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About the Story
You are Mike Erlin, captain of the Federation of Sentient Planets starship Excelsior.
12th Place - ParserComp 2022
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Number of Reviews: 3
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With its enthusiastic space-adventure opening crawl, including a prominently-featured “Chapter 4”, The Euripides Enigma makes a fun, friendly first impression. Sure, there’ll be danger and excitement here – it doesn’t take long to realize that we’re in general sci-fi plot #4, AKA an Aliens rip-off – but the helpful introductory text and instructions seem to promise smooth sailing, even if there are a few discordant notes of foreboding (in addition to examining objects “you can also SEARCH and LOOK IN, BEHIND, and BENEATH things”; “there are lots of buttons to press or push in this game”). I pushed fears away upon launching the game, appreciating the nicely-implemented preliminaries of engaging with your squad and making my way into the requisite derelict base’s airlock, and enjoying the endearing way that the producers of this particular movie seemed really focused on saving money (only one marine has a speaking role, and the whole squad is moved off-screen absurdly quickly – guess even paying scale was a stretch – while the alien monsters are invisible most of the time, really easing the CGI budget, and the whole thing could be shot on the cheap on a repurposed Star Trek soundstage).
Then I faceplanted on the first real puzzle, hard. I’m going to spoil it, because if you’re in this game’s target audience, you’d have solved it easily anyway, and if you aren’t, you’d have needed to run to the hints and I’m just saving you some keystrokes. You’re in a small control room, and need to get the power back on, but you quickly realize that there’s a broken on/off switch on the environment control console. Fortunately, exploration reveals that there’s a storeroom right down the hall, with trays of spare parts, so for this nice easy opening puzzle you must just need to poke through the shelves, right? After every combination of EXAMINE, SEARCH, etc. I could think of failed to bear fruit, I took a step back and re-inventoried my surroundings, realizing that there was another console whose functioning on/off switch was conspicuously mentioned. Aha, thought I, all I need to do is abstract this one and plug it into the other console, and we’re off to the races.
But it was not to be, and after another 15 minutes of banging my head against the puzzle, I had recourse to the hints, which told me I had to LOOK UNDER the environment control console – sure enough, there was a compartment there with a spare switch. Happy to be making progress, I was prepared to overlook the fact that nothing in the room or console descriptions prompted this kind of further searching in the slightest. But flipping the switch didn’t accomplish much, because I also needed to fix a second console to restore emergency power to the base. Once again, flailing got me nowhere, though I went to the hints much quicker this time – the answer was to EXAMINE WALL to discover a relay box, again with no prompting indicating there was anything of interest worth looking at there.
At this point the game’s map opened up and I was able to explore the rest of the moon base. Friends, it was chock-a-block with equipment shelves, sofas, chemical stores, bunks, tables, desks, and more, and while I was able to hoover up a few inventory items and get a sense of the game’s ultimate challenges, it was clear I was missing a lot. Regular abuse of the hint function helped me figure out some of these pieces – I had to LOOK BEHIND some cushions on a chair, EXAMINE THE FLOOR in one room to discover that the vending machine could be pulled out, and of course LOOK UNDER one of the bunks in one of the half-dozen identical rooms of living quarters. After about an hour, I was out of hints – they appear to be room-specific, rather than speaking to your overall progress – and when I looked at the walkthrough, it was a solid fifteen pages of zero-context commands, and while those in the back half looked fun, a dispiritingly large proportion of the rest were all about SEARCHing and various flavors of prepositional looking, and realizing that finishing the game was going to mean paging back and forth through the walkthrough to figure out where I was, then just following it puzzle by puzzle, I decided to give up instead.
What looking at the walkthrough made clear is that this use-all-the-verbs-on-all-the-nouns stuff in the first scene isn’t a momentary lapse of player-unfriendliness – this is a positive design ethos, the author having clearly decided that this sci-fi action premise is best served by gating the meat behind a marathon, furniture-centric scavenger hunt. I’ve encountered this kind of approach in several ADRIFT games before (though you see it in other systems too), I think the product of a sub-subculture that largely looks to 80s games outside the Infocom canon and prides themselves on writing text adventures, not interactive fiction – and who hold high difficulty and tedious, mine-sweeping gameplay as virtues, much as S&M people are really into stuff that seems really quite alarming to us vanilla folks. And while EE is undeniably well-crafted, with terse but effective prose, a big but not overwhelming map with major puzzles clearly signposted, and not a bug in sight, it feels very much by, of, and for said sub-subculture.
Of course, we’re talking about different flavors of parser IF, in space-year 2022 – in other words, we’re all into one niche fetish or another round here, so it’s little rich for me to dismiss Euripides Enigma, especially since for all I know the old-school text adventure fanciers could outnumber the people I’m positioning as more mainstream. This is fair! But still, I feel, there are degrees. If, invited back for a night of fun, one’s intended introduces some light tickle play, even if that’s not the thing that gets one’s engine revving, I’d guess that more likely than not one will simply go along for the ride. It’s a different matter where one’s inamorata greets one at the door wearing a leather mask and oiling up a marlinspike – for some, this might be the sum of earthly bliss, and truly, God bless ‘em. But I can’t count myself among their number, and having tried the flogging for an hour and found it not to my taste, hopefully I can be forgiven for skipping out before giving the nipple tenderizer a go.
This is the 14th game by Larry Horsfield, counting all the ones listed in the credits, and is so think the fourth or so I’ve played. For years IFdB’s old recommendation algorithm would suggest Die Feuerfaust to me as the next game to play but I never got around to it.
One thing I’ve learned about his games s that they are written almost like movies. It’s like he sits down and thinks “what would be an awesome scene here? What would be a cool move?” and then fleshes the game around that and adds obfuscation. Not necessarily classical puzzles, in the sense that you use logic to figure out what to do, but obfuscation in the sense that things are hidden behind some layer of searching. For instance, this game has right almost identical rooms called Living Quarters, half of which the game has you leave automatically and the other half of which contain an important item hidden behind some combination of “search”+preposition+room object. I had fun trying this part without the walkthrough and felt proud that I found tons of stuff in the base after an hour or so.
But I had missed several key items and actions (like loosening the straps on the rucksack) and was only 10% of the way through the game. So I typed in the walkthrough and enjoyed the movie, which was actually entertaining.
I think it would be possible to eat this game without hints. For me, playing an hour or so a day, it would probably take a month and need the help of people online who were playing with me. However, I found ore satisfaction in this way of playing. Thanks for the game!
DISCLAIMER: I beta-tested this game and I have a passion for old school games UK style, especially games by Larry Horsfield (found my way back to IF through Axe of Kolt in 2016)
I have come to realize that this kind of game is only for a limited group of parser players. The big emphasis on hidden objects (LOOK UNDER and BEHIND, X WALL etc) is not everyone's cup of tea. It has some advanced puzzles too but this is a significant part of the game.
This is the fourth sci-fi game where you take on the role of Mike Erlin. This time you have to investigate a research base where the crew has gone missing. There is an inventory limit but you will soon find a rucksack so it is hardly a problem. I think the game would be even better without e.g. inventory limits but it doesn't really bother me as you will quickly find the remedy.
I think that the parser is pretty good, though there may be a few bugs/guess-the-verb issues I haven't noticed, which can happen in such a big game.
I think the writing gives a thrilling atmosphere. It isn't world class literature but that isn't the point. After all this is a game that is here to entertain.
Cruelty rating: Cruel
If we take the zarfian cruelty scale literally, I would say that the game is cruel as you can proceed without having found all objects and then you can't get back without those objects so save often (multiple save files). Then it is probably not a big issue but you should be aware that this might happen.
There are a several good puzzles in this one. But you should know that finding objects might be 20% of the puzzles. Besides examine, you must search, look under, behind and move stuff.
This is a game where story and puzzles go very well together so the final product is better than the individual parts. But as mentioned at the top, this game is not everyone's cup of tea as finding objects (LOOK UNDER, BEHIND etc) is a big part of the game.
PS: During ParserComp 2022 a very buggy version was available for online play. Fortunately, these serious bugs have been fixed. Looking forward to a better web player for Adrift - I hope...
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