Number of Reviews: 4
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Robinson Crusoe for the Atomic Age, March 7, 2021
A bit of fanfare preceded the release of Tristam Island which meant, unusually, that Iíd actually heard of it before playing it (it got a couple of mentions on a well-known community forum; relatively speaking, a blaze of publicity) Ė so advertising does work, a bit. In any case, Iím glad that I was thus induced to play it, as it is pretty good.
The game is made with PunyInform which, my scanty research suggests, is a version of Inform optimised for 8-bit computers that would otherwise struggle to run a full-fat Inform game Ė something that appeals to the nostalgic, the curious and those who believe they are still living in the 1980s (which more or less covers the whole contemporary IF audience, I think). One feature of that is the ability to target lots and lots of different retro computer systems, which the author has exploited to the full: there are dozens of different versions of the game available, so players are free to run it on the obsolete hardware of their choice. I played the Windows version, but even there the retro vibe still shines through in the implementation: more sparse, perhaps, than the average Ďmoderní IF game but richer than a lot of the games of the period to which this harks back. I guess that a general sort of Infocomy feel is what is aimed at here, and I think it succeeds (although I havenít played any Infocom games, I more or less know what theyíre supposed to look like) Ė the parser is very capable, but doesnít require too much of the player in terms of long and complicated commands, the descriptions are just long enough to fit comfortably within memory constraints, etc. There are also some explicit Infocom references in the game too (having done my research, I recognised a couple of them; there are probably more) which indicates quite clearly where the authorís heart lies, in case there was any doubt. Overall, the attempt to present an authentically retro-flavoured text adventure whilst avoiding authentically retro-flavoured frustrations is quite successful: which brings me to the game itself.
The setting is an abandoned island on which the player finds themselves stranded. There is, inevitably, a mystery here which is slowly uncovered during the course of the game through the playerís attempts to escape. The parser is reassuringly understanding and there arenít any real guess-the-verb frustrations. The map is fairly large, with new areas becoming accessible as the game progresses, and there is a lot of exploring and puzzle solving to do in this solitary wilderness. There are no NPCs in the game (well, perhaps there is one Ė but you canít talk to it), which works well to enhance the feeling of loneliness and isolation, while also handily avoiding the memory constraints and other difficulties involved with implementing NPCs effectively. The puzzles are generally well thought out, sensible and just challenging enough to feel satisfying Ė for me, they hit a perfect sweet spot between too easy and too hard that meant (much to my own astonishment) that I managed to complete the entire game without any external help at all (albeit with an imperfect score: I got 135/150). Some of the more complex actions in the game are implicitly handled (by MAKE or REPAIR etc.) which is a good idea for those players who canít be bothered to spend endless turns entering each individual action involved in e.g. sewing a button on a shirt, and for the ones that arenít, a bit of careful interrogation of things (especially the scenery) and lateral thinking is usually enough to put you on the right track. The most complex puzzle comes about halfway through the game and one senses the author struggling adequately to describe exactly what the set-up is here - he almost, but not quite succeeds. But for all that, itís still not too difficult to figure out what to do especially as the required items are relatively close at hand, as with all the puzzles (a design of which I approve: who wants to get to the end of the game only to have to traipse all the way back to get the sea shell that they stumbled across at the start?). A surprising feature is the number of hints scattered throughout: surprising as we are told at the start of the game that help is not available (due to memory constraints). In fact, more often than not, careful examination will yield pointers as to what you need to do, which are generally helpful nudges towards the solutionÖso the help is there, you just need to go hunting for it.
The game strikes a decent balance between open-world and on-rails. There is a reasonable amount of wandering around and exploring to do, but the game is clearly compartmentalised into different sections that need to be traversed in order to progress (literally in one case towards the end of the game, where you pass a point of no return). Thatís fine with me: I much prefer to be moving forward through a narrative to wandering around aimlessly. Each bit of the game is likely to take some time to complete. I never play these things in one sitting, but Iíd estimate that it might have taken me around 3 or 4 hours to get through it all if I had Ė so there is a decent chunk of game here.
Overall, Iíd say the game is a pretty good investment of your time and money Ė but itís not perfect by any means. For one thing, the plot is quite hackneyed: the grand revelation about the mystery of the island towards the end of the game was no revelation at all, and I was left feeling that something more original might have been attempted. There are also several bugs in the game, including a couple of fatal ones, that I would have expected to have been picked up in play-testing especially as the game is being marketed commercially (albeit for pin money). Iíll report them back to the author but itís disappointing to come across them.
Those negatives aside though, this is a very well done an enjoyable game that I would certainly recommend. Iíll be playing more by this author.