This is the first game officially played since the revival of the blog, so I don't mind saying that the hardest post to write is most certainly this one. Trying to use the even-handed approach that I definitely feel Trickster always managed to offer out is sure to be a challenge and a half – and it doesn't help that I find this game to have been one that had a small gem that, were I not playing this game for the sake of the blog, I feel I would have given up on or just followed a walkthrough to beat. The game was challenging only ever in the points that I don't appreciate a game in being challenging – giving a largely artificial time limit that would take being rather daft to not manage to complete the game by, but leaving that incessant clock in the corner of your screen making you all the more cognisant of the looming possibility of a deadline – being the perfect example. Oh, and the timing-based walking puzzles were just insipid. On the other hand, I did like the story, as it managed to be plausible yet out there enough to keep my interests piqued. The end results? Let's see..
Puzzles and Solvability
Countdown is a game that, were only a few things changed, I might not even consider an adventure game. It most certainly is – but if you, for instance, removed the inventory system, the game would almost certainly have fallen more upon the 'creeping around' sections that were quite simply silly. It wouldn't have been hard to enhance them, either – all that would have needed to be added would be the ability to look into the next room whilst in Sanctuary and the death screens would have been much less prevalent. Still, I don't feel I can really deduct points for this – however, having a game that has no inventory interaction (which existed, after all, in King's Quest 1) is a big no-no for me, and the puzzles themselves were almost farcical every time they popped up. On the plus side, there was never a point where I was stuck staring at my screen wondering what had just happened – everything was clear and made sense, even if it wasn't particularly difficult. The real shining jewel could have been the conversation system – but instead of feeling organic, the puzzles that arose from that were largely the result of trial and error. So, to check – it had puzzles, and they were solvable – but they just weren't very good. Well, except for the parrot dropping the key to Mason's drawer – I still don't get how that happened. I'll also note here that Trickster similarly found that the puzzles were almost universally too easy within Mean Streets – so this really tells me that they didn't even learn from their mistakes! I feel thoroughly vindicated giving this a low score.
|The clues were there to let me know to give him wine – he wouldn't stop drinking! But the 'getting' there never felt right.|
I've already mentioned the inventory – it's rather woeful. There's a single, shining light in this once more, being the CAD system – it makes sense for a spy-styled person to have an advanced tool to fingerprint and do other such analysis. Unfortunately, it didn't let me continue to examine items, which is where the CAD system falls apart and you're left with a non-interactive inventory that largely depends on memory. Not being able to check the amount of cash I had on hand in my inventory (and only learning at either the video blackjack game or during travel) is a perfect example of the failure here! The conversation system was definitely also a positive at least in idea.. I wasn't a fan of the implementation, but the idea was quite good. They also tried to tell me in the manual that it'd work by using mixtures of conversation trees, so I can only blame myself for not realising that one. In practice, it really came down to 'click all of the buttons in every order until things progress'. The other main interface was the 'Look, Open, Move, Get, Use, GOTO, Talk, Taste and Travel' one.. while not quite as egregious as some of the early Lucasarts games, the 'taste' and 'travel' buttons felt fairly useless (there were about five objects that 'taste' even reacted to, and the 'travel' function was largely unusable except in instances where there was an alternative in just walking through a door to leave), and the 'goto' function only ever really came into play when attempting to scale things. I'd almost be willing to call it passable in this regard (though the either ESP or Reed Richards-like powers that Mason sometimes uses to open doors from across the hall and walk into them past a guard has to be considered impressive) – but even in this one, there's just too many damned flaws! You can walk up the sides of walls, the 'goto' function is almost unusable.. and all of the overhead sections were simply dreadful. Some might note that this was essentially the first game under a new engine, and that hiccups are bound to be made – to this, I say that these people haven't played Countdown.
|Also, pixel hunting. I won't go on about it, but it's there. If you see a key on the screen.. well, you're a clairvoyant|
If it weren't for the story that Countdown threw out, I'd be almost worried that this game would be wandering into the Psycho/Emmanuelle category. The game starts out hazy, and I'm almost entirely sure that a lot of people never got to learn more about the main thing that makes this game worth playing. There's a rich and well-thought story with an atypical twist or two that after wading through the horror that is the Sanctuary really makes the game more enticing. It's quite unfortunate that the game takes the amount of time it does to get to this point, yes – but I'd feel remiss saying bad things about a story that simply takes a while to come into its own. You can learn a lot of what's on offer over and over again, but everyone has at least a slightly different opinion, leaving you sifting through a lot of familiar information with little tidbits that can easily draw you down the wrong path (and did for me, several times!)
|The game takes you to all sorts of locales, and is definitely adept at making one place seem different from the next|
|Come to think of it, Lisa and Hans Gruber die in the same way.. coincidence? Perhaps not!|
I'm definitely of the thought that these two categories can be split perfectly down the middle. Unfortunately, that would mean that it only has a score of 'one' in sound. Why? There's one musical track (the one that plays during the introductory sequence) and some of the most grating audio effects that can be imagined. There's a gunshot (that breaks the game when played), a few pieces of heavily grainy digitised speech (which is where the single point comes from for at least offering that rarity in this era), a brain-shatteringly annoying shriek that occurs dozens of times.. and then nothing. On the plus side, this means that the gunshot which breaks the game is largely missable.. but the fact that the game doesn't even introduce music where it would be a natural fit is quite jarring.
|Ever been to a strip club/cabaret without music? I mean, of course, theoretically, if you'd ever been to one..|
|Fontaine is written as a hard-nosed, ruthless assassin. He is drawn as Alfred Hitchcock dressed as Dr. Who.|
The game has good and bad points in this category. I think it goes without saying that the vast majority of people who have played or will play this game probably only experience the opening area – it does work, in spite of how much I do loathe it. The 'Sanctuary' is largely infeasible, but it does give you the legitimate feel that you're in an unforgiving place where there are terrible things happening. Access Software proved in Tex Murphy that they were more than happy to make ridiculous things happen in spite of a serious setting, and I definitely think that this detracts from the overall experience. If they'd committed more to either a humorous setting or knocked off all of the goofiness, there's every chance that the game would feel a lot firmer in one boot or the other – but instead, it consistently struggles to decide whether it's all a self-referential joke or a serious spy thriller.
|The notion of finding a skeleton in the observation room of a hospital could be horrifying. This? This is not.|
|Really? Sounds interesting! Wish I could've seen it for myself..|
This game is probably one of the first that I feel the 'acting' term could be used against.. but I won't be that cruel. (The portraits giving the short animations to show what happens between 'neutral' and 'angry', for instance, would be a great instance of some of the earliest acting in video games. Well, they could be. As I say, I'm not that mean.)
|And the Academy Award goes to.. Buzz Brezhnev, for actually having multiple faces to cycle throughout|
|Probably because they try to insist that they spell it 'psychiatrist', eh Jackal?|
100 CAPs for Aperama
- Blogger Award – 100 CAPs – For blogging his way through the game for our enjoyment
60 CAPs for Ilmari
- True Companion Award - 10 CAPs - For playing the game along with Aperama and completing it with some assistance
- Adventure Award - 50 CAPs - For writing the Missed Classic post on Adventure
- "Violence IS the answer" Award - 5 CAPs - For encouraging Aperama's violent tendencies with the goodly Dr. Hashish
- Dragonborn Anonymous award - 10 CAPs - for starting an off-topic discussion in the 'Join The Tag Reviewers' discussion and discovering that others share the same addiction
- Missing Title Award - 10 CAPs - For finding a loophole in Ilmari's contest in Adventure's Missed Classic post
20 CAPs for Andy Panthro
- Sponsor Award - 20 CAPs - For sponsoring the blog with a free game
20 CAPs for Zvonimir
- WYS Award - 20 CAPs - For sending his answers for the 'What's Your Story?' questions
15 CAPs for Fry
- Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For getting the closest prediction for the final rating
- Man Eating Plant Award - 5 CAPs - For giving a correct answer to Ilmari's riddle in the Adventure Missed Classic post
10 CAPs for Deimar
- Kickstarter Award - 10 CAPs - For noticing an adventure game related Kickstarter
5 CAPs for Charles
- Spelunker Award - 5 CAPs - For finding out the reference to Jules Verne
- Beanstalk Award - 5 CAPs - For giving a correct answer to Ilmari's puzzle in Adventure's Missed Classic post
5 CAPs for TBD
- Genre Support Award – 5 CAPs – For announcing a new adventure game sale on Steam
Now, to pass the baton onto whoever's next! Spellcasting 101 and Elvira, here we come!