Game Review: Suspect (1984, Infocom)

The time is Halloween, circa 1984.  You are a newspaper reporter who has been invited to the annual Halloween costume party that is being thrown by your old friend, Veronica Ashcroft-Wellman.  You show up, eager to find a story.  You are dressed as a cowboy, complete with a lariat and a gun belt.  Shortly after you arrive, Veronica goes to her office.  Not long afterwards, Veronica is discovered dead.  Around her neck is your lariat.  Lying near her body is a bullet from your gun belt.  You’re not only a suspect.  In the eyes of the police, you’re the only suspect!

Infocom’s third and final murder mystery followed Deadline and The Witness.  Just like those two games, you have a limited amount of time to explore your surroundings, find clues, and talk to the other people at the party.  Run out of time and you’ll once again be approached by the trusted Sgt. Duffy.  This time, though, Duffy is coming to take you to jail.  The stakes have never been higher and the mystery has never been more complex.  Not only is the house bigger than the houses in Deadline and The Witness but there’s also many more suspects, all of whom are in costume and all of whom move around at their own free will.  Clues are not difficult to find but it can be a struggle to not only figure out how they link together but to also the convince the investigative detective that they are important.  This is not an easy game to win.  I played it several times and failed to solve the mystery every time.  Finally, I did what anyone would have done in my situation.

I cheated.

I found a walk-through for the game and, following it step-by-step, I solved the murder and cleared my name.  If I hadn’t used that walk-through, I probably never would have solved the case.  This is not a game for casual text adventurers.  This is for people who want to totally immerse themselves in a world and then spend hours working out a plan of attack.

It’s also an elegantly written game, with its fair share of Easter eggs for experienced gamers.  Just count the number of guests who have come to the party costumed like characters from other Inform games.  This game is tough but rewarding, even if you do end up having to cheat to win.

Suspect can be played at the Internet Archive.

Game Review: Suspended: A Cryogenic Nightmare (1983, Infocom)

Welcome to the future.  On the planet of Contra, an Earth colony is run by a self-maintaining system that is housed in a gigantic facility.  The system is responsible for everything from transportation to keeping the weather hospitable for the colonists.  You are at the center of the system.  You have been placed in suspended animation so that your mind can serve as the Central Mentality that keeps the entire system from falling apart.  It’s a job that’s meant to last for 500 years but the rewards are great.

Unfortunately, there’s been an earthquake and the complex has been damaged.  Though you are still in suspended animation, you know that you have to repair the complex before the angry colonists shut you down.  Since you’re in stasis, you have to direct five robots to do all the work.  Each robot has its own “personality” and unique way of describing each room in the complex.  You’ll have to figure out how to get the robots to work together before all of you get shut down permanently.

Suspended is one of the most difficult text adventures that I’ve ever played.  Since each robot can only tell you certain things about each room in the facility, the game often depends on getting the right robots in the right room at the right time.  If you can pull that off, the damage itself is often easy to fix but it’s not always easy to guess which robot will be useful in which situation.  In typical Infocom fashion, there’s also a time limit to the game and making too many mistakes can make it impossible to get things done before time expires.  For most players, winning this game will come down to trial-and-error and frequent saving.  The game is so complex, though, that you feel really damn good when you actually manage to figure it all out.

Suspended can be found at various archival and abandonware sites online, including here.

Game Review: The Witness (1983, Infocom)

You are a detective, working in 1930s Los Angeles.  One night, you and your assistant, Sgt. Duffy (remember him from Deadline?) are called to the home of Freeman Linder.  Linder is a soldier of fortune whose wife has recently died under mysterious circumstances.  After you arrive and assuming that you are smart enough to follow Linder into his study, he tells you to have a seat while he explains why he needs to be protected from a man named Stiles.  If you don’t take a seat, you’ll end up getting a bullet that was originally meant for Linder.  If you do take your seat, you’ll witness Linder getting shot by an unseen assailant.  You now have 12 hours to explore the house, interrogate all of the suspects (there aren’t many of them), and figure out who murdered Freeman Linder!

The Witness was Infocom’s follow-up to its fabulously successful murder mystery, Deadline.  The Witness is a much simpler and much easier game, though it’s still a good deal of fun.  If Deadline seemed like a big budget MGM extravaganza, The Witness is an entertaining Warner Bros. B-movie.  The mystery at the heart of The Witness is not difficult to solve.  It’s mostly a case of making sure that you’re in the right place at the right time to witness certain events and also making sure that you do certain things in the right order.  The mystery may be easy to solve but getting all of the evidence necessary for a conviction can be tough.

As with most Infocom games, The Witness is well-written and full of memorable details.  The game is set on February 9th, 1938 and, if your detective turns on the radio, he’ll hear programs that actually aired on that date.  The game’s author, Stu Galley, even researched 1930s slang to give the game’s dialogue an authentic feel.  It’s a fun if not particularly difficult game.

The Witness can currently be played over at the Internet Archive.

Game Review: Deadline (1982, Infocom)

Wealthy industrialist Marshall Robner has been found dead in his study, with the door locked.  The autopsy says that he died of an overdose of antidepressants.  Was it suicide or was it murder?  And, if it was murder, who was responsible?  That’s the mystery that you’ve been given a limited amount of time to solve.

In Deadline, you play a police detective who has 12 hours to investigate and solve the mystery behind the death of Marshall Robson.  The game starts with your arrival at the sprawling Robner estate.  Do you immediately start interviewing the suspects or do you look for clues around the grounds?  Do you attend the reading of Robner’s will or do you search the study where he died?  It’s up to you but just remember that the clock is ticking!

Written by Marc Blank and released by Infocom, Deadline is a classic text adventure from 1982.  From the minute, you enter the Robner estate, you are interacting with suspects like Robner’s adulterous wife and his irresponsible son.  Their actions and their responses to your questions are determined by how you go about investigating the crime and one of the joys of the game is seeing how people react to different approaches.  (When it comes time to read Robner’s will, one character will either show up early or late, depending on whether or not you’ve shown them a key piece of evidence.)

The mystery is complex.  I played through the game a handful of times before realizing that one thing that I felt was very important was actually just a red herring.  The mystery can be solved but you’re going to have to play the game several times and experiment with being in different places at different times and showing different clues to different suspects.  Or you can just type “Deadline Walk-Through” into Google like I eventually did.

Like many other good games from the past, Deadline can currently be found in the Internet Archive.

Jedadiah Leland’s Horrorific Adventures In The Internet Archive #7: The Lurking Horror (1987, Infocom)

If you are looking for a good, text-based horror film, allow me to suggest heading over the Internt Archive and trying your hand at The Lurking Horror (1987, Infocom).

The Lurking Horror is an interactive adventure game of Lovecraftian horror.  You are a student who has one night to finish a big paper.  During the worst blizzard in history, you make your way from the dorms to the computer lab.  Since this is an Infocom game, nothing is easy but the end results are rewarding.  Not only do you have to figure out the right commands to edit your paper but, once you do figure it all out, you discover that your paper is no longer your paper.  Instead, your paper has been transformed into an ancient text.

I will give you one hint.  When you first load up the paper, the game will literally beg you to read the entire paper.  Even if you click on your in-game PC’s help key, it will suggest that you read the entire paper.  Do not do it.  If you start reading the paper, you will not be able to stop.  Even if you say that you want to leave the computer room or that you want to turn off the computer, you will be told that “instead, you click the more box.”  After four turns of reading the paper, something terrible happens to you.

Instead of reading the paper after you open it, try to talk to the hacker in the computer room.  (In typical Infocom fashion, the hacker has several hilarious reactions.  For fun, try typing “attack the hacker.”)  The hacker has suggestions for how to retrieve your original paper.  It will not be easy though.  There are monsters in the computer lab.

Again, this is an Infocom game so it is not going to be easy.  It takes a while to get the hang of it but stick with it and it will be worth it.  For those who know their Lovecraft, playing The Lurking Horror will be a very rewarding experience.

One final note.  In the game, when you turn on the computer, you are required to enter a login and a password.  There is no way to discover the login or the password in-game.  That information was only made available in the game’s original manual.  I had to look up the login and the password online.  For the record, here they are:

login: 872325412
password: uhlersoth