by FerretAuthors@jugglingsoot.com

Post-apocalypse, near real world

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Ferret - A Forty Year Journey Through The History Of Text Adventures, March 29, 2023
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Related reviews: Science Fiction, Apocalypse, Enormous, DOS

Ferret is in some ways a unique game in the fifty-odd year history of the text adventure; in others it is decidedly old fashioned.

The background story is that you, Brian O. Darkins, have awakened from a cryogenic coma in which you were placed at your relatives' request in the hope that the fatal virus from which you were suffering could be cured in some future age. You awake you know not where, nor why.

Created by a group of anonymous authors on an obscure 16-bit minicomputer back in the days just before the micro revolution it seems to have started out as an attempt (as so many games of its time were) to trump the early markers in the genre, namely Advent and Zork. Indeed, the first eight phases of this enormous game follow a familiar path to the games of the time. The science fiction narrative is definitely playing second fiddle to the puzzles. The puzzles themselves tend to be very hard, and must have been nigh on impossible in the days before Google. Chess end games, degree level mathematical posers and sundry mazes meld with clever logistical problems.

Another unique feature of the game is the number of red herrings scattered about. Only much trial and error will reveal which items are needed and which superfluous. On the other hand there are several bottlenecks in the game where one can carry almost nothing onwards and these do act as a useful filter. At least you know you have left nothing vital behind at these locations.

The different writing styles and types of puzzle are clear as you travel through these early parts of the game.

One can hear the evolutionary tick of the modern IF era clock from Phase Nine onwards as the post acocalyptic Cold War story really kicks in and the narrative swells.

One way travel from here to Phase Sixteen is via an old train locomotive which chugs through the once affluent parts of SE England; English players will no doubt recognise the pleasant, leafy names of Sunningdale, Virginia Water, Epsom etc. These examples are cleverly juxtaposed with the contemporary apocalyptic wasteland that has transformed expensive Surrey, Kent and Berkshire postal addresses from all to die for des res locales into a monochrome desolation. In a similar vein all the NPCs you meet (and there are very few) are not alive. A silent automaton provides your only temporary companion and the only voices you will hear are mechanised ones from long dead sources and emanating from damaged machines.

Like Shelley's Ozymandius: "Nothing beside remains."

Every piece of equipment encountered, every window view is of a broken, anti-holistic world. We are indeed a far cry now from the early IF landscape. For caves, trolls and scrolls we have blasted buildings with their curtain walls jaggedly exposed, piles of mangled dead bodies and torn and slimy papers and documents.

To somewhat counterbalance the rather desolate mood of the game there is an homage to English comedic culture viz. The Goon Show and another phase is based around a cult science fiction TV series from the late seventies, namely Blake's Seven.

An odd feature of the game is that certain information to solve a problem in, say, Phase Ten will be discovered in Phase Fourteen, and sometimes these revelations entail visiting no exit locations. As a consequence of this need for backtracking it is a prerequisite to keep manifold saved games handy. You can also make use of command files where you can build a rerun of a section of the game by loading a file of preconfigured text. Other useful commands include "Notify" which informs you of each increase in your score and also "Test" which will run a cycle of various verbs on selected objects.

I found the multi word parser to be a very good one and recent updates to the current version at the time of writing to 10.3 have included the ability to chain multiple commands by using commas. There is also a lot of ASCII art contained in the game which fleshes out the various pieces of equipment and modes of transport that one encounters. In this respect it is very similar to another large mainframe game, Warp.

I had a constant dialogue with the authors which enabled me to send them details of any bugs (not many) and also to receive hints which were more than necessary in certain places. Indeed the story goes on as they are currently beavering (ferreting?) away at Phase Seventeen at the moment.

I thoroughly enjoyed my six months or so playing the game and look forward to future updates.

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