Dante Hicks vs The Army of Darkness
Jarret Duffy has life skills problems. He's earning $5.51 an hour as the assistant manager of Benji's Gaming and Role-Playing Emporium, is fumbling his way through an on again/off again relationship with Audrey Case, and keeps renting The Fellowship of the Ring
to point out trivia to his roommates. Years ago he was voted Best Role-Player at an RPG convention, but he's missed a few saving throws since then.
The game's prologue hints that Jarret is not up for a typical night. He's at the video store, renting a movie to watch with his friends before he goes in to work, when a shambling person attacks the video store clerk. Little does Jarret suspect that barrier between fantasy and reality is bending and what he knows about the Monster Manual
may be the only thing that helps his friends survive the night.
The majority of Robb Sherwin's Necrotic Drift
is set in the Funtime Teen Mall, located in New Haz. The year is 2015, which lets Sherwin throw in some slang and a few techie devices, but it's not far off from present day—or yesterday for that matter, since Duffy seems to be referring to the 1st edition of AD&D. While taking a break from his job at the Emporium to help the women at the candle store with a computer issue, Jarret unwittingly disrupts a Summoning Session. This results in one woman's possession and opens a gateway, letting in the core AD&D undead. Starting with a lowly skeleton, Jarret must fight his way up the supernatural food chain while protecting friends Audrey, Gibs, and Casey.
Necrotic Drift is an interactive fiction (i.e. text adventure) game which uses the Hugo interpreter. While the game plays out by typing commands into a parser, the Hugo interpreter allows for sounds and graphics. The upper portion of the window shows Jarret's location and head shots of anyone with him. Sherwin has included real pictures, which are not essential to the game, but add a sense of character and setting. The use of sound is also a nice touch. There are a few shock effects and musical interludes which emphasize certain scenes and events.
Necrotic Drift uses a conversation interface which allows players to choose from preset conversation options rather than the traditional, but stilted,: ASK THELMA ABOUT LOUISE. Sherwin has constructed a conversation tree which allows actual dialogue about in-game events. Of course, you can't talk to skeletons so Necrotic Drift has its share of combat too.
Most of the game's puzzles deal with defeating the undead, a series of progressively more difficult creatures. Some enemies can be bashed back to Hell; others have weaknesses Jarret must learn and exploit. There are few inventory puzzles which is odd since there's an awful lot of stuff around. By the way, if anyone can tell me what I should have done with the balloon, I'd love to know.
In terms of writing, Necrotic Drift has much to offer. Sherwin offers great descriptions of characters, locations and items. While being a horror title, Sherwin includes some lighthearted dialogue and descriptions, including a funny take on the Sunglass Hut. One of the best moments of the game is a strong dialogue-driven segment between Jarret and Audrey in a jewelry store, where Jarret reveals too much information about his role-playing past as they hide from an undead menace.
While Necrotic Drift is fun to play—and I do recommend it, it does have a few weak points. First off, the game is under realized. Too many of the monsters can be defeated by typing: hit x with y. Jarret has the ability to radio someone in the security room, but this is used only a few times to open doors. Also, the mall itself isn't that large. Taking all this together, Necrotic Drift doesn't feel like that long of a game.
Necrotic Drift has two endings, depending on whether Jarret can find a hard to spot item and understands how to use the item correctly—a logic-defying leap which is the game's biggest error. While either ending would be enough on its own, they are both eclipsed by a shared epilogue. The epilogue is well-written, but hurts for its limited interactivity and the fact that it doesn't matter which road Jarret took to get there.
The Bottom Line
I really enjoyed Necrotic Drift and I do recommend it, with this caveat: keep in mind that Jarret Duffy is the main character of the game, not you. His motivations and actions probably aren't the same as yours. As such, you may feel like an observer from time to time. Anyway, this is a good game that offers the best justification of D&D I've seen. And thanks for the xyzzy joke.