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Birmingham IV - A Review, January 10, 2019
I have just finished struggling with Peter Emery's updated old school puzzlefest Birmingham IV, originally written via the Quill in 1988 and updated for the 2018 competition as a .gblorb file.
If you are a fan of large (109 locations) parser based puzzlefests filled with logic problems and medieval scenery / objects, this game is undoubtedly for you; I am certainly of that ilk. The puzzles are hard but fair, with one or two possible exceptions. (Spoiler - click to show) Using the cat to dispose of characters without getting eaten yourself for instance .
If however, you worship at the Twine altar and dislike inventory limits, exits not fully described, sudden death endings and manifold red herrings you would do well to avoid.
The author's love and deep knowledge of time and place become evident as you uncover much that seems arcane to the modern eye, and more than once I was sent scurrying to Wikipedia to look up the meaning (and hence possible use) of the latest medieval trinket I had unearthed.
You start in modern rainy day Midlands, theses strewn over the floor but quickly slumber into a bucolic medieval setting. Your dingy bedsit has become an austere but spacious cottage reflecting your monastic, didactic choice of life; an existentialist dream maybe.
It is not immediately clear what your mission in life is, and you blunder around a large map collecting objects and meeting mostly antagonistic NPCS; as previously mentioned there is a small inventory limit (a sign of the game's age) which is a pain and means you will have to spend some time hiking backwards and forwards to collect and drop items. This is not helped by the fact that many items are totally useless but you will not become aware of this until the end of the game in most cases.
Mapping is a prerequisite because as mentioned some exits are not described.
Three missives will explain to you your mission and the puzzles generally speaking become harder as the game progresses. A magic system becomes slowly available to you as you explore but be careful where you use it!
One psychaedelic section of the game (you'll know it when you encounter it) is more than vaguely reminiscent of the Phoenix Topologika games, and Jonathan Partington's Acheton game in particular. This section took me ages to hack through but I must say is very cleverly constructed. You'll need your wordsmith's hat on is all I will say.
The game is divided into seven sections and you can only reach the next one after completing the previous one, beware however it is possible to abrogate Graham Nelson's Bill of Rights by making the game unwinnable. An example comes right at the start but should soon become obvious if you've made the wrong choice. Save often.
The writing is on the whole evocative without being unnecessarily prolix, although I did encounter a handful of typos, together with one amusing bug involving (Spoiler - click to show) the cauldron of stew in the Spotted Dog Inn.
And what's this with the watery eyes?
As an adjunct to your moral crusade there are also a number of treasures to collect along the way.
The end game throws up an interesting moral choice between altruism and greed; which road will you take?
All in all a well written puzzlefest for this nostalgic fifty something to enjoy.