Written by  :  Unicorn Lynx (181365)
Written on  :  Nov 27, 2003
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  3.5 Stars3.5 Stars3.5 Stars3.5 Stars3.5 Stars

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Not sure if I can dig it

The Good

Dig is a real oddball among the fine creations of LucasArts. They made it when the golden age of comedy adventure was already gone, and the meditative, minimalistic techniques of Myst began to mesmerize people. This game is, in a way, a tribute to Myst done by developers whose previous work was associated with quite a different type of adventure design.

First things first: Dig has killer production values. I think it was supposed to be a movie at some point, and that really shows. Dramatic animated cutscenes, gorgeously drawn backgrounds, and a rich musical score complemented by perfectly placed sound effects immerse you as if you were in a cinema. You really feel you are lost in a gorgeous, but strange and possibly hostile alien world. A sense of wonder and grandeur permeates the exotic scenario.

The plot may not be the epitome of sci-fi storytelling, but there is something in the strange tale of a race that mysteriously vanished despite achievements like crystal-powered trams and immortality. Seriously, the game's story does deal with that latter issue - not the Abrahamic afterlife or the Indian reincarnation, but in the plainest sense of endless physical life reminiscent of primitive alchemy or Chinese Daoist searches for elixirs. You can play the game for yourself and discover the rather philosophical and certainly thought-provoking conclusion.

While Full Throttle could not combine cinematic treatment with challenging gameplay, Dig presents the most "hardcore" puzzle system LucasArts ever designed. If tough puzzles is your primary requirement for an adventure game, this one will be an excellent choice. The (in)famous turtle-reassembling puzzle is not alone in the constellation of hair-pulling tasks you'll have to face in this game. Prism-adjusting or critter-catching are just examples; the overall difficulty stems from the open nature of the game and the abundance of abstractly designed, in a certain way really "alien" mechanisms, where success depends on patience and persistence as much as it does on logical thinking and experimentation.

While Full Throttle was too short and too small (in terms of playable, explorable locations), Dig puts you into a large "hub" world that steadily grows as you solve puzzles and advance step-by-step. In fact, the game world itself is designed like a gigantic puzzle, since connecting the light bridges and gaining access to the planet's "inner sanctum" is one of the game's overarching tasks. The architecture of the game is pretty impressive, and at the very least you can feel that it was designed with a lot of thought and care.

The Bad

Ultimately, however, what matters most is whether the game is fun to play or not. Unfortunately - while I'm sure many will disagree - the experience of actually playing Dig is at best strenuous, and at worst tedious and awkwardly sterile.

The truth is that LucasArts were really out of their element in this one. They strove to beat Cyan at their own game, and they even got most of the tools right - but they weren't truly inspired to do that. Dig doesn't feel like a typical LucasArts product because it seems contrary to what its developers stood for. I may be grossly mistaken, but while I was playing the game I felt its creators didn't really want to make it - even though they obviously did a very solid, professional job.

There is no spark in the puzzles. In vain would we try to find here the wit and the elegance that has distinguished LucasArts' works. The few atypical (i.e. logical, observation-oriented) tasks such as for example the lens-retrieval early in the game were actually better than the more mundane inventory-based exercises LucasArts are usually so good at. Worse, those puzzles are often needlessly repetitive. It's okay to use a rod to open the door, but why is it necessary to have five rods to open five doors (and go through the same color- and shape- changing procedure), and a couple of rods which have nothing to do with the doors but are there just to cause more confusion?

One serious problem of Dig is its pacing. At first you feel awe-stricken at the sight of an exotic semi-abandoned alien world. You explore, solve tough puzzles, and rejoice when a new area opens up to you. But the more you play, the more you become entangled in the same type of activities - only the size of the game world grows, while the actual gameplay remains strikingly similar. There is no gradual building up to a climax, no diversion, no change of pace. Full Throttle had tiny linear areas we couldn't get attached to. Dig has a large hub that gets more and more boring as we explore it. Both games failed to capture the spirit of exploration the way other LucasArts' games did.

The difficulty of the puzzles in conjunction with an ever-growing world essentially means that the game largely consists of backtracking. After a while the monotony takes over completely. Throughout nearly the entire game, you'll be running back and forth through a lifeless world, fetching items and tinkering with rather unexciting alien mechanisms. Myst did it before, and frankly, it did it better, since its puzzles were more interesting. It even had a larger scenery variety, and that's saying a lot.

The emptiness of the world and the almost complete lack of characters to interact with would have worked for the introductory part. But you can't tell a compelling sci-fi tale with dead machinery and tiresome crystal-fixing. There must be some encounters, friendly or hostile, some dynamism and drama. Near the end of the game you finally get what you've been craving for - but it's too little and too late.

The Bottom Line

Dig is certainly LucasArts' most controversial, and generally least beloved adventure game. I've played through it two times, and my opinion fluctuated widely between the camps of the "haters" and the "redeemers", until I found myself assuming a middle position of sorts. There is surely a lot of quality stuff to be found in the game, and it is by no means the failure some people make it out to be. But in the end, your tender comedy-inclined hearts probably won't be able to favor majestic alien monotony and insane turtle puzzles over having a hippie design the American flag or telling your pirate opponent that he fights like a cow. They tried to catch the elusive soul of Myst, but lost the bright spirit of LucasArts in the process.