The Decline of Adventure Civilization

March 31, 2003 By Glenn Turner

Like adventure games? Like the old Sierra quest games, LucasArt classics like the Monkey Island series and Day of the Tentacle? Well, a few couldn't seem to let sleeping dogs lie and released The Longest Journey, Syberia and Tony Tough and the Night of Roasted Moths. Our guest reviewer attercob wishes some would let sleeping dogs lie.

A young attercob, flush with pride following his successful conquest of king's quest I, eager for what the future of adventure gaming will bring.

What has the once proud tradition of adventure gaming been reduced to? Since the advent of id software and their less-'indie' ilk, the start of each New Year has brought further suffering to the courageous souls who still burn with the yearning to "use fetid peach with two-dimensional blob". These last few years have seen a number of desperate gambles on the part of the companies who once provided me with some of my most treasured memories...well...one gamble, and two debtors to be perfectly honest. Apparently the only thing that the founding fathers of modern computer gaming could come up with to save our beloved genre was to introduce a touch of pre-rendered 3-D filth.
Well fuck that.

If you bothered to read the reviews of the three prominent adventure games to be released in the past two years you MIGHT be under the impression that some sort of revitalization is occurring, that adventure games might be coming back, that maybe, just maybe some history challenged group of investors might just see fit to throw a few bucks back into the game.

I'd love to see it, I really would, but the current output doesn't deserve it, and frankly, if any of these recent games had been my introduction into the genre, I'd be appalled.

The games to which I am now referring are The Longest Journey, its apparent heir Syberia and Tony Tough and the Night of Roasted Moths. An oft-overlooked commonality to all of these three is that not a one is a product native to the United States. Were you (God forbid) to purchase any of these titles from a domestic supplier you would find yourself holding an American-ized (one hesitates to use the word 'translated' for fear of insulting the games's (possibly) innocent creators) version of a game which might well have once possessed a smattering of entertainment and joy. You will find none of that here.

Let us begin with The Longest Journey, sadly enough; it's the best of the bunch. So if you don't like what you hear, don't bother pressing on further. The Longest Journey is Norwegian in origin and after some to-do, Funcom elected to inflict it on an unsuspecting public this side of the Atlantic. The story's heroine is April, she of the Lara Croft fall-out yet to die its long overdue death. Though there have been a few successful adventure games featuring female leads, King's Quest IV most notably, the intelligent player clues in quite early that this isn't going to be one of them. She has all of the ingredients for the modern female action hero a la FOX's Dark Angel, ABC's Alias WB's...well, their whatever. As an show with the bat chicks. The one that made me cry. She's young, she wears skintight leather pants at all times, she has stylish short hair and is of an indeterminate complexion (Hispanic? Mulatto? Who cares! It's exotic, and it's in fashion!). As an added bonus, she has all of her dialog not only written, but also TRANSLATED by a group of adolescent males with limited or zero knowledge of the female sex! (note: NOT a 'geek' slam, but an opinion based upon the game's content) It's okay, because only in the initial pitch will actual women be involved in this game's marketing! Wait... did women really play this game? Did they like it? Are you one of them? Are you going to write in and tell me I don't know what I'm talking about? Well shut it. YOU, and all of the other gamers who support this shit, are what is wrong with America today, and I don't want to hear it.

Rumours abound that Budd Dwyer was one of Funcom's earliest investors. Could this be the real reason behind his on-screen suicide?

Early on in the game you discover an object, a little monkey thing, and as an 'homage' the name of this little monkey toy is 'Guybrush'. That Monkey Island should be listed amongst this game's inspirations is an insult almost too egregious to stand. I found myself repeatedly vomiting in protest as the game progressed (contrary to my earlier allegations, due to the terms of my settlement agreement with the Schlitz Bottling Corporation of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, my lawyers have instructed me that I am not to publically implicate Schlitz's fine product as having had any role in this unpleasentness). This toy will feature prominently in one of the game's later puzzles. It's really quite clever, because it's one of the first items you obtain, and you keep trying and trying to use it, and just when you give up using it on everyone and everything you come across, you find that you need to use it with the BOX in the ALLEY. Oh, but wait! That's not good enough. Then you need to put the HAT on it. OH YES. It makes as much sense out of context as does within it, trust me. The Longest Journey finds you wandering off into other realities, coming back, going back, making inane comments, setting up numerous possibilities for as yet undeveloped sequels (at least one explicitly referenced in the game). Yes, there are a few moments that might make you smile, there's even one of two that I can recall accidentally helping me remember what good adventure gaming was like, and that's something. A full 70% of the puzzles are solvable without resorting to a mechanical 'use every item with every object' approach, and certain characters are fully capable of convincing you that they're not really worth taking your own life over. All that, and the translation never leaves you in doubt that the scriptwriters completed a full six year education program. That's it, that's as good as it gets.

We move on now to Syberia, featuring a desperate rip of The Longest Journey's lead, this time answering to the name of 'Kate Walker'. Jesus, will you be sick of THAT name by the time you navigate through this one. All of the same attributes apply, but this time around, instead of a feisty (stupid) young (slutty) student (fuck me) with attitude ('You go girl!')...you play a feisty (stupid), slightly-less-young (legal), LAWYER (where'd that come from?) with attitude ('Don't go there!'). You're on a case - to close the deal for the American buy-out of a small town European toy factory! Is there more to it than there seems? Well...yes. But you really shouldn't bother with any of that. This one is brought to us by the French, well not really the French, the Quebecois to be precise, and it's actually a sequel, of sorts, to Amerzone if anyone remembers that MYST-y dreck (hmm...the emulation of two successful adventure game franchises...do I smell a corporate mission statement somewhere?). The overall atmosphere of the game is very much what one might expect: a lot of seemingly Jeunet-inspired set pieces and themes, very 'retro-tech-art-nouveau', to coin-a-phrase. Once you arrive, and suffer through Kate's inability to stop gawking and stammering at the local inhabitants (the American translation features an American traveling in Europe; one wonders as to the game's initial setting), you will discover that the owner of the factory has died, and left an heir. Further investigation reveals that the heir is retarded. And living in Siberia (an altogether different place from sYberia). And an idiot savant. And he builds automatons that possess artificial intelligence driven by clockwork mechanisms. And they hate to be called 'robots'. Except when the call themselves robots. And sometimes when you call them robots it’s okay too. Except when you’re not supposed to. Damn. If only this fellow had gotten in touch with Errol Morris. He could have been a feature in Fast, Cheap and Out of Control. CLOCKWORK! OF COURSE!

This once proud leader of the people was spared the humiliation of Tony Tough's tepid response in America. HAH! making generalizations about foreign cultures based on out-dated stereotypes is FUN!

This is one of the games major flaws, the translation is not at all consistent, nor does it make sense. You'll find yourself constantly trying to enter a doorway only to be told 'I'm not going down there' when the door leads to the bathroom, which is the same response you'll receive when you attempt to climb UP a ladder. All of the translation work seems to be built around the programming. The first time a given statement queue appears in the code, that statement is translated and plugged into the game WHEREVER it appeared in the original. I'm perfectly willing to believe that there is a single phrase in French that accounts for all of these situations...but it just doesn't work the same way in English. Furthermore, all of the lines delivered by the voice actors are obviously card-read, out of order, with no instructions as to their context. All of the drama is derived from the awkwardly looped, desperately-wanting-to-be-ominous soundtrack, with little or no support from any other quarter. On the plus side, quite a few of the puzzles can be solved using logic, and most of the problems one encounters will be due to lack of experience with pixel hunting. For shame. Once you finish the game, you'll find that it was never intended as anything but a prelude to the 'real' adventure yet to come, and adventure which I'm sure you'll have lost all interest in by the time you slog your way through this tepid piece of shit.

Microids, a group with a long, sad history of supporting the worst kind of adventure games, brought Syberia to the United States. For anyone jonesing for a fix following their The Longest Journey experience...I couldn't recommend a game more fitting. Enjoy, you fuckers.

Syberia provides us with this simple diagram of how artificial intellegence is made possible.

At last we come to Tony Tough and the Night of the Roasted Moths. I had HIGH fucking hopes for this game. HIGH hopes. It's two-dimensional. That's sprite-based baby! This is my kind of game! A puzzler! Old-school animation! Everything about it screamed Lucasarts. And I'm talking about the good Lucasarts. The one that released the Monkey Island series, Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, Sam and Max, Grim Fandango...the very best that adventure games have to offer. So what if it was a shameless rip? It was ripping the classics, and I was willing to settle... well apparently 'settling' is now a euphemism for an ass raping the likes of which T.E. Lawrence could only dream about. Comparing the animation in this game to the Lucasarts classics is like sifting through a trough of last year's worst digital video cast-offs after watching a gorgeous mint print of The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover in your favorite theater. It offends. It hurts. And it tastes like burning.

The game's plot features a small time private eye named Tony. Tony owns a pet tapir, which he believes to be a dog. This tapir is kidnapped, and to find him, Tony is told to go to 'Halloween Park'. Once he arrives, he finds himself locked inside with a bevy of crazies, and absolutely ZERO plot objectives. The game features two modes, easy and hard, an option I've always thought rather out of place in adventure gaming. Fortunately, it doesn't matter which one you pick, it will hurt you just as much either way. Select 'easy' and you'll wander around constantly wondering why you have the option to interact with every trash can you find...or why the dragon in the basement has so many hot-spots...or why whole scenes, characters, and even an action option exist (close to the games conclusion, you'll see a mildly amusing cut-scene which results in Tony's being able to perform a new action...and you will never use it. Ever.) Select 'hard' and you'll have even more nonsensical, logic-defying puzzles to amble through. Although it does make SLIGHTLY more sense than the easy version, that's slight praise. (oh... I use the rope with the tuft of grass...then I take the other end of the rope three screens over and tie it to the Ferris wheel... then I put the rabbit in the hole in the tree...then I stand...here...no...HERE...and blow the dog whistle. SURELY this will allow me to sneak past the guard at the castle gate another few screens over...AND IT REALLY HAPPENED). Tony Tough is an Italian import. The sad thing about it is that it might really have been a decent game (maybe a bit lacking in the visual department, but hey...) in its' original form. Playing through, one can easily recognize bits of dialogue that, had they been better delivered and had the translators had a better grasp of the English language, might really have been quite funny. As it is, there's a good possibility you'll laugh once or twice during this game. Certainly you should be amused by the cultural idiosyncrasies of the Italians. This is a game that features an escaped convict hurling thinly veiled homophobic slurs and rape threats at you in the same breath! Not the mention the overly verbose, multi-syllabic, mush-mouthed, southern-accented black child who REALLY has to piss! His lips are big! His skin is black! And HE THINKS HE'S PEOPLE! HA! Now THAT'S COMEDY!

Ruin of a man. This once optimistic child of nature is rendered an incoherent mess by a onslaught of dangerously incomprehensible adventure games.

Many of the puzzles would have made perfect adventure game sense if only Tony had clued us in. For example, when you look at the swordfish, he could say 'That looks sharp enough to cut something'. Which would clue you into its raison d'etre without spoiling the puzzle. Maybe the Italians were smart enough to have added this...I wouldn't doubt it. But us dumb fuck Americans took it out. And oh how I've paid for it.

GOD how I wish I could tell you to support these few brave companies who release easy-to-afford-low-risk-european-adventure titles... maybe you could buy them...and...well..not play...and give money to...or...fuck, I don't know. Vote for Nader? Follow your bliss? It's a harsh world out there kids. But buck-up: you live in a land of cheap, affordable firearms. Surely all of that lethal hardware can provide the recreational adventure gamer with a few options for positive social change. Do your part and buy one today.

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