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A deep delve into the Ulster Cycle, March 16, 2021
Celtic Carnage (written by Ian Brown as Traveller in Black) is the fourth and last instalment in the Phoenix series. I haven't played the other games, but I understand they all feature a time travelling Traveller in Black who has to perform heroic deeds at different points in history. Or perhaps I should say mythical history, for that is where Celtic Carnage puts us, right in the middle of Irish mythology -- especially, if I judge this correctly, the tales of the Ulster Cycle.
Setting and story are the strong points of Celtic Carnage. Ian Brown has clearly done his research, and the source myths shape every aspect of the game. Indeed one has to pay close attention to details in order to be able to solve the game, since names mentioned only in passing sometimes turn out to be crucial later on. The story, especially in the second half of the game, is structured in a way reminiscent of RPGs, where NPCs give us quests that tells us where to go and what to do there. This gives the story momentum in a way that is harder to achieve in more exploration-driven games. Sometimes I found it hard to follow what was going on; where much fantasy and sci-fi errs on the side of explaining too much, Celtic Carnage explains perhaps too little. Of course this can and perhaps should be seen as an invitation to delve into the Ulster Cycle ourselves and become better acquainted with them.
Although I ran into a few guess-the-command issues here and there (tips: you can 'search' without a noun, and you have to 'mount' the chariot rather than 'enter' it) the game is actually quite forgiving. There are some instant death moments, but they are clearly sign-posted (and 'ramsave' and 'ramload' are your friends). As far as I know it is impossible to bring the game into an unwinnable state, except maybe by missing an item in the castle early on. I ended up using the walkthrough a couple of times, mostly because I wanted to keep playing at a moderate speed, but the puzzles are fair.
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised. (I stumbled on the game during an IFDB Spelunking expedition in which I play ten random games.)