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1 people found the following review helpful:
Someone please give that man some antihistamines!, September 20, 2021
He's got a bad case of the hay fevers! Can't even look at stuff without his eyes watering.
Yes, the protagonist of Birmingham IV has a chronic eye-disorder. Every single time he examines something: "Predictably, the Phil's eyes water." His other problem is that throughout the game, he is consistently called "The Phil". I have no problem with third person narrative. It establishes a different kind of player-PC relationship that helps define the feel of a game. However, here it sounds more like the protagonist is a rambling braggart with delusions of grandeur narrating his own exploits. (This is probably not the case, but I found it fun to imagine my PC going about his explorations while describing his every move.)
This rambling-about-his-own-exploits protagonist is actually perfectly in line with my biggest gripe about the game: What the FULLGRU am I doing here?!
Apparently The Phil has woken up in a fantasy-dreamland (trolls & dwarves elves & all). He starts wandering around poking everything he comes across and taking whatever he sees. Out of pure curiosity he seeks out puzzles to solve but it is never clear what his goal actually is. Halfway through the game, a proper endgoal crystallizes: clear up the mess he has caused by thoughtlessly (some might say ruthlessly) tackling obstacles for no apparent reason.
The land the Phil is roaming is nicely described. There are (on my map) five distinct regions that all lie along a long E-W road. So that's good for visualizing the geography. Unfortunately, due to an inventory limit and some less-than-practical puzzle layout (1980s oldschool style and all that...) you will travel this road until you can dream it and then some more.
The puzzles you encounter range from "Great!" ((Spoiler - click to show)laying out breadcrumbs for the puddytat...) to "Huh?" ((Spoiler - click to show)lighting the lamp...) to "Jeeves! Get-me-my-walkthrough!" ((Spoiler - click to show)a not-cool-not-clever maze that is only justified because everybody knows that Elves are obnoxious tricksters seeking to confobble people at every turn.)
The writing is good. I really enjoyed the descriptions of the Elven Mound and the Plains by the River. There is a lot of humour in the responses too, and there are tons of unnecessary but funny stuff to try (including dying in many ways) (Oh, that reminds me... About those puzzles: Learn by dying. A lot.)
But despite the funny and overall good writing, the lack of an overarching goal or quest made it all feel a bit too light and unimportant to me.
So: a nice big game, lots of laughs without any (heart)strings attached.
1 people found the following review helpful:
Unsolvable puzzles, March 28, 2021
Birmingham IV is quite polished; nothing wrong with it in terms of basic craft. A couple of things soon rubbed me the wrong way, though, especially the annoying sentence you see after every examining action, and the inventory limit. The “I’ll drop you in the middle of something but won’t tell you who you are or what you are supposed to be doing” school of plotting is also not my favourite. Still, I was willing to persevere.
Then I hit the puzzles. The solution for getting past the guy on the bridge was so far out that I seriously doubt I would ever have arrived at it even if I had found all the necessary objects; but getting one of those objects in fact requires you to go into a direction that is not mentioned in the relevant room description! That bumps the puzzle into the unfair-and-impossible category. The next puzzle is getting past the troll, and here the solution doesn’t even make any sense. Why on earth does a troll go away if (Spoiler - click to show)I give it a portrait of my brother? Having lost all faith in my –- or anyone’s –- ability to solve this game’s puzzles, I decided to abandon it.
4 people found the following review helpful:
Huge old-school IF featuring old-English magick, May 14, 2019
As other reviews have mentioned, Birmingham IV was originally written using the text adventure design system Quill in the late 1980s but then ported to Inform 7 in 2014-16. The current version still retains the feel of a non-Infocom text adventure circa 1989. By way of comparison with some other old-school games in IFComp 2018, Birmingham IV feels more modern than Flowers of Mysteria or Escape from Dinosaur Island but less modern than Bullhockey!.
The setting appears to be the area around Birmingham (England) in the early to mid-1600s: Queen Elizabeth’s face appears on some money you find, and there’s a reference to the Virginia colonies. It’s not clear what the plot is, though. You play as the Phil, a scholar and scientist. Or, as they would say back then, “natural philosopher.” In fact, as you eventually come to realize, “the Phil” is actually a title - “the Philosopher” - not the name of the PC. You can explore your cottage and the surrounding area, and there’s a note from the parson that gives you a couple of long-term goals, but for the most part at the beginning of the game you just wander around solving puzzles. As you keep playing, though, the end-goal eventually becomes clear. Or "end-goals," I should say, since Birmingham IV gives you a choice at the end.
There's also magic in this world. But it's a subtle magic - magic of an old English kind, where elves are tiny and fearful of humans and where ancient skulls and standing stones are infused with power that you can use but never really understand. In terms of how magic is portrayed, there's a pretty clear line running from English folk tales to The Lord of the Rings to early Dungeons & Dragons to the current canonical takes on fantasy races in role-playing games (both computer and paper), as well as many modern works' systematic and almost scientific approach to magic. Even Infocom's Enchanter series takes this systematic approach, and the Harry Potter series does as well. In the latter, magic is something almost mundane: It has been apportioned into school subjects to be learned as a matter of course by children! Birmingham IV, however, is solidly pre-Tolkien: Magic is mysterious, ethereal, and perilous. For me, that was refreshing, and Birmingham IV's consistent take on this constituted much of the game's charm.
Unfortunately, Birmingham IV has some weaknesses, playability-wise, that affected my enjoyment of the game and that will frustrate many modern players. (1) The game does not always tell you which directions you can travel in. It doesn’t take much additional effort on top of drawing a map (if you’re doing that) to figure out which directions are allowed, but it will be a hurdle for modern players. (2) There are a few too many one-way directions near the beginning of the game. (3) You have an inventory limit of five. (4) It is easy to get yourself into an unwinnable state without realizing it. (5) Many of the puzzles are underclued. The puzzles I'm thinking of for which this is the case aren't bad puzzles, but some of their solutions are the kinds of things that you wouldn't come across unless you had the patience to try a bunch of random things that might work. (Fortunately, David Welbourn has published an excellent walkthrough!)
In other words, Birmingham IV is a huge, old-school piece of late 80s IF. If you enjoy that sort of game, then you'll probably enjoy Birmingham IV.
3 people found the following review helpful:
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.
5 people found the following review helpful:
Period Charm, November 23, 2018
It seems an odd thing to say about a computer game, especially one released this year, but Birmingham IV has "period charm". I started playing the game before I knew that it had originally been written in The Quill in 1988, but it immediately reminded me of BBC Micro games of that era.
Birmingham IV shares many tropes with the games of Geoff H. Larsen. It has a rural English setting with standing stones, long barrows and village inns with colourful names. It is peopled with trolls and other folkloric figures.
Unfortunately it also shares many of the faults of games of that period, such as an inventory limit. Room descriptions tend to omit the direction from which the player first approached the location, perhaps assuming that the player had made a map. It is also very easy to make the game unwinnable without realising it.
Nevertheless the Birmingham IV does have charm, and enough that its flaws didn't stop me from wanting to play it. I'm excited that David Welbourn has now produced a walkthrough, and I do hope that there's a post-comp release that's a little less "old school".
3 people found the following review helpful:
A time capsule from the 80's. A sprawling, difficult fantasy game., November 9, 2018
This game was created over a period of 30 years, using a variety of design systems.
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You play a natural philosopher in medieval times, nicknamed Phil. There are a ton of puzzles and a magic system.
However, this game could use some thorough beta testing by six or more people familiar with modern IF conventions. Directions are omitted from room descriptions, puzzles are undervalued, and there's an inventory limit which doesn't really seem to do much in-game.
For people who enjoy struggling with the parser in old school games (I'm in that group, and intend to play this one again!)