by Dave Lebling


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Caught in the Machinery, June 1, 2023
by Drew Cook (Acadiana, USA)

Suspect is the third and last of what I consider Infocom's "quantum detective" games. "Quantum," because the game world is in an indeterminate state. There are events and people moving and acting on a schedule, and it is not possible to know what is happening in a specific location at a given time without going there. While there, the player cannot know what is happening everywhere else. While we are with Colonel Mustard in the Conservatory, we may not know where Miss Scarlet is.

The first of those "quantum" games was Deadline. It was technically innovative and was, narratively, a satisfying locked door mystery. However, the nature of the indeterminate map made for a very complex geography, with time as an added dimension. Author Marc Blank mitigated these complexities with a reasonably-sized map and only a handful of suspects.

Even with these concessions, Deadline is considered hard-as-nails, and I can't imagine anyone saying, "I'd like another Deadline, only with more people, more traffic, and even a few more rooms." I've always assumed that Lebling fell in love with solving the technical problems posed by Suspect, ultimately losing sight of what might or might not constitute an enjoyable game experience. Those of us with interest in programming or even writing in general can probably relate. To Lebling's credit, Suspect is very impressive technically. I would say that, at the close of 1984, it was Infocom's most impressive technical achievement, unseating the previous, 18-month titleholder, Suspended.

In Suspect, the protagonist is, in fact, the primary suspect of a murder committed at a high society Halloween Ball. There are fun period details: a band plays "Karma Chameleon." The costumes are a nice touch and serve the greater purposes of gameplay and atmosphere.

Unfortunately, the complexity of the case will probably discourage many players. Several Infocom fans (myself included) name Suspect as one of the rare games that we either quit or else made an early beeline for hints. I personally could forgive this, but I can't look past the ommision of one of Deadline's defining charms: few of the characters have much, if anything, to say. While Deadline was incredibly generous with text responses, Suspect, having hit its 128K ceiling, is downright miserly. Sometimes, a character really ought to have a response to this or that thing, but all we get is a stock answer. It's jarring and frustrating. This happens, rather hilariously, with regard to the details of the murder, which really ought to be on everyone's mind.

There is presently only one review (besides mine) of this game here at IFDB, which I interpret as a lack of both contemporary interest and sentimental attachment. I personally cannot recommend it to anyone who does not have some sort of historical interest in either Infocom or the mystery genre. Still, technical competence or even brilliance is a redeeming factor. For this, I almost rated Suspect three stars, but it doesn't quite get there.

In just under a year, the best game of Lebling's career (and one of Infocom's best), Spellbreaker, would make for an incredible comeback story.

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