Once upon a time Adventure games were still trying to be innovative
Titanic: Adventure out of time is a first person adventure game made in the 1990s... this means that it is extremely non-linear, doesn’t go crazy on far-fetched inventory items and puts gameplay emphasis on exploring a large, open game world. Personally I’ve missed such games and was quite taken with this one.
The game environment is pretty impressive: the developers have attempted to accurately recreate the Titanic using authentic schematics and photography. And they have done a spectacular job. This is the real, historic Titanic. Furthermore, the game has an alternative ‘exploration’ game mode wherein the player is free simply to wander the ship, taking in the atmosphere with all of that pesky plot and gameplay getting in the way. This was a nice, novel idea.
Where Titanic really stood out was in its remarkable gameplay and storyline. Unusually, I truly had the feeling whilst playing that I was driving the adventure, rather than the other way around. Decisions have to be made very carefully because it is possible to irreversibly do or say the wrong thing. Now, this may sound like it could be potentially very irritating and lead to a lot of dreaded ‘dead ends’ in gameplay but remarkably this is not the case. Without wanting to give too much away: the game’s plot largely revolves around trying to acquire different objects from around the ship; this is mostly done through interaction with the impressively large cast of characters, with the occasional cryptographic and lever-type puzzles and a bit of limited inventory work thrown in. It is possible to acquire these objects through different methods, following different gameplay paths. These are not mutually exclusive however. You will find yourself doing bits and pieces of different ‘paths’ as you progress, trying to link things up and seeing how it all fits together... yes, ladies and gentleman, this is honest to gosh, authentic, truly non-linear gaming; a sadly all but extinct breed. It is possible to ‘find’ one of these items, excitedly open the box... only to find that someone has beaten you to it. If you didn’t do the all the right things or took too long to do it you will fail to accomplish the necessary task. But this doesn’t result in the adventure being irrevocably messed up; right up until the end of the game there will be second chances to find all of the items you need. There are many subplots and intrigues to follow onboard the Titanic and exactly what you see and hear depends upon your gameplay choices.
This brings me to the next point: the characters. The cast is large and they all have their own stories and agendas. Also, rather than remain constantly in one place they move about the ship, turning up in different locations. This was a nice touch, although one down side to it was that it did occasionally necessitate a bit of aimless wandering, waiting (or hoping) to bump into a character in order to trigger game progress. There are a lot of clues to be found however and so many different plot strands and subplots that I rarely found myself at a total loss of ideas for progression. Although many of the character’s stories develop as subplots sooner or later they all become relevant to the main storyline (that is if you make the right connections of course)
The voice acting was hackneyed but accurate: authentic accents were used for the various characters, New York, Irish, Liverpudlian. Impressively, given the large cast list, no two characters were voiced by the same actor.
The game ending was spectacular. At a certain point it will become a desperate race against time to complete your mission as the Titanic strikes the iceberg and starts to go down. The progress of the ship’s sinking is marked by highly dramatic and exciting cut scenes depicting the carnage and mayhem. The lower areas of the ship will be cut off as the water level rises and the locations visibly tilt. Seeing how the various characters respond to what is happening is also dramatic, and occasionally moving. Who will make it off the ship? What you achieve in this part of the game will determine which of 8 different game endings you receive. Yes, not only does your mission evolve depending on what actions you take so too does it impact upon your game’s ending. Neither is the game too long that it precludes replaying to see a different sequence of events and ending. There is a rare replay value with this game.
Being a 1990s adventure game also means that attempts at innovation were still being made – the ‘ideal’ format for point and click adventure games had not yet been agreed upon. One of the consequences of this is the control system in Titanic: Adventure out of time: an entirely mouse driven interface is eschewed in favour of using the keyboard for movement and the mouse solely for interactive click spots. Given that the movement is still essentially Slideshow format (the left and right arrow keys are used to turn around and the up arrow to move forward) one wonders what the logic was behind this decision. I suppose it could only have been the desire for can simplification – reducing the mouse functions. But actually it has largely the opposite effect. Having to use the keyboard to turn the character, move him forward etc quickly becomes tiring, especially given the large amount of movement the player must make around the ship, often long distances from one point to another.
On the subject of navigation about the ship: one detrimental aspect of using the authentic designs for the Titanic is that the areas of the ship tend to be highly homogenous. One part looks much like another and I often had a fair bit of difficulty finding my way around the ship. This problem is exacerbated further towards the end of the game as it becomes a race against time and the map zip function is disabled. The frustration this bore me considerably lessened my enjoyment of what was otherwise a brilliantly conceived and executed end phase. Visually, it also made the scenery far too samey and I quickly lost the desire to look around quite as diligently as I should have.
The Bottom Line
This is true non-linear gameplay in all its glory. It isn’t without the odd design fault but it has more than enough pros to outweigh the cons and to tip one end of the ship more effectively than any iceberg.