For this week, I will visit a genre that’s mostly dead, it seems… the Adventure Game! This was far and away my favorite genre for many years, so I have so many candidates… It’s hard to pick!
Awesome Adventures (Borrowed Time, Darkseed)
Target #1: Borrowed Time (Commodore 64, 1985)
Take a trip to the land of the film noir Philip Marlowe days with Interplay’s 1985 classic, Borrowed Time. This game blended the classic all-text adventure with a graphical interface… Inventory items and interactive scene items were often clickable via a joystick-controlled pointer, although just about every action was also available via typing. The player begins as a down-on-his-luck gumshoe nursing a hangover in a shabby office, and has a whirlwind adventure through town while attempting to incarcerate the town crime boss, Boss Farnham. Complete with doublecrosses, clues to unravel, hitmen in alleyways, and the inevitable fistfight or three, this game let me live all of my Private Eye fantasies.
- Interfaces grow with time; the clickable graphic interface was an incredible boost for the already-strong text adventure game genre.
- Use of a well-characterized genre (such as the film noir detective) provides a player with a solid foundation, even in a new and mysterious world.
- While most of the puzzles were great, there was a kind of “meta-puzzle” that drove me nuts… The map “rooms” (yes, this was a N/S E/W room-driven game) had “hitmen” that would just jump out and kill you (bang, dead, no chance to escape) at certain plot points. A big part of surviving the story was learning through trial and error which paths to avoid… Rooms of Instant Death should be avoided at all cost, unless there are VERY CLEAR indications that they’re coming…
Target #2: Darkseed (PC, 1992)
I’ve always been a fan of the artwork of H.R. Giger — I mean, come on! Weird! Dark! Creepy! Hey, is that a cock? His artwork inspired the sci-fi powerhouse of Aliens, and plenty more. It also inspired this videogame, which was based on his work. The game is filled with Giger’s bizarre bio-mechanical nightmares. In an interesting twist on the adventure genre, the game proceeds in real-time: success and dilly-dallying don’t mix! Strangely, the game ends up with a more Lovecraftian feel to it — Ordinary Guy inherits house; house contains mirror that leads to bizarre alien world; 3 days later, evil alien being erupts from Ordinary Guy’s head and leads the world into an era of darkness! Over the course of three days, the player must discover the secrets of the mirror world and destroy the evil gateway between the two. Keeping your head intact is something of a bonus.
- It’s not every game that can be based on a famous artist’s work. Darkseed was (at least, at the time) an absolutely graphically stunning game, with a consistent and eerie mood.
- The time component was a unique twist. At one point, for instance, your neighbor suggests meeting in the backyard to hang out around 6PM. Be there, or miss important clues for future puzzles!
- An adventure game is arguably all about its puzzles. Darkseed’s puzzles were often good, but many were among the worst I’ve ever seen. Many puzzles had no intuitive solution, and required multiple runs through the game. For instance, at one point, the police are blockading your front door. Clearly, though, you have anticipated this eventuality, as you can previously have tied a rope to your upstairs balcony, allowing you to enter unobserved. Brilliant!