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Written by  :  micnictic (391)
Written on  :  Jan 19, 2009
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars

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A magnificent space odyssey with unknown destination

The Good

Released in 1992, "Gateway" was Legend's first work based on a license, more specifically a cycle of novels by renowned science-fiction author Frederick Pohl. The title of the game refers to a space station located right in our solar system, circling the sun near the orbit of Venus. In the distant future, where this game takes place, Gateway Station is central to mankind's exploration of outer space, holding a great number of ships, which are capable of faster-than-light-travel.

Legend put much effort into working out the details of the setting. There's lots of written material, that provides further insight into the game world, all of it worth reading. The in-game news channel, where you can read about many events from earth and other places in the galaxy, is only one example for this. Important to know is, that humanity only discovered Gateway Station. The original builders were the so-called Hechee, a mysterious, technologically advanced alien race, that vanished without a trace. Although mankind is making use of the Hechee technology, they are still not able to fully understand it. As a result, faster-than-light-travel is a risky business, as the guidance system of the Hechee ships are beyond human understanding and the destination of a ship remains a great enigma. Still, there are more than enough volunteers, called Gateway Prospectors, who are willing to take the risk. They go on journeys with unknown destinations, hoping to discover alien races, new technology or anything else, which may bring them wealth and fame. As you may have guessed, you start the game as a newly arrived Prospector. In the course of the game, you will be the first human to visit many strange planets. Your discoveries are going to be rather unpleasant ones, however.

Part of what makes Legend games unique is their flexibility, that gratifies hardcore interactive fiction players as well as people more used to modern point and click adventures. What I mean is, the game offers different ways to communicate with it, either by using your keyboard or your mouse. For the latter method, there's one menu bar with verbs and another one with nouns, both of which can be easily combined to what you can call sentences. After clicking on a verb, there are also prepositions popping up, making more complex commands possible (and often necessary). What still makes the handling somewhat more cumbersome than for example LucasArts famous SCUMM system is the sheer mass of verbs, that's placed at your disposal. While the most common ones are conveniently placed at the top of the list, you have to scroll down quite a bit to reach some of the less often used ones. Remember, however, that if you're a fast typist, like me, you can always switch to entering the commands via keyboard. And the upside of things is, that you can and must elaborate your thoughts more clearly, when talking to the game. It also enables experimentation to a wide degree, meaning you can try out countless things, which aren't even related to the puzzles, but nevertheless bring up many unique responses.

Even though it plays quite differently from what we're used to nowadays, games by Legend are still very accessible. They manage to transfer the qualities of classic IF games to the 90s, modernizing a lot, but never losing sight of what made them great in the first place. The presentation is a good example therefor: like some later games by Infocom, Magnetic Scrolls and other IF manufacturers of the 80s, "Gateway" also features graphics: the environments are illustrated by slightly animated pictures, showing everything from a first person view. What really brings the world to life, however, still is the pristine power of words: detailed and well-written text descriptions. Purists may even turn the graphics off and experience the world through nothing but mere words and imagination, but in my opinion the illustrations are too nice to really consider this.

When you travel through the galaxy in "Gateway", you'll visit many different planets, each of them with individual landscapes and individual challenges. Kaduna III, for example, is a quite perilous place, where both flora and fauna are exceptionally aggressive. On this planet you better save often, since you can die quite easily here. Opposed to this is the peaceful scenery of Psi Dorma V, centered around an idyllic pond, that looks as if it was imported from a fairy tale. As the atmosphere is very dreamlike, it fits the setting very well, that you constantly feel sleepy on this planet. Be prepared for some cryptic dream sequences, that actually provide hints for some puzzles, once you decipher their meaning.

Speaking about puzzles, this is easily the most wonderful part of the game. I really think, that every adventure game designer should intensely study the works of Legend. Here you can see, how good puzzles are made. Not only is each and every one intelligent and reasonable, but also perfectly integrated into the plot, never feeling forced or artificial, always appearing as a natural part of the narrative. Moreover, every new planet seems to be a little more difficult than the previous one. If you visit them in the order suggested by your ship's control system, you will experience a notable learning curve. Another cool feature: many puzzles can actually be solved in multiple ways. This is especially the case on Nemira III, one of the coolest parts of the game.

I could easily go on a while like this, talking about how great the puzzles are, but I think you should discover the details yourself. The last thing I'd like to add is, that "Gateway" actually is one of those games, which have an internal clock. With every move you make, one minute passes in the game world. This means among other things, that you have to sleep from time to time, since the story actually spans several days. And when a character tells you to meet him in the Blue Hell Bar at ten o'clock, you better arrive on time. Of course, you can always leap forward in time by using the "wait" command. This kind of an internal clock is another feature taken from classical interactive fiction games and I always enjoy it.

The Bad

Well, I would have preferred multiple choice conversations instead of the system that's employed here, which is still similar to Infocom games. Basically you have to form commands like "ask character X about topic Y". The only improvement over older text adventures is, that you can do this via mouse. The game will show a list of possible topics as soon as you have specified the character, you want to talk to. Later games by Legend implemented multiple choice dialogues, which is in my opinion the better technique. The sequel to this game, "Gateway 2: Homeworld", already had it, by the way.

Otherwise, my only criticism concerns the game's MIDI soundtrack, which is at best mediocre and sometimes even slightly annoying. Actually the music was always one of the weaker points in Legend games. While LucasArts and Sierra already had excellent composers working for them, Legend was clearly a little behind the times in that regard.

The Bottom Line

Despite the criticisms expressed above, "Gateway" is an amazing adventure in the truest sense of the word, containing an epic voyage, diverse planets, stunning discoveries, good and evil, artificial intelligences, virtual realities, humans, aliens and nothing less than the saving of mankind as your ultimate goal. One of the most delightful and entertaining games Legend ever produced, "Gateway" has hardly lost anything of its charm in all these years.

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