bored, just spacebar them away. Still, I liked the depth of themes and it had me pondering the issues after the play-session.

The core of the game still consists of the "simple" task of exploring strange new worlds and defeating the bad guys by overcoming the obstacles.

Gateway 2 goes even further than the first game in putting you in many different settings: a huge spaceship/zoo (yes, i said "zoo"), an ice world and the Heechee homeworld. While the settings are very diverse, each one of them has a rather small map. This is a great design choice. It helps keep the fast pace of the story going, and it makes for straightforward and tight puzzle spaces.

The puzzles and obstacles all fall on the easier side. They are more entertaining and involving than frustrating. They don't take you out of the story while you're thinking and reasoning about possible solutions. They are all well clued, or as I like to put it: because of the limited number of available objects and the smallish settings, the possibillity-tree is well trimmed.

As in part 1, the pixel art is great and adds a lot to the playing experience. In this part, gameplay does depend a bit more on using the mouse to interact with different keypads, locks, and menus. (Or, if you want, you can busy yourself moving a mouse-cursor with the arrow-buttons on your keyboard. Just saying, the option is there...)

Gateway 2 - Homeworld had me really involved in its SF story for a week. A magnificent otherworldly adventure.

Avon, by Jon Thackray and Jonathan Partington

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
"Once more into the breach, dear friend?", January 17, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy
That is the tempting question the game asks you after you've typed QUIT. Many times I responded YES to just try and avoid that last nasty trap one more time.

Avon was originally written in 1982 in Cambridge University as a mainframe game. It was later released by the Topologika company. After reading some background information, I get the impression that the good folks at Topologika have shaved and polished off a lot of the splinters and rough edges of the original.

While it is still possible to die, you only do so when you have actually made a wrong move or choice. There are lots of unhinted traps where you die on entry. In these instances you are asked "Now you probably wish you didn't do that, don't you?", giving you the chance to continue the game from that location. You do lose the opportunity to "solve" the trap and get the points this way.

I put "solve" between quotation marks because there are very few actual puzzles in Avon. There are many unannounced death-traps, a lot of riddles where you get only one chance and you must have found a clue beforehand (no lucky guesses!) and a few easy mazes. A few playthroughs are needed to locate the traps and the clues and passwords, and only then can one hope to put them in the right order and solve the game.

I know that if I were to read a game described as above, I'd probably run away. Fortunately I had almost no information on it when going in. Avon is actually a really fun game. The generous helping of Shakespeare quotes (often in inappropriate contexts) are funny, the parser and narrator are friendly and polite, descriptions are over the top in a good way...
Two more things to persuade you to play: a) at one point you get an ass's head on your neck, and b) this game contains one of the dumbest and funniest puns in any IF I have ever played.

Unfair, sure, but fun!

Endure, by Emily Short
Rovarsson's Rating:

Rimworld, by Russel A. Duderstadt

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Desolate planet, episode umpteen. Prepare dropship crash in 3...2..., January 12, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF

Rimworld is a thoroughly enjoyable though standard SF-adventure.

So, threehundred years ago, during the intergalactic war, the people of Rimworld closed off their planet from the rest of humanity with an impenetrable forcefield to avoid getting involved in the devastating fight. They were never heard from again.

Now, a diplomatic ship has been sent to Rimworld to re-establish communications. Only a one-man dropship can penetrate the atmospheric barrier: your dropship, which crashes upon entry. No help seems to be nearby.

Here we have one of my most beloved SF-tropes: stranded on a desolate planet. The initial game-area is small, simple and orderly. A bit boring even. But once you explore the outer rooms, the game-world quickly expands. Teleportation portals and different types of vehicles bring you to new submaps, some bigger and certainly more challenging than the initial map. Very good use of space and bottlenecks.

The puzzles you encounter are the usual adventuring fare, for the most part. Certainly not bad, but nothing very original either. There are two "action-puzzles", one which involves climbing and one which involves evading and killing enemies. Although there is some logic to them, they are ultimately try-die-repeat puzzles. The final endgame puzzle depends on using an object whose workings are underclued, which is a shame. Aha-moments are not so exhilarating when they are the consequence of "let's just throw the entire inventory at it and see what happens." There has to be some planning and expectation involved to give the player a sense of accomplishment.

I would have happily given this game four stars for entertaining me for a week with its puzzles, the great scenery, the alone-on-the-planet feel, but the outro bummed me out. One, there could have been at least two more playable scenes after the "boss-puzzle". Two, it left me feeling like I had just watched a no-brainer action-flick from the eighties ("The hero has put everything in place, nothing left to see here. Move along folks.") while there was certainly room for some introspection or a hint at a wider meaning. Bummer.

Still, a good adventure. Nothing more, nothing less.

The Hound of Shadow, by Chris Elliott and Richard Edwards

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Incomplete download, I suspect., January 9, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
The first half of the manual for The Hound of Shadow which I found online is about a rather complex-looking character-creating process, where you can choose your character's main occupation (occult researcher, anthropologist, ...) and also distribute points over different skills (fencing, climbing, linguistics,...)

In the DOS version I downloaded from IFDB there was no sign of this process. I was dumped in medias res as Edward the anthropologist. Now, this didn't matter to me all that much, I just accepted the character as it was like I would in another adventure.

Starting to play The Hound of Shadow took some getting used to. It is certainly no text-adventure as I know it. There were no object puzzles or locked door puzzles. Rather than searching the map for treasure while overcoming obstacles, you are here to solve a mystery. Actually, the game is not so much an adventure-game as it is a guided semi-interactive horror story.

Following the clues from the story and the nudges from your friend John, you have to talk to the right people and ask the right questions, look up important topics in the British Museum library and write letters to people who might help you. The limited or guided interactivity helps with the immersion in the story. If you read/play the game on these terms, it's a very good story with a suspenseful, slowly unfolding Lovecraftian horror plot.

Unfortunately, the game does not deliver on one of its promises in the manual. It prides itself on a sophisticated natural language conversation system. No need to ASK or TELL JOHN ABOUT xxx, nor SAY TO JOHN, xxx. The game should understand simple statements and questions in plain English. It does not. It seems that its conversation system works by keyword recognition, meaning that over half of what I typed was not understood and a big number of questions got irrelevant responses. ASK/TELL would have been better. Menu-based conversations would have been even better.
The game recognizes a very welcome GO TO-command, and you can WAIT UNTIL NOON if you have an appointment with someone. This helps with the flow of the story.

In the endgame there is an actual IF-puzzle to solve, and a rather good one at that ((Spoiler - click to show)making a homunculus). (I later learned that there are 2 possible endgames. I did not play the other one.)

As an immersive guided horror story, The Hound of Shadow is well worth reading. I do suggest relying heavily on a walkthrough, or at least have the manual with the list of necessary verbs nearby. The top notch writing and slow opening-up of the plot do not go well with search-the-word frustration.

The raw material is definitely there for a great game/story, but it takes some effort on the reader's part to get to it.

World, by J. D. McDonald

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A Grandiose World, January 4, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF
After a few false starts I have finished the most-impressive World.
Before we turn our attention to the awesomeness of the game, there are a few negatives I should get off my chest:

(I played the DOS version 107)

- It is extremely easy to cut off certain paths of exploration, which means losing points, or to put the game in an unwinnable "walking dead"-state altogether. (On the plus side, you can literally walk around while dead in this game. The game tells you that although you cannot act on your surroundings anymore, you are welcome to keep on exploring if you choose to do so. No practical reason, just... fun?)

-The parser is very picky about what commands it accepts. There are no synonyms for objects, so you are condemned to type "knapsack" over and over. Luckily, "knapsack" is a funny word. The parser does not understand X, so you must LOOK AT or EXAMINE.

-I found four game-crashing bugs, all when pushing buttons. For those who do not enjoy this and would like to know which buttons not to press, open the spoiler: (Spoiler - click to show) Do not push the round button in the control room. (Well, I later learned from the walkthrough that this button makes a nearby star go nova, obliterating everything around it, including you. So maybe it obliterates your gamefile too...) Also do not push any of the buttons in the metal room except the white one.
All the important buttons work though, so this does not stop you from completing the game. (It might make some points unattainable though, but I didn't really care.)

-The version I played has only one save-slot. Once saved, you cannot go back to an earlier point in your playthrough. (DOS version 106 has multiple slots, but they behaved funny. Plus that version was in ugly bright blue instead of the soothing white on matte-black of version 107.)

There. Now that we have that out of the way, let's dive into the sheer awesomeness of World!

This is a huge and diverse and immersive piece of interactive fiction.

After noticing that surface scanners were hindered by a strange forcefield, a landing party was sent down to a mysterious planet and crashed. While the engineers work on getting the dropship operational again, you are appointed planet-explorer on a search for resources that might help them get the job done. After walking some distance from the crash site, you notice that you are caught behind a forcefield not unlike the one the mothership detected from orbit. No way back, so you press on forward. Looking down from the top of a ridge, you see a breathtaking view of various terraformed areas, all with their own vegetation and, perhaps, other life-forms. Just the job for your inner adventurer!

There are multiple locations such as this ridge in the game: on a hilltop or a rocky spire you can see the landscape around and below you. I love this in games. It gives you an exhilarating sense of spaciousness, and it hints at where to go and what you might find there.

From this view it is immediately obvious that this is a large and sprawling game-world. The geographical zones are neatly separated from each other, suggesting that the puzzles will also be contained within their own zones (they are, for the most part). In such a big game, there is no need to camouflage the boundaries of the map. For one, it is large enough as it is without giving the impression that it goes on even further. Secondly, the boundaries flow naturally from the whole concept of having terraformed areas. Anything beyond it is obviously inaccessible because it won't support life.
While the different areas have rather complicated maps with many paths and roads crossing and going over and under each other, the geographical zones are only connected by a few access points, providing clear limits to the puzzle-area you are in.

Puzzlewise, there are two sorts of puzzles in the game that serve different purposes.
-Maybe a bit disrespectfully, I would call the first variety "looting-puzzles". You have to locate important objects, be it for the repairs of the dropship or for the scientific mission your ship was on in the first place. Or because they are worth a lot of money...
These tasks consist of visiting locations, finding and getting objects, using objects in sometimes surprising ways and taking pictures of interesting things you come across. These are mostly limited to the geographical zone you happen to be in.
-The second kind of puzzles revolve around understanding the bigger picture. You'll want to figure out who the builders of this place are, what their intentions are. Also, you need to explore this entire map to find a way to get off this planet.
These puzzles require more technical/engineering skills, finding and combining objects from all over the map. You will also need some leaps of knowledge and insight to reason a few moves ahead and see why you are doing what you are doing. (Solving puzzle X will hopefully get me the information I need to overcome obstacle Y which in turn will tell me what the *snorf* I should do with object Z I've been carrying around since move 9.)

A little reminder: any objects (except one) you use for the puzzles are one-use-only. No take-backsies, no stash somewhere, no market, no helpful NPCs. If you give the peanuts to the elephant, you will have none for the monkey. (There are no elephants, monkeys or peanuts mentioned in this game btw...)

The majority of puzzles is fair and logical. Once you know the properties of the objects and machines and plants and... you encounter, the solutions are difficult but straightforward. (No magical thinking or huge lateral leaps.)
But... To understand the properties of the aformentioned objects, machines, plants,... you will have to experiment. And carelessly experimenting with single-use-only objects leads to...? Walking-dead-syndrome, that's right. So save everytime you think there might possibly be a slim chance of losing an object and only then carry out your experiment. Frustrating? I wouldn't call it that. I'd say it's rather suspenseful.

Since this is a game from 1988, of course there have to be some objects hidden in the most arbitrary places, far from the puzzle they help solve. Are you an explorer or what?

With all these puzzles, it is helpful to keep in mind that this whole world must have been terraformed and built by some intelligent beings. This implies intentionality in how your surroundings work. Things are so-and-so for a reason. (I really like how the author has brought in an extra layer of purposefulness this way, by incorporating in-game creators of your surroundings.)

Now, on to the characters:
-You are an essentialy traitless adventurer. I like that in this sort of game because I can feel directly connected to the adventure. It's me who is exploring this strange world, without having to think about the psychological backstory of my character.
-The NPCs, if you can even call them that, are completely unresponsive (except they kill you when you disturb their hockey game, in one case...). They do have a lot of character though. They clearly have their own objectives and priorities (like hockey, in one case).
-And then there's the robot. The endearing, helpful and a bit sad robot. Pity I couldn't do anything with him except boss him around. I like the robot.
(quick clarification on the syntax of how to boss the robot around: TELL ROBOT, GO NORTH)

The writing overall is good. It serves its purpose without drawing too much attention to itself. Some of the more elaborate descriptions (when you encounter a particularly important species or event) might be a little overdone, but I didn't mind.
The tone of the parser's responses is weirdly mixed: Most of the time it's neutral, as in "You can't go there." Sometimes it's snarky: "Ridiculous." And sometimes it just has to insist it's just a line of computer-generated text in a computer-game: "That word is utterly beyond my limited vocabulary."
Once you have an inkling of what this world you're exploring really is and what steps you have to take to move forward, the suspense takes over and the game drives itself forward, carrying you along with it. That is good writing.

My strongest feeling of this game is one of wonderment. Like watching a long drawn out fireworks show in slow motion: a series of ooh's and aah's with each new discovery. You should really play it.

Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels, by Bob Bates

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
"Where have you been, Watson? We have work to do.", December 25, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
That's how the great Sherlock Holmes impatiently welcomes you back to London when you restore a saved game. This and other dry or witty remarks make sure that you never forget Holmes' presence, even though it is you, Watson, who is in the driving seat in this investigation.

Sherlock - The Riddle of the Crown Jewels is a fantastic Infocom mystery. In the beginning of the game Holmes senses that his adversary is very cunning and has studied his, Holmes', methods. Therefore, he puts you, Watson, in the lead. With the great detective breathing down your neck and occasionally making snarky remarks, the two of you explore London in search of clues as to whom might have stolen the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London.

The setting, London in the late 19th century, is magnificently rendered. Foggy streets, dim sunshine if there is any, grand and imposing buildings,... But also a busy market square, avenues full of tourists,... The author uses the fog and the busy streets to make the game world seem much larger than the part of the city that is actually accessible, giving a great sense of freedom to the player. You can roam the streets and go sightseeing as you please...

Were it not for the fact that you are on the clock. You have but two days to solve the theft, or the disappearance of the Crown Jewels will become known to the public and all faith in the monarchy will crumble (yaay!). Being on a timer, together with some well-placed twists in the story gives the story its drive. It creates the tension that makes this a good mystery. However, the trade-off between telling a straightforward story with its natural tension-arc on the one hand, and allowing the player lots of freedom to explore the map and solve the puzzles in his own order on the other hand does get in the way sometimes. If you misunderstand a clue (as I did), then the tension falls flat until you stumble upon the answer. Felt kinda like pushing the motorcar until the engine fired again.

For the most part, the puzzles are fair. Do remember that you are Holmes' assistant in this game, so don't just gather clues but think about them and put them together. In the words of that other famed detective: "You must excercise zee grey cells." I thought one puzzle was underclued, and it being dependent on the time of day, it took me a lot of time to complete.

The NPCs are very well characterized, even though they do not have all that much to say. In a few strokes and a few remarks, the character is there with you.

The descriptions are very strong, bringing the locations to life when you first enter them. The city of London's atmosphere in the fog permeates the game, adding to the tension of your search. The suspense of the overarching story suffers somewhat from the trade-off I mentioned before, but once you get near the endgame and the pieces fall together, the game picks up speed again.

A truly great adventure, a joy to play.

Spaceship!, by The Guardian's Gamesblog Community

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Desperate and alone in outer space, ... cracking jokes., December 19, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
What a fun and engaging game to spend an afternoon with!

The aptly named Spaceship features you as the captain of said spaceship. Your entire crew is on leave and you are enjoying a nice nap when suddenly disaster strikes. A meteor impact!
Now you're all alone on a depressurized and oxygenless spacecraft, left to your wits and some mighty fine McGyvering-skills to get yourself and your ship out of this pickle.

Despite the lifethreatening situation and the oxygen in your hastily donned spacesuit slowly decreasing (the oxygen-meter serves as a very effective timer), Spaceship is consistently funny. Consider this response when you examine your quarters: "Above [the desk] is a porthole, with a stunning view of bugger all." The tension created by this contrast between the emergency of the situation and the humorous narration is just right.

The ship is littered with objects, so you'll quickly have a heap of stuff in your inventory, most of which you will never need. Luckily, the puzzles are well clued and there are some alternative solutions, so juggling the inventory items never becomes a real problem. Actually, I found that some puzzles were overclued, diminishing the whole "alone and left to your wits"-feel of the empty spaceship. The obstacles all have logical solutions, some with a lot of intermediate steps. However, if you cram your inventory with everything you can take on your first exploratory tour of the ship, you should always have everything needed for the puzzle at hand.

A few of the obvious paths to rescue turn out to be red herrings, but they are great puzzles in themselves and they add to your score. So instead of being frustrating or disappointing, they just mean more fun!

I encountered a few unobtrusive bugs (and a huge one that was actually meant to be in the game...), but overall Spaceship played very smoothly, no small feat when you take into account that this game was written by a large group of authors. Kudos for keeping the atmosphere and quality so consistent throughout the game!

To the authors, I'd recommend one last round of editing and testing (cranking the handholding down just a notch in some places, (Spoiler - click to show)Particularly in the Infirmary.).

To anyone else, I heartily recommend playing this game!

Wishbringer, by Brian Moriarty

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Boot patrol!, December 17, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy, Comedy
I have officially finished my first Infocom game!

And I liked it a lot. Wishbringer brought me a lot of moments of joy and laughter. Once you complete the introductory task, it seems the game-world turns dark and sinister. Once the boot patrol turns up though, it turns out to be whimsical and funny. The little town of Festeron (Witchville in the dark) is full of surprises, secret passages and absurd characters. When I found my way to Misty Island I laughed out loud. Phineas and Ferb is one of my favorite cartoons, and here I saw an island full of Agent Ps...

The puzzles are fun and on the easy side. I would recommend that you look at the official feelies and the original game-booklet before playing though. (Widespread on the web.)

Then why only three stars? Because it's possible to make the game unwinnable when you are at the doorstep of victory by not reading a certain note before it becomes forever inaccesible to you. And because the Magick Stone that this game is supposedly about is hidden without clues, like an inside joke from the makers. And because things like that are extra frustrating in an easy-going whimsical adventure such as this one.

But do play it. It's fun.

Delusions, by C. E. Forman

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
"Morrodox" joins "Skeletor" and "Mumm-Ra" in best-villain-names top three., December 14, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF
Delusions was one of the very first IF-games I played when I first discovered the medium. The puzzles were way over my head back then, but I found the setting and the slowly unfolding plot fascinating. Except exploring rooms and examining objects, I used a walkthrough for the entire game, knowing I would once try again.

And now I have come back to it. Where before I would have given Delusions five stars for its story alone, now I have more experience with IF and I might offer a more nuanced opinion. I will have to be quite vague in this review to not spoil the overall story.

The story remains fantastic. It is a reworking of a tried-and-true science fiction trope, very well told and paced. Each of the three parts of the game sees the plot of self-discovery open up some more to its inevitable conclusion. Story-wise, there are many similarities to Babel. The way the player discovers the story through puzzles is different however.

The puzzles are very reminiscent of some mini-games in Gateway. You have to build a good understanding of your surroundings and the available objects to figure out a sequence of actions that brings about the desired effect. This will undoubtedly take some experimenting, failing and retrying. You can of course rely on saved games for this, but the game always brings you back to a fixed starting point to begin anew. (In the middle game at least. The endgame is not so friendly.) It is vital to play through the introductory puzzle attentively, because it is an easier version of the puzzle in the middlegame.

For the map-drawers and world-explorers there is not so much here. However, the setting is exquisitely suited to the plot, it adds to the trapped feeling and the big puzzle is designed to fit snugly in these few rooms.

Unfortunately, being more experienced I could also recognize more flaws. The unfolding of the plot relies on examining the same objects multiple times over the course of the game, to see how they change, or, more accurately, how your perception of them changes. Sometimes an object gives a default "not interesting"-response while you should still examine it later. One crucial action demands a non-intuitive (to me) command, making it a very frustrating guess-the-verb problem: (Spoiler - click to show)TAKE object WITH TONGS does not work, you have to PUT object IN TONGS. I also found a game-breaking bug: (Spoiler - click to show)do not SET WATCH TO [time]. It breaks of the playing session immediately. Just SET WATCH wil do nicely.

So, I am not so awestruck as the first time I played through Delusions, but it is still a very clever and well-written game. Highly recommended.

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