One of the funniest games ever made.
I discovered the “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” (in book form) when I was eleven years old. My dad’s girlfriend gave me the books to keep me occupied and out of the way when she was visiting one day. I was instantly hooked. I read the rest of the series (up to “So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish”) within a month and became obsessed with the universe of Douglas Adams. I even dressed as Arthur Dent for Halloween including all the essentials such as a towel, a bathrobe, and the Guide itself (an old Speak and Spell with a “Don’t Panic” label attached to it).
Since I was a rabid fan of computer games my father surprised me on my birthday with this Infocom game. This would be a first for me in many ways. It was the first game that was purchased for or by me (all my others were copies), it was my first introduction to Infocom, and my first introduction to interactive fiction. I had never seen anything like it. The ability to type in full sentences, explore, solve problems, and live inside a book is a great experience.
The humor of Douglas Adams remains intact and is complimented by Steve Meretzky (who is very funny in his own right, see Planetfall). I wouldn’t play a funnier game until I found “Sam and Max Hit the Road”.
You play good old Arthur Dent who is suddenly whisked away from his home to confront Vogons (doing a cameo role here) and their poetry, two headed aliens, depressed robots and no tea. Fans of the book will feel right at home and for those that have never heard of Douglas Adams there is a bunch of introductory packaging included that will quickly bring them up to speed.
The parser is excellent and is not limiting at all. You can try almost anything and there seems to be a response to it. Typing “eat Ford” or “look under bed” or “kill myself” actually generate responses and not the typical “I don’t understand”. There are a lot of hidden things that really reward the observant gamer. You can ask the Guide for info on just about anything, get drunk at the pub, punch people, panic, try to call yourself when you are at home, and tons of extra stuff.
This game is really for experts. There are two major problems that can ruin the experience for new gamers: timed puzzles and the ability to leave behind important items.
Timed puzzles are all over the first half of this game. Until you get to the Heart of Gold the game is a non-stop kill fest (your death mostly). I’ll explain. If you don’t leave your house in a few moves you die, if you don’t stop the bulldozer in a few moves you die, if you don’t eat the peanuts or drink enough beer or figure out how to work the Sub-Etha Signaling Device then, you guessed it, death.
The ability to leave an item behind will also ruin your day. Leave your junk mail on the porch or your screwdriver in the house and you won’t be able to complete the game. But it certainly won’t tell you that. You can continue to play long after you left something behind and then all of a sudden you won’t be able to continue because you left item X back on Earth and there is no way to go back and get it because Earth has been reduced to space rubble! Helpful hint: if it isn’t nailed down then take it and if it is nailed down then pry them out and take it anyway.
There is also a problem for people who have read the book and those that haven’t. People who are already familiar with the book will get lulled into a false sense of security because the opening of the game is exactly like it. The rest of the game takes a complete detour though. Those that have never read the book will be stumped by some early puzzles. How would they ever know that to stop the bulldozer they had to lie down in front of it?
The game ends with a cliff hanger. You reach the planet of Magrathea and then are told to wait for the sequel to find out what happens. That’s all well in good but THE SEQUAL WAS NEVER MADE! It probably will never get made since Douglas Adams has sprung his mortal coil and Infocom has been destroyed by Activision Studios.
The Bottom Line
Don’t let the negative points keep you from playing this game. It is a milestone in humorous interactive fiction and should be played by everyone.