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SummaryThe game that defines the concept of adventure gaming.
The GoodWhat is the adventure gaming about? What is the underlying principle that should be present in all the adventure games without any exception? Inventory puzzles, myst-like puzzles, point’n’click interface, branched dialogue trees? No. The answer to these questions is deceptively simple. Exploration and interaction. If you’re given ability to explore the virtual surrounding and interact with it on many levels, than it’s an adventure game. If not, then it’s something else, probably a F22 flight simulator. What I’m trying to say is that adventure game isn’t about puzzles at all. Puzzle in an adventure game is just a necessary evil, designed to make up for the lack of challenge otherwise. That actually became one of the reasons of unfortunate demise of adventure genre in the late nineties. The issue has been addressed many times since. Fahrenheit, Shenmue, Dreamfall, Gabriel Knight 3 all of these games offered their versions of puzzle-less adventure game with a variable success. But the answer has been already given a long time ago, back in 1985. In the form of the game called A Mind Forever Voyaging.
Here’s a little story background for those unfamiliar with the game. In the AMFV you take role of PRISM, a sentient computer capable of exploring virtual reality and reporting back to people maintaining it. It seems that in the world of near future the government has run into some problems with the country. Crime levels elevated, people lose their jobs, all in all the usual kind of stuff. So government officials come up with something called - The Plan. A 20 years development plan that’ll let the country to overcome its difficulties and create a perfect society. Utopia? Maybe, that’s why you’re here. Scientists have recreated a generic American town inside a computer and applied The Plan to its development course. Your task is to investigate what it’s like living in that town in 10 years from now, 20 years and so on. First you’re given list of things to do by the scientists – eat in the restaurant, buy food from the grocery store, take a subway ride etc. Then they leave it on your discretion. You’re alone is deciding what relevant or not, what will be help to the people of tomorrow or what will hurt them. As more of the time periods become available you’ll see that some things are not exactly what they seemed to be. Well that covers it up, now to the review itself.
Text adventures have always been in a way superior to their graphical counterpart. Whereas graphic adventures are always limited by the current technology level, text adventures are only limited by the power of player’s imagination. So creating big and immersive life-like reality is a task that only a text adventure is capable of, at least now in 2007. And AMFV uses that advantage to its fullest capacity. A handful of completely different towns (while staying essentially the same town but in different time periods) with a lot stuff to do, things to notice, events to experience, facts to investigate and without any restriction from developers is simply a joy. That kind of freedom makes you drunk. You can literally do whatever you want. I know that this kind of sentence has been applied too many times to different games, but it can’t be more truthful than in a case of AMFV. Here’s an example. You as a game character have a wife; you can visit her in the town you’re exploring in the first 10 or 20 years. And you will undoubtedly get really attached to her. So when you visit her sometime later it will really break your heart to see what’s happening to her. Damn! It’s so hard to explain without spoilering. What I mean is that you could not visit your wife at all, and still complete the game. Now that is an adventure, experiencing things in a way you want them to experience in the context of the story and setting created by the developers
And what’s the most brilliant is that everything is so credible and realistic. You’re always in the game; you don’t go “OMG! What a blurry texture? How could they leave it in so otherwise quite a perfect game?” You don’t have to suspend your disbelief, because there is none. The graphic adventures unfortunately are still not capable of that kind of immersion.
The game is bundled (ah… those Infocom bundles) with a wonderful science fiction preface story that is so good, that I wonder why it hasn’t received a Hugo award or something. Be sure to read it before getting into the game. Heck! Read it even if you’re not going to play the game at all. It is a really fascinating read.
The BadWell the usual text adventures problems apply here as well. Tiresome interface, awful conversation system, lots of text (that’s unexpected) and so on. There’s actually one of the more common types of puzzle late in the game, but it’s only one and not that hard. Also I wish they would have done mode changing a trifle easier. It certainly eats a lot of time just to enter into a town reality.