SummaryInnovative and suspenseful, although not serious enough in what it tries to be
The GoodCountdown is yet another one of those weird ground-breaking adventures by Access, with digital sound effects, live actors, and some really advanced graphics - all this in 1990!
Like all games made by Access, Countdown has a good balance between the narrative, the atmosphere and the technical stuff, such as graphics, music etc. The narrative starts strong, drawing your attention immediately. This could have been the father of horror adventure (if it could preserve the horror atmosphere better - more on that later), undeniably influencing later games such as Sanitarium.
The visual style is very innovative - it was probably one of the first adventure games ever to use real videos (since Martian Memorandum appeared later). The story is quite cool, full of twists and turns, a genuine B-rated horror/espionage thriller, and there is nothing wrong with that.
The puzzles are more on the traditional detective side, "search all the pixels in the room until you find what you need", but it is always nice to gather evidence and see how your little notebook gets filled with people, locations, and other data.
The dialogue system is unusual and very interesting - the characters react to you depending on your approach, almost in a RPG-like fashion. Some people require you to be tough with them, some appreciate flattering, and so on.
The graphics are extremely well done, with digitized actors and wonderfully painted backgrounds. The sound effects are realistic and creepy.
Finally, this is the only game I know in which you visit Israel. It was nice for me to see my own country in a game. In Israel you also have the best conversation of the game: you meet a girl who is your contact in further investigation of the mystery, and ask her: "Are all Israeli spies as gorgeous as you?", to which the girl answers coldly: "No, just the women".
The BadThe controls are very uncomfortable, you can't move your character around and perform actions at the same time, just like in Martian Memorandum. Investigating and hunting for items in a single room becomes a chore.
The puzzles are confusing, mainly due to the awkward interface and the inevitable pixel-hunting, some of them require back-tracking, and the time limit is very annoying. Three-four train trips instead of the (obviously) much faster plane - and the game is over, because the time limit is exceeded. The worst part about that is that the game never gives you a fair warning about that. To access the final location of the game you need to catch a specific train at a specific time; but if you've wasted too much time during your post-sanitarium investigation, you won't be able to catch the train, and the game will be over.
But the biggest problem is the fact they couldn't make a full-fledged horror game out of this title. The game's beginning is so promising, I was expecting a cool psychological thriller with lots of weird and unusual stuff. Instead, as soon as I got out of the asylum, I was involved into a cheesy "save the world" globe-trotting story. Sure, the ending was unexpected, and some moments were nicely done, but the game totally lost the horror touch after the opening chapter in the asylum, which was miles above the rest of the game.
The Bottom LineAn interesting game which you shouldn't miss if you are interested in adventures. Unfortunately, the story quickly goes downhill after a promising beginning, and some frustrating pixel-hunting prevent it from being an A-grade horror/mystery thriller. Anyway, just check it out to see what technical marvels Access was capable of at that time.