Author's Note: This is the second part of a two-part series where I play and review every adventure game in GOG's "Free Games Collection." In the first episode, I reviewed the "modern" adventure games included in the package, and this time, I will check out the classic adventure games that currently and in the past have graced this program.
But ZombiePie! What About Ultima Worlds of Adventure?
Nope! I'm plugging my ears. Seriously, I can't hear you. What? You're still yelling at me about Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire and Ultima: Worlds of Adventure 2: Martian Dreams? I thought I made myself very clear about how I felt about these two games during my first "Blogging About Failure" post in 2022. I have made no less than four efforts to complete both games, and each time, I get at least two to three hours deep before I reach a point where I become overwhelmed with the way equipment and inventory management work in the Ultima VI engine. While I spent much of my last blog giving GOG guff about incorrectly classifying some games as adventure games, I will defer to their judgment. Both of these games are RPGs, which is my primary excuse for skipping them.
At one point, Ultima V and VI made sense to me. The Vitruvian Man-like equipment screen and Richard Garriott's obtuse morality system were once systems I did not struggle to understand. But those days are long gone, and I don't have it in me to drill a hole in my temple and fill it with bespoke Ultima knowledge. I will warn those of you that might consider checking either of these titles out that the first game has some incredibly off-putting depictions of Southern American natives that you cannot avoid even the slightest bit. Likewise, while the second game is a more full-featured experience, the extra level of complexity in it leads to an even worse game. While Savage Empire strings together a series of incredibly basic fetch quests in the veneer of an adventure game, Martian Dreams bites off far more than it can chew, with you needing to combine and juggle items on top of interacting with Ultima VI combat.
Episode 2 - The "Real" Good Old (Adventure) Games On GOG
Dragonsphere (Apparently, This Isn't Free Anymore?)
What Is It?
Dragonsphere is rad. I played Dragonsphere ages ago and didn't have the most positive memory of it, but upon replaying it as an adult, I have since come around to it. The game was heavily advertised as a graphical marvel with proper 8-bit RGB color depth. The game's exquisite art style and vivid animations are still a delight to watch today. It is the third and FINAL adventure game from MicroProse Software, Inc. after they developed Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender, as well as Return of the Phantom. All three of these titles run a custom in-house adventure game engine known as the "MicroProse Adventure Development System," which allowed for a more click-based approach to the SCUMM engine without completely gutting the verb–object grid like in Legend of Kyrandia or Loom. If you're wondering why MicroProse's jump into adventure games only spans three successful and well-reviewed titles, they sold their adventure game engine to Sanctuary Woods. Just as their adventure game division found its complete form, they left the market entirely. Upon selling its adventure game engine, the company pivoted into strategy and tactics games under the direction of Sid Meier and Brian Reynolds.
However, let's address the elephant in the room. When GOG first announced Dragonsphere was coming to its marketplace in 2011, it made the game a freebie. In 2015, Tommo Inc. bought the digital distribution rights to Dragonsphere and contracted Night Dive Studios to make an updated version. Still, the free GOG port remained available for some time afterward. Between 2015 and 2020, that free version of Dragonsphere disappeared, but I need help pinpointing the exact time when this happened. If you created a GOG account before 2015, you likely have a free copy of Dragonsphere sitting in your library waiting to be played. If that's the case, give this game a shot. Dragonsphere is a helluva Parthian Shot with a story that features wild twists and turns when you least expect them while also challenging you to always be on your toes. There's a wholeness to its world that is on par with the peaks of Sierra and LucasArts, and that's not histrionics. The realms of Dragonsphere each feature cultures that have obvious inspirations but feel different enough to feel like they are locations you've never experienced.
- The Sprites Puzzle Before The Butterfly King - Dragonsphere's gravest sin is that its difficulty curve is that of a parabola that follows a positive quadratic equation. It has some gnarly puzzles that are among the game's most demanding at the start before it eases into a leisurely pace before forcing you into a gauntlet of instant death-causing bullshit. One of those early roadblocks is a pathway to a butterfly king blocked by sprites. To avoid an untimely demise, click the correct energy ball when it is the right color. The fairies all have names starting with the letters R, Y, or B and only tell truthful statements when they are the color that matches their name; thus, this becomes a process of elimination puzzle. The issue is that the balls of light float around the screen, making remembering which one is which all but impossible. There's a hedge on the bottom of the screen, and the orbs can float under this hedge and can become no longer visible to the player. Also, the window between the color transformations is short, and there was a period when I knew the correct sprite to unlock the gate was "Ralph," but I kept messing up the timing for clicking him while he was red.
- Extinguishing The Lava That Guards The Evil Wizard - The initial task Dragonsphere gives you is to defeat a legendary evil wizard. When you reach the wizard's lair, you find the room leading to him is dangerously hot, given it has molten lava below its floor. The problem here stems from what you must use to get past this problem. First, you need to open a rat enclosure, find a dead rat, and freeze it into a popsicle. You then apply the frozen rat on the door to change its frame color from red to blue. You then use a severed octopus tentacle to grasp a portal to place it in your inventory before applying it to a window that allows you to divert water into the lava-filled room. If all of this seems utterly bizarre, it is, with the tentacle being something you collected hours ago and not used even once leading up to this point. Ultimately, this is a red herring puzzle with a line of logic you would only fully understand if you were the people who made it. It doubly does not help that using incorrect items at multiple parts of this sequence results in unexpected death and you needing to load up prior saves to abort disaster.
- The Goddamn Gambling Mini-Game With The Caliph - There are five total locations in Dragonsphere: Gran Callahach, Brynn-Fann, Soptus Ecliptus, Slathan ni Patan, and the Hightower. One of these, Soptus Ecliptus, leads to a one-off level, the Spirit Plane, and also requires you to engage in one of the worst mini-games I have played in an adventure game. As you explore the seemingly endless desert dunes, you find an oasis with a Caliph who welcomes you with open arms. However, the Caliph has mission-critical items you can only unlock by playing a gambling mini-game wherein you bet on which color gems you'll pull from a bag. There's a scoring system based on the rarity of the gems, and you can lose a turn if you press your luck too hard. This mini-game is pure luck, and there's no notable strategy beyond continuing until you get all the required items from the Caliph. And did I mention you have to do this TWICE?! I won't spoil it, but there's a pretty spectacular plot twist in Dragonsphere that forces you to revisit all of the game's locations a second time, and it's incredibly clever until you have to play this dogshit mini-game again.
Recommendation: ABSOLUTELY, GIVE IT A SHOT (Even If It's Not Free Anymore) - Even if you don't have a free copy of this game, I think its current asking price of $6 is a steal for one of the better non-Sierra or non-LucasArts games to come out during the Golden Age of adventure games. Not only are the production values of Dragonsphere impressive to this day, but the game places a shocking amount of care into its worldbuilding and narrative. The mid-game plot twist is excellently done and worth a gander if you have never seen it. There are some troublesome sequences here and there, but for the most part, MicroProse struck an exciting balance between click-based gameplay and object-verb parser logic puzzles. Honestly, it's a damn shame the team behind this game and Return of the Phantom gave up on the genre as early as they did because they were doing things no one else was attempting at the time. Honestly, I could see myself taking the time to write a special for this game in the future.
What Is It?
Teenagent is a 1994 point-and-click adventure game from Polish developer Metropolis Software House which Adrian Chmielarz and Grzegorz Miechowski headed. If the former of those names sound familiar, Chmielarz would go on to form People Can Fly and The Astronauts (i.e., the makers of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter). Metropolis Software was one of MANY European adventure game studios that made a great deal of money making SCUMM clones and benefiting from the proliferation of home computers following the fall of the Soviet Union. During that time, you had Gremlin Graphics, Cryo Interactive, Arxel Tribe, Broderbund, and Teeny Weeny Games defining the classic "European-style" point-and-click adventure game, and Metropolis wanted in on that action. While a largely forgotten name today, Metropolis had a peak wherein they were a fairly well-known name in Europe after following Teenagent with The Prince and the Coward and Gorky 17. At one point, Metropolis bought the rights to make an adventure game based on The Witcher books but had stretched themselves so thin they could never finish it, and that failure drove them to the verge of bankruptcy. CD Projekt bought Metropolis in 2008, and the team that worked on the early prototypes of that game went on to develop art assets for The Witcher.
Notice how I have entirely avoided talking about Teenagent. The reason for that is simple: this game is downright bizarre. The only way its fantastical and screwball story makes sense is if you put yourselves in the shoes of Adrian Chmielarz and Grzegorz Miechowski, who have decided to start their own video game company less than three years removed from the fall of the Soviet Union. Teenagent's attempts to depict a "cool" Western-styled young adult makes perfect sense in that context, given how much of Eastern Europe was enamored by non-Societ sources of entertainment after being prevented from interacting with such media for decades. When you think of it as a byproduct of someone watching "Back to the Future" for the first time and thinking, "Wow! That Marty McFly is so counter-culture! He's so American! Isn't he cool?" it makes increasingly more sense. It's a snapshot of a period that is almost impossible to imagine, and for interested historians, it's a relic still worth exploring. But beyond that historical context-building exercise, this game is ROUGH and damn near impossible to recommend!
- The Third Trial - Teenagent is downright quaint compared to other adventure games released in 1994. The game breaks into three distinct acts. The first occurs at a military base after the game's protagonist inadvertently signs up to become an undercover agent for an unnamed government. To gain clearance to attempt their first mission, they must pass three trials, the last of which is a genuine doozy. The Sergeant that is testing you reveals the final test is to find their secret hiding spot after they disappear in a puff of smoke. To do that, you need to collect crumbs from a table in a bar, combine a hand grenade with a rope, and use the grenade on a drawer in a different room. You then collect a bottle of pills which you then need to apply to the crumbs. You give the drug-addled crumbs to a bird you later pick up in a mud pit and eventually use on a radio in the bar. This action allows you to swap the bartender's beer mug with one filled with mud, which causes them to pass out and permits you to use the door to their storage room. Once there, you should notice one of the crates has a set of eyes peeking out of a hole which happens to be the Sergeant. Did I mention how weird this game is to play? Because that very problem plagues multiple puzzles in it from beginning to end.
- Repairing The Boat In The Lake - During the game's second act, your character explores a multi-part villa near the evil lair of a supervillain developing a super soldier serum. Again, the downright bizarre steps you must perform to get into the villain's mansion make Teenagent challenging. It also does not help that some of the item combinations you need to input make virtually no sense. An example at the garden happens when you notice a boat with a broken paddle, and your character surmises that once repaired, it can be used to get to an island in the middle of a lake. To fix the paddle, you need to find a broken chainsaw and talk to a guard elsewhere until he hands you a piece of chocolate. Next, leave, then return to the guard but avoid him seeing you so you can spy on him drinking a bottle of whiskey before talking to him mid-animation, which results in him dropping the bottle. You can pick this bottle up, and when you apply it to the chainsaw, it repairs it, which you then use to cut a tree branch that you can apply to the broken paddle to fix it. It's a WILD sequence, the least of which involves you needing to pay attention to subtle character animations and perfectly calculating when to interrupt the guard to make him drop his alcohol. This is the only sequence in this game that requires this level of frame observation which makes knowing what you need to do with the guard impossible to figure out on your own. And don't get me started about using drinking whiskey to repair a chainsaw!
- The Robot Safe Puzzle - Eventually, your character finds themselves in the mansion of the supervillain I mentioned earlier. You must acquire incriminating evidence of their nefarious super soldier program to defeat them, which is conveniently hidden behind a robotic safe. However, the robot will only open if you can prove that you are John Noty, the villain in question. You require a photo, a voice recording of Noty, and pair of used socks to complete this mission. You find a polaroid camera and dictaphone in a drawer in John Noty's room. The dictaphone requires batteries from a radio, necessitating you to swap a chef's chili bottle with a bottle of cognac in an incredibly fiddly and laborious sequence in a kitchen. The tape with a usable recording is found in a secret room in a library that you unlock, you guessed it, by pulling a random out-of-place book. When you use that tape on a television, you can apply the camera and dictaphone to the recording. For the socks, you need to find tongs in the kitchen which blend almost perfectly into the environment. Much like the puzzle before, nothing here is impossible, but it requires enough pixel hunting to feel like a slog.
Recommendation: EH, PROBABLY NOT - I want to give this game the benefit of the doubt, but I simply cannot. Teenagent is an oddity that will only appeal to those nostalgic for the late 90s style of European adventure games that tell wild and wacky stories and have bizarre puzzles to boot. No logical train of thought defines any of the game's puzzles. The historical context surrounding the game explains most of the creative decisions that plague it. However, suppose your favorite adventure game is Discworld or Discworld II, and you enjoy these sorts of experiences kicking in your teeth. In that case, it's easier to justify playing Teenagent with at least a guide on standby. However, beyond that, I can foresee no one else having a good time with this game.
Flight of the Amazon Queen
What Is It?
Flight of the Amazon Queen is a 1995 point-and-click adventure game that was originally released for the Amiga before coming to MS-DOS shortly after that. The Amiga version has no voice acting but better music, whereas the DOS version, which GOG uses, has voice acting but slightly worse music. The game came from the relatively unknown developer, Interactive Binary Illusions, which even built a custom in-house game engine for Flight of the Amazon Queen. In 2004 the MS-DOS version was released as freeware on ScummVM, which GOG uses. What is ADORABLE is the fact employees from Binary Illusions maintain, to this day, that they developed Flight of the Amazon Queen without having played Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. They have even claimed that their game engine, JASPAR, was developed independently from SCUMM. As they put it, the only time Binary Illusions had heard of Fate of Atlantis was in a press release which they summarily dismissed as a "movie tie-in." The idea any part of this game was made without a single employee ever touching Fate of Atlantis is one of the funniest things I have heard in a long time. Fun fact, this is one of the handfuls of video games designed entirely using EA's Deluxe Paint software. So, at the very least, it's a beauty.
I mentioned earlier that developer Interactive Binary Illusions is a relatively unknown outfit. The reason for that is rather disappointing. If you decide to give the game a chance, you'll discover it ends with a title card that asks you to return for "The Next Adventure!" However, Binary Illusions never got a chance to make that sequel, even though it had been approved shortly after Amazon Queen's release. Renegade Software, the publisher for Binary Illusions and its partial owner, was sold to Time Warner Interactive. Warner promptly shuttered Binary Illusions, closed all its active game projects, and redirected all its employees to different game studios or labels at Time Warner. The hope of there ever being a continuation of this storyline is bleak. At least, that's what I thought. In January 2022, some of the game's original design team members announced a sequel, Return of the Amazon Queen. Not much is known about this project besides the teaser trailer that dropped last January, but that might be a thing you can look forward to in the future.
- Making Lotion - The start of Flight of the Amazon Queen at the hotel makes a decent first impression and has some fun action-oriented moments that impressed me. Likewise, the game isn't a tricky proposition after the crash landing in South America. Its problem is that it needs to be shorter and faster. My core issue stems from you needing to hop between four distinct locals (i.e., the Crash Site, Flöda Camp, the Jungle, and Trader Bob's Shop), and each has anywhere between ten to fifteen screens to explore. For more than half of the game, you toil away at fetching one trinket or object from one of these locations and then either handing it over to an NPC or using it on a different object ten to twelve screens removed. In this case, you meet a handful of jungle explorers, and one of them has a rash that requires an ointment only a witch doctor near Trader Bob can make. The first of these ingredients involve wasps which you can collect using a vacuum cleaner you acquire through an earlier quest. After you nab the hornets, you can pick up an orchid which you either sell to Trader Bob or use on a sloth to prune some of its furs. The sloth hair is the second ingredient, and the third is a coconut you get from a monkey when you offer to trade it for a banana. The banana is at least ten screens removed from the monkey, and the witch doctor is at least double that from wherever you pick up your last ingredient. And THEN, you need to return to the guy who asked for the lotion in the first place! It's about as compelling as watching grass grow!
- Defeating The Super Soldier In The Flöda Inc Camp - Aw, will you look at that! It's a game about finding forgotten treasures of the past, and it turns out the villains are Nazis! If I had the chance to press the people behind this game, I would immediately ask them about pretending they had never played Fate of Atlantis. The German factory sequence reeks of the Fist Path cave sequence in Fate of Atlantis. In both scenes, you need to deal with guards, but in the case of Amazon Queen, violence is not an option. You dispatch the first of these guards when you find a letter and deliver it to them, only to discover it's a "Dear John..." note that leaves them heartbroken and unable to perform their duties. Before dealing with the second one, you need to hand a banana to a chef, which allows you to pick up a can of dog food and aerosol cheese. The can opener is in an unmarked box in a storage room, five steps removed from the dog food. In an office space that foreshadows what you will be doing in the Valley of the Storms, observe a duty roster and then tell a different guard he's supposed to be on kitchen duty. As you might expect, the duty roster is five to six screens removed from the guard. Finally, you must find a science lab next to a kidnapped princess and pick up a serum labeled "super weenie serum." This vial is relatively challenging to find and must be applied to the can of dog food. You must then hand over this spiked can to the last guard, whom you promptly punch out before continuing your factory exploration. This part of the game is far more involved than it needs to be for what amounts to a series of puzzles that unlock doors. It does not help the entire factory repeats the same greyish background model with indistinct office spaces and storage rooms with hidden trinkets you'd only find after clicking every pixel. Yes, this is par for the course for a game of this era, but that doesn't entirely excuse the VAST distances between where you pick things up and apply them. Say what you will about King's Quest, but there's a snappiness with its pace that this game seriously lacks.
- Getting The Green Jewel On Sloth Island - To further my case that Binary Illusions is full of shit, this game, much like Fate of Atlantis, ends with a monotonous labyrinth sequence wherein you must find ancient treasures to stop the Nazis from taking over the world. And just like the final levels of Fate of Atlantis, this part of the game completely sucks shit. Some screens you find employ odd perspective work like they are trying to emulate M.C. Escher. The worst part of this sequence comes when you need to nab a massive green emerald. The first step involves finding a tree root, using a knife on it, and collecting tree sap from it. The tree juice needs to be applied to a baseball bat, which you have not used in AGES, to pull the emerald from a specific vantage point. This tree root is no different from any tree roots you saw earlier that were simply background scenery. Worse, while your character typically automatically picks up items when you use objects on parts of the environment as part of puzzles, this is one of the rare times when that does not happen. You have to click the open gash on the root to pull tree sap from it. I forgot to do this during my playthrough and had to make a walk of shame back to the root. I was decidedly NOT HAPPY!
Recommendation:NO, HARD PASS - I did not enjoy my time with Flight of the Amazon Queen. The early phase of the game, relying almost entirely on back-and-forth fetch quests, slows its pace to a crawl. This issue is odd because this game tries desperately to emulate an Indiana Jones-inspired adventure. What's more, while Fate of Atlantis and the works of LucasArts have whimsical but memorable story moments and characters, nothing about the narrative or cast of Flight of the Amazon Queen feels especially noteworthy. Its tone is also all over the place. In one example, you watch characters lament a graphic death followed by the protagonist discovering a tribe of Amazon women that, and I cannot make this shit up, punish outsider males to "death by snu snu." The characters are mainly walking tropes, and much of what you experience comes across as a cheap facsimile of better games and movies. It's reminiscent of copying your homework from SparkNotes. This game has the basic motions of a good adventure game but lacks soul and is highly robotic.
Lure of the Temptress
What Is It?
Well, it's about fucking time I talk about something from Revolution Software! Somehow I have managed to examine LucasArts, Cryo, Presto, and Westwood on this site, but Sierra, Cyan, and Revolution have all dodged my puzzle-assessing magnifying glass. Yet, here we are with TWO of their earlier follies into the world of adventure games in this special. The first of these, Lure of the Temptress, was their first in-house game and served as a test bed for their proprietary Virtual Theatre engine that would define their style and approach to point-and-click adventure games. This engine did not just allow players to explore dialogue choices with a tremendous amount of nuance, but it also scripted every NPC into a walking route and dialogue routine. As a result, it would appear to the player as if the supporting characters were exploring their surroundings and interacting with each other unprovoked by the player. For example, if you park your character on any screen in a Revolution game of this era, you can organically watch NCPs walk in and out of the frame and talk about their daily goings or recent events. Revolution Software's Virtual Theatre engine was considered a monumental technical achievement and pushed the envelope regarding environmental storytelling. Moreover, Sierra and LucasArts considered it a legitimate rival to their Creative Interpreter and SCUMM engines, respectively.
Watching this system play out in action is always a delight. There's just one tiny problem regarding Lure of the Temptress and the early forms of Virtual Theatre. Because Revolution was attempting something groundbreaking with its game engine, the overall mission design and level design in Lure of the Temptress often took a backseat. Yes, Broken Sword eventually "got there" as a worthwhile experience from a pure gameplay perspective. However, lest we not forget about the dreaded "Goat Puzzle" in the first Broken Sword game or the sometimes bizarre tasks, the second game would string you along as well. Revolution Software knows how to tell a gripping story rooted in history or one that delves into darker and heavier themes. Nonetheless, you are unlikely to see ANY adventure game enthusiast praise them as being the best at doing puzzles or at any point exceed expectations in terms of overall game design.
This last point leads us to a different problem in Lure of the Temptress: this game is incredibly crusty. While you can certainly enjoy the architecture in it that would go on to create the best games Revolution would make in its history, it is not a particularly fun or compelling video game itself. The vast majority of your tasks are fetch quests which, on paper, are easy. However, a significant consequence of the characters running around the world in circuits is that simply delivering goods and materials to quest recipients, which this game asks you to do A LOT, is way harder than it needs to be. Maybe you need to hand a necklace to a maiden. If you are unlucky, they could be moving forward behind you while you infinitely chase after them in the wrong direction. Likewise, there's a companion system wherein you must order around one of three possible assistants to complete tasks and puzzles. This system eventually got tolerable in Beneath A Steel Sky, but it is downright infuriating in Lure of the Temptress. After giving orders, companions can get stuck, and if you or another NPC get in their way mid-route, their routine can break, and you will have to input your orders a second or third time. Finally, the story is as barebones as a fantasy game can get. There's an impressive cinematic at the start that lays out the foundation for an exciting premise, but it never congeals and only ends up resulting in a low-rent Lord of the Rings-inspired adventure at best.
Hardest Three Puzzles
- Getting Out Of Jail - As if I wasn't already negative about this game, I want to talk about the dogshit first impression it makes during its opening act. As I said, the game starts with an incredibly impressive beginning cinematic that lays out the game's starting premise of an evil sorceress commanding an army of orcs to take over a kingdom after laying out a trap. Your character starts in jail following this coup and will need to break out before they can even consider ridding the world of this evil witch. They start in a jail cell and need to touch a torch to knock it into a pile of hay, so when a guard checks in on them, they become distracted by the fire, allowing you to run out and lock the guard. One HUGE issue: this puzzle has an incredibly unforgiving timing element. Even when you understand what the game is asking of you, inputting all of the commands with the time constraint is a colossal pain in the ass. Likewise, if you mistime starting the fire, you could be waiting upwards of two to three minutes for the guard to check on your cell! Not only that, but before the guard enters your character's jail cell, you need to migrate to an area of the screen near where the door swings to when the guard opens it, or else he is programmed to detect your character, and the puzzle resets. Again, it is a TERRIBLE starting puzzle!
- Breaking Into A House To Use A Chemistry Apparatus - Now, I must grouse about the companion system! As I said, I know Revolution figured this shit out in the Broken Sword series, and I don't hate the robot in Beneath A Steel Sky as much as others do. BUT HOT DAMN, THE JESTER SURE SUCKS SHIT IN THIS GAME! Not only can you lose him and not know where the fuck he is, but the village where most of the game takes place often initiates dialogue sequences for him that you can't stop or interrupt. For example, when I needed him to pick a lock in an abandoned house, he started striking up a conversation with a beggar on the streets, and I was forced to listen to him talk to this NPC without any ability to stop him. I had to wait until I was allowed to play the game again. AND THAT'S NOT THE ONLY PROBLEM! Once you get to the building, wherein you need to have him pick the lock, you need to pray that handing him the lock and him processing the command to pick the lock on the door goes without a hitch. The command system in Lure of the Temptress functions like a Zork text adventure parser. You start by selecting "Tell," then search a scroll-down menu for the Jester, then search for "Use," and then fan through the menu until the lockpick appears before going through these menus three more times to connect the lockpick to the door in question. It's a lot of fiddle-fucking around with menus, let me tell you! So, when I found out I was too close to the door for him to process my request or a random NPC wanted to talk to him, which immediately ruined his routine; I wanted to punch out my computer monitor. WORSE, when you finally get into the house, you find out there's a timed chemistry puzzle in the building with you reading a note with a recipe, and you needing to make that recipe in three minutes. It's a cavalcade of pure pain!
- Exploring The Cave With Goewin - I cannot emphasize enough how much I hate how companion commands work in this game. So, lo and behold, we have the puzzle that acts as the culminating end goal of that very system. After completing no less than six fetch quests, you discover that the herbalist at the village, whom you recently broke out of prison, knows of a tonic that permits you to visit a legendary dragon that knows the one way to defeat the evil sorceress. The dragon is sleeping in a dangerous cave, revealing itself to be a door-opening puzzle wherein you and the female herbalist need to take turns flicking switches so you can enter the final room. As an example, I'll describe how you move from the cave's first room to the second one, and you need to imagine doing this once more to understand why I put this puzzle here. First, you must find two levers with skulls and pull the right one to open the door to the second green cave. While there, you need to tell the Herbalist, Goewin, to "Go to - the cave entrance - to pull - the left lever." In the sentence in the previous quotation, each "-" represents the start of a new command you must find and select in a menu. If you input everything correctly, the door to the blue cave should open. Enter the blue cave and then pull the left skull to allow Goewin to catch up to you, and you need to do the same sequence to get into the final chamber once more. Oh, and before you get to the dragon, there's a combat sequence, and every fight in this game controls like refried cow manure. Likewise, when you are done fucking around with the dragon, you must complete the cave door puzzle, but in reverse order!
Recommendation: AVOID THIS GAME LIKE THE PLAGUE - Hey, do you get the sense I'm not the biggest fan of this game? Please don't take my word for it; when this title went up on GOG for $0, it immediately became one of the lowest-rated point-and-click adventure games on the entire marketplace. At the time of its release, it was heralded as a technical achievement which I in no way want to suggest was invalid. However, this game feels like an early prototype of something Revolution would go on to perfect two games later. Even if you want to see what some of their earlier experiments with Virtual Theatre were like, I recommend avoiding this game and sticking with Beneath A Steel Sky. In the latter's case, you at least have a video game with greater storytelling ambitions beyond "WE MUST KILL THE EVIL WITCH!" and rarely do you feel like it is buckling under the pressure of its engine, which is a genuine problem with Lure of the Temptress. It is a scant three to five hours if you do wish to give it a shot, but I urge using a guide as there's a ton of pixel hunting, and I doubt any of you want to be stuck running around in circles trying to chase after quest givers or recipients.
Beneath A Steel Sky
What Is It?
Of the many free games on GOG I have reviewed, Beneath A Steel Sky is by a country mile the most important. The game did wonders to set Revolution apart from its competition. While Lure of the Temptress set out the foundations of Revolution's Virtual Theatre engine, Beneath A Steel Sky is when they finally put all of those pieces together AND decided to give a shit about telling a story with supporting worldbuilding to boot! Beneath A Steel Sky also is a collaboration with comic book artist Dave Gibbons, best known for his work with Alan Moore. This decision showed they were willing to spend the money necessary to punch in the same weight class as LucasArts, Cyan, and Sierra. While the three layers of the sprawling city in Beneath A Steel Sky seem quaint by today's standards, in 1994, it was a sprawling playground with no equal. Also, as I suggested earlier, the rougher edges of Lure of Temptress are mostly tamed, with the robot helper in this game often performing tasks automatically or the game doing most of the heavy lifting for you with commands needing to be found in its dialogue system without too much difficulty.
Unfortunately, Beneath A Steel Sky is INCREDIBLY FLAWED. If I were making my best Matthew Rorie impression, I'd even go so far as to call it "Half Good." That sounds like blasphemy, but the story completely falls apart when you get to the city's third floor. Mechanically, the game becomes an absolute bore, with you spending most of your time moving up and down the three floors of the city using elevators. I don't hate the kangaroo court scene that comes out of nowhere as much as most, but the sequence involving the wealthy widow with the pampered pitbull is groan-inducing at best. The game's ending is a complete mess, if not an outright disaster. The story becoming a body horror sci-fi flick brought to you by David Cronenberg and then transitioning into an utterly unearned father-son emotional reunion has never sat well with me. The big reveal of what LINC is and why it has been chasing after the protagonist is downright terrible. Even then, the game can never decide on what tone it wishes to strike, whether it be a mature sci-fi epic or a chummy buddy cop film. Oddly enough, there's a reason why the game feels like it exists in an awkward middle ground between a Beverly Hills Cop and Blade Runner film. Revolution's founder and this game's director, Charles Cecil, wanted the game to be darker. At the same time, the writer and person in charge of the dialogue, Dave Cummins, preferred taking notes from the works of LucasArts. The rest of the staff sought a middle ground and deferred to see which of the two would win out in the next project. If you were wondering, Dave Cummins would leave Revolution and the games industry entirely after Broken Sword II.
Hardest Three Puzzles
- Destroying The Electric Plant - Unlike Lure of the Temptress, Beneath A Steel Sky starts with a bang with your protagonist, Robert Foster, in the middle of a chase sequence and desperately trying to evade a pursuing police officer. Eventually, Foster will find himself on the top floor of the sprawling city, representing the lowest class of that urban society. There, he notices a factory run by a malicious robber baron. While in the factory, you need to spawn your robot companion in a new body, direct them into a storage room, and quickly dart to a window to observe them in the room. You'll be able to see them next to a fuse box which you must order them to tamper with and then run inside the storage room to steal some putty. Likewise, you use a spanner in a machine with cogs to cause it to jam before retrieving it again. Next, you need to locate a power plant on the leftmost portion of the top floor. You need to use the spanner on a new fuse box in this power plant to open it and then ask Joey, the robot, to join you in pushing two buttons in tandem. Finally, you remove a lightbulb before replacing it with putty to make the entire power facility blow up. There's a bit of fiddly timing associated with different parts of this puzzle, ranging from needing to run towards the window with Joey still in a room or you needing to time your button presses in the power plant. None of those elements are fun, but they pale compared to the weird moments where you pixel-hunt for stuff you would never know to pick up in a blind run. The putty is next to impossible to tell apart from the ground texture, and the lightbulb doesn't jump out as an interactable quest item, and this is a common problem with a LOT of games by Revolution.
- Getting Anita's ID Card - I don't want to suggest anything in Beneath A Steel Sky even remotely approaches the Goat Puzzle in Broken Sword, but the spirit that led to its creation exists in Beneath A Steel Sky. Needing to fuck around with the wealthy widow and her dog using dog biscuits and a makeshift seesaw reminds me of the worst we have seen of Revolution Software. It does not help that part of this puzzle requires you to use a videotape you steal from the wretched factory owner, which like other quest items, is almost impossible to find unless you have the adventure game habit of clicking everything on a given screen. Likewise, using a videotape to distract a dog so you can steal a dog biscuit you eventually use to trick it into standing in place on a seesaw is the kind of adventure game logic that I point to as driving this genre into near extinction. Finally, this is another puzzle where the Virtual Theatre engine can rear its ugly head. Miss Pierdman and her beloved pooch have a massive route they like to run before they end up at the one spot where you can fling her mutt into the air. If you are incredibly unlucky, this could involve you waiting upwards of five minutes for her to end up on the one screen you need her to be for this particular puzzle. Luckily, everything that happens after that, wherein you get some foreshadowing with the androids and discover the dead body of Anita, are easy enough and well-done storytelling moments.
- Using The Fake Internet To Get The Helix - Oh, hey! It's another game from the early 90s with a comically outdated notion of how to depict the internet in the future! I know there are a few who like this game bound to get wound up about my slight negativity about it, but I dare any of these people to defend the internet levels! The worst one, BY FAR, happens near the end of the game when you need to acquire a special computer command that can ruin the horrible computer controlling people's destinies. My first issue stems from the finicky timing of freezing the giant eyeballs, which can kill your avatar and cause you to boot out of the internet. For some eyes, you have a generous window, whereas, with others, it's just a few seconds. Second, you have multiple ID Cards; some have internet commands that others do not, and specific roadblocks require specific ID Cards. Worse, this part of the game feels partially built with some redundant orders never getting used, a handful only needing to be used once, and three to four that require repeated use. This lack of coherence makes roadblocks like a knight in a suit of armor or a unique computer program stuck in a block of ice significant barriers to progress because you don't know whose online profile is required.
Recommendation: MAYBE GIVE IT A SHOT - Did I spend most of this entry grousing about Beneath A Steel Sky? Sure, but the lion's share of those of you with even the slightest bit of appreciation for the adventure game genre should, at the very least, attempt to play it once in your life. I made the case of this game being "half good," but the half that provides a quality experience is incredible. Exploring the gritty slums of the game's massive industrial city with an almost endless amount of dialogue to experience is astounding for a game dating to 1994. The story is a hot mess, but the game always continues to provide exquisite-looking backdrops. In many ways, it represents a vital jumping point into the creative heights of Revolution Software before their monumentally successful Broken Sword series found its stride. You can see all of the creative lessons that would go on to inform the design for that series' best moments in Beneath a Steel Sky. Like a famous author who does not find their "voice" until their third or fourth book, you can't get too mad at Beneath A Steel Sky's MANY mistakes considering Revolution would hone their craft to a science. This game might be messy, but it's still a work of art.