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Deadline

by Marc Blank

Mystery
1982

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Number of Reviews: 4
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful:
The Foundation of an IF Mystery Genre, July 11, 2011
Deadline is one of Infocom's most difficult games, and requires a number of playthroughs to win. Important events happen at specific times of day, and you have to know about them and be in the right place at the right time to take advantage. It's easy to miss evidence or misunderstand it. There's limited time to complete your investigation. And, of course, you can ruin everything by arresting the wrong person. It's really best to approach the game by recognizing that you need to thoroughly explore it in four dimensions -- getting to know what is going to happen at different times -- before expecting to reach a happy solution.

The things that make the game difficult are also the things that make it great. Instead of offering an underpopulated world full of set-piece puzzles, Deadline challenges the player to make sense of a coherent reality full of active people and sometimes misleading clues. Characters move around the house, pursuing their own agendas. People have a schedule and plans of their own. There are more conversation options than in most old classics.

The sense of a solid and coherent world carries over into the game's feelies. These are some of Infocom's best, with police reports and evidence establishing the backstory of the case, and unlike the feelies for the Enchanter series or Hollywood Hijinx, they're presented straight, not as joking riffs on the situation of the game.

Deadline is the first IF I ever played at length on my own. I didn't solve it until many years later, but I returned to it over and over again as a kid. What captured my imagination then, and still has a certain appeal, is the recurring sense of excitement from observing without being observed: listening in on phone extensions, looking for secret rooms, following people. There was always the sense that important and significant secrets were hidden under every surface.

While the depth of implementation and the complexity of character reactions aren't quite up there with modern mysteries such as Make It Good and Varicella, Deadline is a foundational work. It established a number of traditional features, such as the sidekick, Duffy, who can run lab tests on your evidence, and the use of ACCUSE to accost suspects, and laid the groundwork for the still-popular genre of IF mystery that focuses on evidence collection and NPC interrogation within a compact map.

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Sean Huxter, July 10, 2011 - Reply
I confess that this game had me in its spell, all those years ago when it first came out. It had a solid atmosphere that enthralled me, and with the help of the feelies, held me captive for some time. My friend solved it, while I never could. I still haven't.

To me its strengths were also its weaknesses. Or I should say its strengths pointed out MY weaknesses. I could never come to grips with being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It seemed I could never figure out the flow well enough to be where I needed to be to see the important things.

So I was always left wondering just what happened. I played it through many times and always failed.

Perhaps it's time to revisit the mystery.

Sean.
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