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About the Story
"When your brother Malcolm sends you a telegram inviting you to visit him at Biblioll College in the ancient university town of Christminster, you imagine that the mysterious `discovery' he alludes to is nothing more than some esoteric bit of chemistry, and that you'll have a pleasant day out in beautiful surroundings. But when you get to Christminster, nothing is as you expect. Where has Malcolm vanished to? What are the unpleasant Doctor Jarboe and the positively repulsive Professor Bungay up to? And what do long-forgotten alchemical treatises have to do with the modern day?" [--blurb from The Z-Files Catalogue]
A social visit to Biblioll College, Christminster turns to an exploration of alchemical secrets and centuries-old conspiracies when you discover that your brother is missing. A well-developed environment with vivid characters and some quite suspenseful moments. Although not billed as a mystery - and although whodunnit is pretty obvious - much of what the player does in this game is very detective-like. The whole game is very closely tied together; once you've gotten past the front gate, neither the plot nor the map is easily divided into segments. A nice mix of puzzles, including several optional ones. Some puzzles appear to be time-based, but closer scrutiny reveals that time only advances in response to plot events triggered by solving puzzles, so that's nothing to worry about (although there are a few small, local time limits.) One of the few games with a female protagonist. Has a built-in hint system that dispenses hints, not solutions. One item, a map, uses characer graphics, but this can be ignored.
-- Carl Muckenhoupt
The college is populated with particularly rich characters who play their parts well through the usual sorts of text-adventure interactions. There are good excuses to interact with them along the way, too, provided by a plot which twists along past different personalities. Rees has said that his puzzles are contrived for the purpose of drawing the interactor through the story and into contact with different characters, and that is evident in Christminster. Areas of the setting are consecutively unlocked for exploration, but the whole college is worked into the story very evenly, throughout the narrative.
-- Nick Montfort
In all, though, the small cracks don't mar the soundness of the game. The overall game design is as tight and sensible as just about anything I've seen. Christminster certainly makes my top five of all time, and stands as a classic. I suspect it will hold up well under the test of time. One hallmark of such games is that they make it hard to release a new game with a similar setting, plot, or milieu because the author has so well nailed it down. That seems to be the case here for college campuses and Christminster.
-- David Samuel Myers
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There's much to like about "Christminster," from the clever puzzles to the highly interactive NPCs. "Christminster" joins the crowded field of IF games with a collegiate setting, but this one comes in at or near the head of the class.
-- Eileen Mullin
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|Average Rating: |
Number of Reviews: 8
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Play it if: you want to play a medium-length game emphasizing clean, forgiving gameplay and a detailed, engaging setting.
Don't play it if: you want plot-heavy IF that hits the narrative highs of later masterpieces such as Anchorhead.
Christminster to me suffers from the rather thankless role of being a classic game overtaken by its successors. It's a shame because in many ways Christminster is contemporary in its design: lower on cruelty and higher on fairness than most of the Infocom classics. In that respect it's the sort of game that will outlive the Zork series, whose entries will more often than not frustrate the contemporary player in spite of their positive attributes.
I think it comes down to the balance between puzzle-solving and storytelling. For every area in which Christminster presented clean, quality gameplay, there's another area in which it falls just a little bit short in its narrative. Yes, the puzzles have both variety and verisimilitude, depending as much on the manipulation of characters as on that of everyday objects. Yes, they're (mostly) well-clued and engaging enough to keep you playing through to the finish. But then I have to stop and wonder why I'm researching the alchemical history of the university when I should be demanding a police investigation into my brother's disappearance. (Spoiler - click to show)And concocting the Elixir of Life is all very well and good for a puzzle, but what is going through Christabel's mind when she is making it? What is the connection between making the Elixir and saving her brother?(Spoiler - click to show) These sorts of details by no means ruined the game, but they did prevent me from really connecting with Christabel and by extension the actual plot.
The thing is that Christminster feels like a prototypical version of Anchorhead. I know it's not really fair to judge one game by the standards of another, but Anchorhead, which might be considered this game's spiritual successor, really did do it better. The personal stakes are higher, the environment is more atmospheric, the backstory and research more detailed and engaging. Christminster paddles along at a good pace in terms of gameplay, but the plot itself changes very little between the beginning and end; nothing of real emotional significance happens until the ending, and there is little build-up to the climax. It works more as a string of well-connected puzzles than as an actual story, whereas Anchorhead managed to balance both of those elements.
So is it a masterpiece? For its time, yes; and even now it has aged extremely well - the original release was in 1995, but it may as well have been yesterday (barring a couple tell-tale gaps in implementation). So it's still entirely worthwhile as a game, if not as engrossing a story as it could have been.
In thinking of great IF I keep coming back to this one - it's puzzley but not too puzzley, it executes set-pieces in a way that might even have been novel for its time, and it balances progression and frustration excellently. Add to that the well-rendered setting that changes over time, the characterised NPCs and I think you've got something really special. One of my all-time favourites.
I must confess to a serious character flaw, a deeply rooted chasm that runs through the heart of my being. It is a source of frustration and temptation, it leads me to reach above my abilities and cheat to grasp above my reach. It is the following:
I suck at puzzles and I love puzzle-games.
I had previously banged my head against the front door of Christminster University. I gave up each time. This time I gave in to temptation and sinned. I consulted a walkthrough. And I have no remorse.
I loved this game. The puzzles after that fiendish first one were milder to me (I cheated a few times more though), and stubborn exploring got me further and further in the game, and also in the story.
The progression of the story is great. You get the chance to get to know your character and one NPC in particular, a marvellous professor with whom you get to spend a good amount of time. The clock on the tower announces your progression through the puzzles as you get nearer to the endgame. That detail works as a brilliant way to heighten the tension, it lets you know each time you've gotten closer to... what?
The puzzles are hard, but the reward you get is great. You can explore more and more hidden parts of the old building, and the atmosphere is gripping.
A really really good game.
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