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Written by  :  RussS (819)
Written on  :  Oct 16, 2009
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  3.67 Stars3.67 Stars3.67 Stars3.67 Stars3.67 Stars

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A short and sweet adventure for kids and novices

The Good

This text adventure is aimed squarely at kids and reminded me of when I used to read Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books, the tone of writing is exactly the same; a blend of serious situation but clear of any techno babble and moral consequences.

Cast as an all-round adventuring scientist you take control of the Scimitar a submarine built by your company. You test it out by rescuing a underwater science station under attack from sea monster, suitably dubbed 'The Kraken'. To add further intrigue to the mission there is a spy in the camp whom you must weed out and stop.

This is an old school text adventure and game is played by typing; navigating through a real world layout using compass directions and commands such as OPEN, TAKE, GIVE etc. This works pretty well and feels especially good once you get in control of your submarine which implements a sonar-like display so you can literally see the terrain around you. The submarine itself has realistic commands where you set speed, depth and direction and the submarine automatically travels over the course of turns, rather than constantly typing the direction over again.

The characters in the game are rather shallow, but then it is a children's game and an introduction to text adventures so the lack of depth can be excused. The game has the nice touch of asking your name at the start in order to insert it throughout the game, which not only makes it more personalised but humanises the shallow characters more as they refer to you by name, I like these touches. The text adventure format is well used in places to create scenarios which would be difficult to create in other genres, such as giving plot hints by characters walking past you or drawing attention to peoples characteristics with a subtle sentence.

Location descriptions are concise and do a good job of creating atmosphere alongside pointing out areas of interest for the plot development. The plot itself unfolds pretty well and if you follow the hints in the text you won't be left wondering what to do next, creating an even pace that actually builds to excitement for the final scene. The game is very short and I managed to complete it in an evening which kept the game fresh, given it's tone.

As with all Infocom games Seastalker comes with a load of 'feelies', booklets, maps etc. that come from the game world, in this case schematics of the locations involved and a map of the coast which makes the game much easier to play, especially the description of submarine controls which doubles as a copy protection system. Infocom's 'feelies' are much lauded and rightly so, the lack of visual aid makes them invaluable for making the adventure real, and for you to 'see' what the authors intended. It also comes with a hint system, which I founded I could muddle through without, but would definitely help a novice.

The Bad

Of course the main fault levelled at text adventures is always the parser. This is a mid-era Infocom game and the parser isn't as flexible as I would like it to be, which meant for the first half of the game I had to learn how to adapt what I wanted to do with how to phrase it in a way the parser would understand. This was greatly helped by the instruction book, though trying to ask other characters questions or commanding them frequently drew a blank. The instructions point out that the parser only recognises the first five characters of any word, and follows a noun, adjective, noun kind of structure. This works well enough on a game of this level though, where you mostly carry out concrete tasks, though I had a frustrating time when a character asked me for a 'private conversation' but I could find no way of engaging them in such a conversation, only managing it by accident really.

The instruction manual whilst a massive boon also became a small hindrance when I tried to ask someone to do something with an object, only to be told to 'read the manual' about the object, again to progress I need to phrase my command exactly.

The Bottom Line

I played this game purely to get my head into the right frame of mind to play more mature, complex text adventures and I would only recommend the game to others on the same proviso. The storyline is a kid's adventure throwaway one, though the game does a good job of making its feel real. If anyone young out there feels drawn to the rich descriptive world of text adventures then play this as a good intro, though make sure you have the 'feelies'.

Text adventures exist in a kind of limbo now that they've passed beyond the scope of any profitability, but I think there's still a draw so long as people can access them easily, the same as books. Of course it's a real boon that no matter old they get, the graphics processor is still the best in the world.