Monday 13 October 2014

Point and Click adventures - One Temptress, Some Broken Swords and a Home Made Robot

 The genre known as the 'point and click adventure' has all but died out in recent years - sadly, companies no longer consider them to be valid or profitable. But once upon a time many a computer owner knew the names of Lucasarts and Sierra who, along with many other companies, brought some of the most unique game worlds to life... worlds where players would wander around in order to collect sacred and ridiculous objects and swear at their monitors as characters blocked their quests (with the phrases like "that wouldnt work" and "I dont think that's a good idea"). Let us now take you back in time to the land of pockets the size of valleys, surreal humour and fiendish plots.

Lure of the Temptress

We start our journey into the world of pointing and clicking by stopping off at UK based Revolution Studios to see what they have added to an overflowing genre. Needless to say the developer's reputation is outstanding. It all started many years ago with Lure of the Temptress. Started in 1989 and released in 1992 on PC, Amiga and Atari ST, Lure of the Temptress is Revolution's first point and click adventure.

The plot revolves around the character of Diermot who somehow finds himself trying to save the town of Turnvale from an evil sorceress and her minions. The dialogue is very laboured and the it lacks the humour of later Revolution titles, however it is not without its charm and the surroundings are truly sublime for an ageing computer title.

Puzzles are a mixture of the extremely simple (get knife, cut bag) and the bizarrely obscure. It does have a number of nice features, such as being able to construct sentences to give orders out to NPCs, which helps to add a more unique feel to the proceedings. Overall, the title has not aged that well and newcomers may not see the appeal- although for its time this was a rather excellent adventure game and is fondly remembered by many people.

Beneath a Steel Sky

 A defining moment for both Revolution as a studio and the genre as a whole. Beneath a Steel Sky (BASS), follows the story of Robert Foster who is abducted and finds himself inside a huge city of tower blocks overseen by a super computer. Alone, apart from 'Joey' (a personality on a circuit board who can be placed into any available robot shell), you must find out why you where kidnapped and try to escape the polluted city and return home to the 'Gap' the wasteland outside the city where you where brought up by a wild tribe.

Beneath a Steel Sky is remembered for many things and most people find a conversation early on in the game provides the high point; three simple sentences delivered so well that it is even rumoured the production team lost weeks of work because of them (as they were too busy rolling on the floor with laughter). Those lines are simply:

Technician: "Where did you get that robot?"

Foster: "I built him, you like it?"

Technician: "It's crap son!"(Maybe you had to be there?)

Needless to say BASS is full of style and the unique humour of Revolution. The cityscape is a mixture of industrial smoke, rust and general grime subtly realised through the use of various tones of brown, green and grey. Backgrounds are mainly static but do the job well. The colour palette and static backdrops do mean the title looks drab a little too often, but then that is the point.The main injections of life come from the many brilliantly voiced characters you come across in your travels.

As has become one of the studio's strengths, the use of local dialects from around the British Isles is used to full effect to turn people into comic caricatures which makes every conversation a joy. Whether it be brummy police officers or the hard-faced, beaver skin coat-wearing factory boss, things are always made that little bit more over-the-top and hilarious by their accents complimenting a nigh on perfect script. It means, even if you do get stuck trying to work out the puzzle elements, the humour value of what would otherwise be a mundane conversation keeps frustration levels low and the will to progress strong.

This is advantageous as, although BASS is a classic title, it does contain a number of illogical puzzles, and finding small objects on the screen can prove near impossible (the putty on the floor, anyone?). Still, though there are faults, BASS is one of the best examples of point and click adventuring around, and any fan of the genre should have made their way through this gem of a title a long time ago.

The Broken Sword Series

 The humour and vocal style set down in Beneath a Steel Sky was then refined, polished and placed into one of the genre's defining moments - Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars. Taking the role of George Stobart (a sarcastic American tourist in Paris, who gets caught up in a hit-and-run bombing undertaken by an assassin dressed as a clown), players are flown all over the world to solve puzzles and get drawn ever deeper into a very dangerous web.

Bright, easy to negotiate screens and sharp graphics meant that even the smallest items were always easy to see, and the few animations in each screen gave the whole game much more vibrancy than any of the Revolution games that had come before it. The graphical style is much more like a comic and the excellent humour and high quality of the script meant players were left in awe of the game's subtle stylistic brilliance time after time. Another sign of growth and development in the Revolution camp is the structuring of the puzzles in the title. While previous titles had a number of either too simple or too obscure puzzle elements, Broken Sword's puzzles were complicated but could always be solved logically - a tone that remained throughout the entire series.

Truly Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars is a pinnacle in puzzle creation, as never have more devious, yet logically-constructed, problems been set down in a video game (causing more than one player to utter the words "of course! It was so obvious, why didnt I see it!" on numerous occasions) - except, of course, for the goat.

Perfect scripting, humour and puzzles aside, the thing that really keeps you hooked on the title is the plot, which is genuinely interesting. Even today, it is rare to have such an epic and splendid tale in a video game. It has everything and rightly ranks among the all time greats in the video game hall of fame. Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars proved so successful it spawned two sequels before a long wait until installment 4 arrived.

Broken Sword 2: The Smoking Mirror was set in the same style as the first game and while it contained the same excellent level of dialogue, the puzzles where not quite up to the exceptional standard of the first, and the plot was considerably less engaging. The introduction of George's partner Nico soured the experience for many players as her section lacked the sparky dialogue of George. While enjoyable, the game did nothing to move the genre forward.

Third time around, Revolution set out to - excuse the pun - revolutionise the genre by implementing new play mechanics into the core of the classic franchise. The point and click element had almost completely disappeared, replaced with a highly effective system to cope with 3D environments. Objects were easily seen and interacted with. However, like the previous title, the touch of genius surrounding the original game's puzzles was missing and controlling Nico's sections again proved to be something of a chore. This, coupled with an over-use of box moving puzzles, meant that, while the title remained good fun, humourous and a good continuation of the story, the revolution hoped for by the gaming public was sadly lacking.

Installments 4 and 5 followed some time after but neither did much to reignite the spark found in the early games. Enjoyable for fans, they just don't quite have the same level of quality as the rest of the series.

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