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aka: Countdown: An Interactive Movie of Intrigue, Espionage and Suspense.
DOS Specs [ all ]
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Buy on DOS
Buy on Windows

Description official descriptions

Mason Powers, a former CIA agent, awakens in a Turkish asylum with many of his memories erased. Gradually recovering from his amnesia, Mason realizes that he has been locked up for allegedly murdering his supervisor. Convinced that he is innocent, Mason eventually escapes from the mental hospital. However, that brings him back to his old job, where he becomes entangled in a world-wide conspiracy of espionage, terrorism, and murder.

Countdown is an adventure game with emphasis on traveling and conversation, though inventory-based puzzles are present as well. Over the course of the game the protagonist travels to many different locations around the world, though the areas themselves are fairly small. Interaction is performed by choosing verb commands such as Look, Get, Taste, and others. There are no "hot spots" that indicate than an object can be interacted with. A bulk of the game is dedicated to conversations, which include, among others, special commands such as Help, Hassle, Pleasant, and Bluff. Sometimes choosing a wrong action may lead to a premature end of the game.

A few segments involve navigating top-down mazes. It is possible to die in various ways and also get irrevocably stuck. The game imposes a time limit of ninety-six in-game hours on the player. Certain actions - such as spending more money and traveling by plane instead of a train - may help the player stay well within this limit. The game is notable for using digitized photography alongside hand-painted graphics; character portraits are all scanned photos. It also uses digitized music and speech samples, which can be heard even with a PC speaker thanks to a special software.

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Credits (DOS version)

9 People

Created and designed by
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Set Construction, Graphics, Layout
Story by
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Average score: 75% (based on 7 ratings)


Average score: 3.6 out of 5 (based on 24 ratings with 4 reviews)

Technologically impressive, yet lacking as an adventure game

The Good
Access Software had a good grip on contemporary technology during the VGA revolution of late 1980's. With their Mean Streets, they were among the first to jump the bandwagon of 256-color graphics, digitized sound effects, and even a bit of live action.

Countdown continues this trend, relying on smart usage of technology to impress the players. Right in the beginning you are shocked by screaming samples and horrifying images of real people; afterwards, you are being transferred into a photorealistic rendering of an asylum cell, complete with minuscule bugs crawling through sagging wallpaper. The game starts strong, setting the right tone and establishing the grim atmosphere for a promising horror tale. It should be noted, however, that the game completely abandons these stylistic traits once you manage to escape.

The first part is generally much better than the subsequent material, and is only hampered by unrelenting difficulty level stemming from any lack of direction. Still, it is much more involving than the on-rails gameplay it's eventually replaced by: it is fairly open-ended, with more gameplay variables taken into account. It is also quite tense and atmospheric, leading you to believe that you'll emerge into an even less restrictive world full of dark imagery after you escape - a promise which the game, unfortunately, does not keep.

In general, the gameplay is functional: although the interface is anything but comfortable, there is enough experimentation involved, and the game will generously comment upon your attempts to think outside of the box. More interesting, however, is the conversation system, which could have been the star of the game if it were handled in a less seemingly random manner. Any conversation allows you to choose between different attitudes on the part of the protagonist, leading to fairly complex trees with some branches being essential to game progression. It feels very refreshing to try out different approaches during the early stages of the game, seeing how correctly chosen variants help you in your predicament. It is a pity the game overuses this device and reduces much of the experimentation to simple trial and error.

The Bad
Once the effect caused by its audiovisual prowess and gameplay gimmicks wears off, Countdown reveals itself as a fairly ordinary adventure game.

For starters, the game's pacing has serious problems. It is divided into two unequal parts - breaking out of the asylum and investigating the global conspiracy. The first part is interesting, but excessively frustrating, forcing you to retry multiple times in order to find the right path through the monotonous maze. Once you are out, however, you are treated to a restricted, linear romp through one-screen locations: travel to your destination, figure out which attitude gets you through the dialogue, unlock a new similarly confined area, etc.

The problem is that neither of the two gameplay modes (talking and investigating) is really fulfilling. Conversations are very erratic, and guessing the right path is mostly a matter of trial and error. Investigation segments are plagued by extreme pixel-hunting exacerbated by an awkward interface requiring way too much precision from the player. The puzzles lack spark and are mostly forgettable.

Clearly, the developers put more effort into the extravaganza of real actors and digitized effects than in actual adventure game design. Unfortunately, even as an interactive story, Countdown doesn't really deliver. The campy presentation coupled with unnecessarily cheesy, often badly written dialogue (sometimes even with grammatical mistakes) and unsuccessful attempts at comic relief ruins what could have been a suspenseful piece of globe-trotting spy fiction. There is also a stark, jarring discrepancy in tone between the first and the second part of the game. The escape from the asylum has a strong atmosphere with horror overtones. The following investigation shatters it to pieces, severing our emotional connection to the hero by subjecting him to a series of nonchalantly handled dialogue and contrived adventure game situations seemingly taken straight out of a Leisure Suit Larry game.

The Bottom Line
Countdown is a an interesting title worth checking out for being an early example of rudimentary multimedia technology. As an adventure game, however, it is not entirely satisfying: pixel hunts and pacing problems prevent it from joining the upper echelon of the genre.

DOS · by Unicorn Lynx (180491) · 2014

96 hours of good, old fashioned detective work

The Good
Players take on a role of Mason Powers, a former agent for the CIA. After you are pinned for the murder of your chief, Frank McBain, you are placed inside a sanctuary with your memory erased. Upon his arrival, Mason will ask himself a series of questions, including where he is, how did he get inside, and who sent him there. During your adventure, you will find a way to get out of the sanctuary and discover these answers yourself.

During Countdown, you have the opportunity to interrogate people. Not only can you find answers relating to your case, but you can find out the whereabouts of other suspects. If they appear to be uncooperative, there are four buttons at your disposal, which you can ask for help, hassle them, be pleasant toward them, or call a bluff. I spent minutes trying each combination on everyone I met, and what they had to say was interesting reading.

When you get out of the sanctuary for good, you can use a map to travel to different countries in Europe. There are only four locations you can select when the map first appears, but you will be able to choose more when you do some interrogation. The map is quite accurate in relation of where everything is.

You can also access your CAD, your computer access device. You use this to read e-mails, analyze messages, and research people that you heard about from someone. What I enjoyed most about the CAD is the analysis. To travel between countries, you need to decide what to travel on – plane or train. Personally, I like to go on the plane because I find it easier to use and the tickets don't cost as much.

I liked how you have a timer. You have to keep an eye on it while you are playing the game. More often than not, something will happen in a certain amount of time, and you have to stop whatever it is from happen. You have 96 hours to find out who murdered McBain while trying to stop a major terrorist attack from happening, and that is plenty of time on your part. The only way to make sure that you have plenty is by not asking far too many questions and by choosing wisely how you are going to travel between countries.

Vital clues are obtained through a series of flashbacks, which I enjoyed looking at. These flashbacks are triggered when you look at blood stains or dead corpses on the floor. There are about three of these, and all come together at the end of the game to reveal McBain's killer. No, I won't tell you who the killer is, so you have to finish the game to find out.

The puzzles can be easily solved by reading something for a clue on how to solve them, or by doing a bit of trial-and-error. The easiest puzzles are at the beginning of the game where you are still somewhere in the sanctuary. The major puzzle is at the very end where you must disarm a bomb in a strict time limit.

Although the graphics are not up to today's standard, they were the best for its time. The sanctuary looks like the way sanctuaries should look in real life. McBain's mansion looks tidy and clean, albeit the broken glass and the pool of blood on the floor. The interface is well laid out with the action occupying most of the screen, the command bar and the dialogue/inventory area below it. The buttons look good, white text on a red background. The same goes with the interrogation screen. The digitized actors look real. I was about to have a crush on Lisa Loomis, Mason's ex-girlfriend.

I tapped my feet to the excellent soundtrack that played during the credits, both opening and closing. I believe that this is the best soundtrack that Access Software has done for a game around its time.

Unlike Martian Memorandum, there is no background music while you are playing, but this did not bother me. I enjoyed listening to the digitized sound. One example that I like was listening to the hitman saying “Make sure he remembers nothing.”, to which the doctor says “Don't worry, I'll take care of him.” All this goes on with a psychedelic background. The lip-syncing is excellent.

The Bad
You have to navigate a huge labyrinth in order to escape the sanctuary, but at no point prior to this does the game offers help on this by showing the player the correct route through the labyrinth. The player would have no choice but using trial-and error to find the right way, while they are wasting a lot of time doing so.

Most of the time, you can pick up objects while you are far away from them. However, I remember sometimes I get a “You're not close enough to do that” message. As a result, I had to walk over to the object and try again. Since the object is quite a distance from where I was standing, walking over to it wastes precious minutes.

The Bottom Line
Countdown's main plot is to stop a major terrorist attack from happening. But before the excitement can begin, players have to find some way to escape a sanctuary. The majority of the game has them searching locations for clues and question people for new leads. Players have a certain amount of time to finish the game, so fun as it is to question people about others and learning something new, they can't afford to waste time. A few parts of the game has the player use their CAD to analyze messages and do a bit of research.

Countdown had good graphics for its time, and the game has an excellent soundtrack. The sound effects are creepy, especially at the beginning of the game. Flashbacks are easily triggered just by looking at blood stains or dead corpses, and give vital clues as to who the assassin is. The map of Europe is detailed, giving an accurate representation of where everything is. If you like games where you get to play detective, I really recommend this game. It is a precursor to the Tex Murphy games of the future.

DOS · by Katakis | カタキス (43051) · 2008

Sat on my shelf for years before I finished it

The Good
Whenever I remember Countdown, one particular scene comes immediately to mind. I'm standing in a small cellar with no visible way out. I've just finished finding my way through a complicated hedge maze and this tiny room was at the end. In front of me is a rack full of wine bottles. My gut tells me that a secret door, and my escape, lies behind that wine rack. But, for the life of me I don't can't figure out how to open it!

The year was 1990 - desktop computers were fairly new. The only ways to find help with a game back then were 1) Spend mega-bucks and call the company's "hint line" (if one was available) or 2) Find a Bulletin Board with a walkthrough on it or 3) Hope that one of your friends has played it and can give you a clue. Evidently none of those worked at the time because I shelved the game and hoped to be able to finish it someday.

The Internet was my salvation, because I finally got a chance to finish Countdown just a few years ago. All of it came flooding back the moment the intro flashed on my screen - the way to avoid the guards in the hospital, the fun time in the maze, and of course that wine cellar! Only this time, I knew the answer and got beyond what had me stumped before.

It was indeed nostalgic to play Countdown nearly 10 years later. I was still amazed at the depth of the game. The graphics, of course, were very "classic" and the interface was the old "choose an action" word type. The music was truly spooky, suspenseful and mood-enhancing. Moving the main character with arrow keys felt a little awkward, but I got used to it.

The Bad
The story itself was a bit bizarre, but it kept me interested all the way to the end. It's a little like "Dr. Moreau meets James Bond", if you know what I mean.

The game didn't provide clues for some of the puzzles, so I had to use a hint file!

The Bottom Line
If you still have a computer that will play MS-DOS games, and you are in the mood for something a little unusual, try Countdown. It's a game with all the elements that make up a good adventure and spy thriller.

DOS · by Jeanne (75308) · 2001

[ View all 4 player reviews ]



On the backside of the game boxes flap, a citation from Lewis Caroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is printed:

"BuT I doN't wanT to go aMonG Mad peoPle," AliCe remarKeD. "OH, YOU caN'T heLp THat," saiD THe CaT. "We'Re aLL MaD HeRe. I'm MaD, YoU'Re MaD."

"How dO You KNow i'M MAD?" saiD AliCe.

"YOu MusT Be," sAid tHE CaT, "oR you wOULdn't Have COme Here."

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Contributors to this Entry

Game added by -Chris.

Windows, Linux, Macintosh added by MAT.

Additional contributors: Jeanne, formercontrib, Patrick Bregger.

Game added July 18th, 2000. Last modified August 21st, 2023.