Hilarious and difficult with a twisted logic of its own
Bureaucracy is a text adventure or interactive fiction produced by Infocom. The true story that inspired game author Douglas Adams to write “Bureaucracy” was a mix-up where a bank sent his new credit card to an old address. The basic story of “Bureaucracy” involves a similar bank mix-up, but the aptly self-described “paranoid fantasy”, takes many humorous, eccentric and strange turns. Even the items in the game box, including the “Popular Paranoia” magazine humorously reflect the high degree of paranoia in the game. The story manages to remain engaging and highly amusing throughout the game’s duration. The NPCs in the game are typically limited in the amount of development and dialogue they have, but given the nature of the game they are appropriate since they serve their functions well and provide laughs.
As in his first game produced from Infocom, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, Adams makes interesting and unorthodox use of the medium of interactive fiction. At the beginning of the game players are informed that they are required to fill out a registration form for submission and approval prior to playing the game. Interestingly this is more plausible with the advent of the internet than it was at the time of the game’s release. Cleverly, the information you enter into the form is used throughout the game.
Another unique feature of “Bureaucracy” is the blood pressure measure on the status line. Typically adventure games will track the player’s score or the number of moves they have made in the game, but “Bureaucracy” shows the player their systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings in the top right corner of the game window. Amusingly, stressful situations or mistakes made by the player will lead to a rise in blood pressure. If the player’s blood pressure increases enough, they die and have to restore a saved game or restart. Luckily, blood pressure tends to normalize if the player avoids stressful actions. The player’s score is still kept, but more discreetly than blood pressure. It is nice that the game still tracks the player’s score, because successfully solving a puzzle is still denoted by an increase in score.
Another appealing aspect of “Bureaucracy” is that the player is generally free to explore the game area without fear of time limits or not being in the right place at the right time. Some effort also seems to have been made to limit the amount of dead ends the player can reach. For example, I left a critical inventory item behind at one point in the game, but it was returned to me later. However, the puzzles still remain very challenging, but very entertaining and tongue-in-cheek with a twisted logic of their own. The game’s parser is generally good about responding to player commands, although it may be difficult to phrase the puzzle solution correctly in a few spots.
The blood pressure measure, while amusing, is also somewhat inhibiting. Part of the appeal of parser interfaces is the freedom to experiment by typing commands, but the potential to die from high blood pressure limits this to an extent. However, the most frustrating aspect of “Bureaucracy” is its difficulty. While the twisted logic associated with the puzzles makes them enjoyable, it also makes solving them very hard. Even seasoned adventure gamers will likely find that they need clues or even a walkthrough to solve “Bureaucracy”.
The Bottom Line
“Bureaucracy” is a text adventure and interactive fiction from author Douglas Adams based on a bad experience he had with a bank. It has a humorous story which takes the form of a “paranoid fantasy” that proves comical throughout its duration. The gameplay includes unique and interesting features, such as the use of player provided information during the game and monitoring the player character’s blood pressure.
The game’s puzzles have a strange logic behind them which makes them whimsical and challenging. However, the difficulty of the game can also be frustrating and will likely lead players to seek clues or a walkthrough. While the player is generally free to explore the game area, the amount of interaction the player can have with the parser may be limited by increases in blood pressure, which can cause sudden death. Overall, “Bureaucracy” is worth playing for its humorous and at times unorthodox gameplay despite its difficulty.