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SummaryA quality adventure game that fell victim to narrow-minded judgment
The GoodThe problem so many gamers had with "Dig" had actually nothing (or almost nothing) to do with the game itself, but with the fact it was not what they had expected it to be. Used to LucasArts' famous adventures such as Monkey Island series or Day of the Tentacle, most of those "Dig"-bashers probably thought it was going to be another light-hearted comedy. The more serious LucasArts' games (like Fate of Atlantis or Full Throttle) also borrowed a lot from comedy adventures, especially lively dialogues and inventory-based puzzles. "Dig" is something entirely different, and only by being different it evoked the ire of conservative fans.
"Dig" is LucasArts' answer to Myst, an answer much better than the question. After a rather experimental "semi-serious" adventure that was called "Full Throttle", LucasArts decided to go further into the realm of real conflicts and serious stories, this time with a totally different atmosphere and gameplay, both reminiscent of "Myst" and its early clones. In "Dig", the "mystical" atmosphere and the meditative, quiet gameplay is combined with a fantastic movie-like presentation, great humor, and an interesting and meaningful story.
The story is not very original; technically speaking, it is your basic "alien world" story: a deserted planet, a highly developed civilization, wise aliens who wish to share their wisdom with the bravest of the humans, which are, of course, the unbearably cool Captain Boston Low and his side-kick Maggie. What makes this story superior to thousands of others of the kind is the typically LucasArtian warmth with which it is treated, the very nice idea that it is based on (the wish of immortality and the alternative of a "full life" as the answer to it), and - perhaps most importantly - the humor.
I don't know why people keep saying that "Dig" is a dry, humorless adventure. I think they either never played the game, or simply don't have a sense of humor. "Dig" is a spoof, a parody - of course less than Sam and Max or similar games, but it definitely doesn't take itself seriously. Why do you think there are so many clichés in it? Do you seriously believe LucasArts created an adventure full of clichés and didn't even notice it? No, the clichés are there on purpose! The exaggeratedly corny images of Boston and his friends and their silly dialogues are deliberately made this way, to laugh at bad sci-fi movies and their stereotypes! Of course, there are plenty of very serious moments in "Dig". But this is precisely where this game shines - being serious and funny at the same time, never going too far in either direction and having good taste and balance in both. Unfortunately, this was what made "Dig" so unpopular - fans of deadly serious and "meaningful" (and actually simply boring) "Myst"-like adventures didn't welcome the game's intentionally silly humor, and fans of comedy couldn't understand its serious aspects. Either "Myst" or Monkey Island, nothing between, even if this something is very good...
"Dig" constantly laughs at itself, and does it in a typically LucasArtain way - cleverly, finely, and warmly. Just imagine the ultra-cool Captain Low investigating a strange alien device that seems to be broken, saying: "I need a switch... *pause* or a fuse... *pause* or a power outlet... *pause* or a generator... *pause* or a sandwich... *pause* or a spaceship to go home!!" My favorite scene was saving Maggie from the monster. Brink distracts the monster, calling him most colorful names: "You slime-covered crab-faced anthropofagous arthropodic arachnoid!" or whatever; Boston is supposed to run past the monster to the opening, yet he isn't moving. Brink: "What are you waiting for, you idiot?!". Boston: "I was trying to understand what you just said". And this in the middle of a genuinely suspenseful and excellently made "serious" rescue operation...
The gameplay of "Dig" is indeed something different from usual LucasArts' inventory-based puzzles and dialogues that almost all their adventures are based on. There are only three characters in "Dig" (if we don't count the aliens who appear very late in the game), and therefore not much dialogue; the game's only location is the strange deserted planet on which the three heroes are trapped. Naturally, since dialogues couldn't play a major role any more, the emphasis of the gameplay was placed on puzzles. The best puzzles of "Dig" have nothing to do with the trying, combining and experimenting so typical for comedy adventures: the puzzles are complex, meditative, and requiring thought and concentration. You shouldn't solve them by simple trying and clicking, but by thinking. "Dig" requires a lot of patience, the readiness to notice little things and to spend some time solving something which first seems utterly obscure and impossible to solve, but which later appears to be quite logical and natural.
But perhaps the greatest aspect of "Dig" are its production values. "Dig" was supposed to be a movie, and the game that was made instead of it belongs to the most impressively cinematic experiences out there, with atmosphere and effects that would put many movies to shame. Everything is immaculately done here, from the amazing graphics to the marvelously heavy and rich orchestral soundtrack. The game boasts fantastic FMVs, but even the in-game graphics offer a lot of eye-candy. "Dig" is easily one of the best-looking games ever; the backgrounds are breathtakingly beautiful, great combination of colors and shapes make them a work of art in itself. You really feel you are lost in a gorgeous, but strange and possibly hostile alien world. And when you are looking at those backgrounds and listening to the music and to the perfectly placed sound effects, you feel as immersed as you are in a cinema.
The BadWith all that said, "Dig" does indeed have some irritating points. First, the puzzles aren't quite of usual LucasArts quality. And I'm not talking about the so-called "Myst-like" puzzles, which were very well done, but about the usual inventory-based puzzles LucasArts are so good at. They were repetitive, not very exciting, and in many cases unnecessary. It is cool to use a rod to open the door, but why is it necessary to have five rods to open five doors (and to go through the same color- and shape- changing procedure), and a couple of rods which have nothing to do with the doors but which are there just to bring more confusion? Many puzzles are also unnecessary tough - critter-catching, prism-adjusting, and the famous turtle-reviving are real nightmares that would have probably consume an enormous amount of my time if I didn't choose to consult a walkthrough (in case of the turtle, a friend helped me to solve it). Games like "Dig" should have a built-in walkthrough, like Tex Murphy games.
There is a lot of backtracking in "Dig", which can become rather boring with the time, although I must say that the breathtaking backgrounds decorating the game made those trips much less annoying than they could have been. The problem is that shortly after the initial part of the game you'll find yourself in a rather large area with several passages and doors you can't access. From that point on, you'll spend almost the entire game in this area. You'll immediately know that what awaits you is running back and forth through the very same (admittedly beautiful, but still the same) place. There are some very dynamic scenes in the game, but also quite a great deal of monotony.
And the ending is... oh well... those Americans... they simply won't get satisfied with anything less than a demonstrative, blatant, over-the-top Happy End, will they? I understand a tragic ending in Japanese style would have probably ruined the game, but this child-like overwhelming happiness was artificial and exaggerated. But hey, it's Spielberg, right? So what the hell did I expect?
The Bottom Line+ Great production values
+ Lots of atmosphere
+ Good story
+ Not without humor
- Too tough
- Somewhat monotonous
"Dig" didn't just try to mix several adventure styles together, but did it successfully. It combined the atmospheric, meditative feeling of Myst-like adventures with wonderfully silly humor, a meaningful story, and tons of excellent clichés from B-rated sci-fi movies. Unfortunately, fans of neither of those styles wanted to communicate with each other, preferring to stay within their narrow limits, thus depriving the game of fair and objective judgment. But LucasArts proved comedy wasn't the only genre they were good at, and created a game in a different style, which is nevertheless 100% genuine LucasArts. It might not be their most flawless, perfect adventure game, but it is very far from being a failure, as some people would like you to believe.