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A tale about growing up... with zombies, February 4, 2009
Duffy, the protagonist of Necrotic Drift, is a loser of epic proportions. He's 28 years old and working in an RPG and card game shop for about $5.50 an hour while living with three roommates in a roach motel of an apartment. His biggest accomplishment in life so far has been winning an award at a Dungeons and Dragons convention five years ago. Stuck in perpetual adolescence as he is, his life is going absolutely nowhere. He has just three positives to look to: he's NOT living with his mom; two of his three roommates actually manage to make him look good by comparison; and he has a girlfriend, Audrey, who is by any objective standard far too good for him. Positive #3 may not stand for very much longer, though, because Audrey is just about to finally run out of patience with him.
After some character-building, Necrotic Drift kicks in for real when Duffy, Audrey, and a few others are trapped inside the mall one evening by an array of undead pulled straight from the Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual. Duffy, who knows the D&D rules by heart, at last can apply all this previously useless knowledge to saving his friends, and perhaps begin to repair his pathetic existence in the process.
Necrotic Drift is a Robb Sherwin game. That means plenty of gross-out frat-boy humor, a bewildering blizzard of gaming, sports, and pop culture references, and a general wallowing in American suburban mall culture. Luckily, that also means plenty of genuine wit, some surprising character insights, and some real soul underneath all the gags. Certainly some of the jokes are going to resonate more with some than with others. If you grew up nerd in the 1980's, you'll likely find a lot of this -- such as the just-mentioned fact that all of undead in the mall are just D&D Monster Manual entries brought to life, strengths and weaknesses intact -- funnier than others might. Of course, and for better or for worse, a pretty good chunk of us playing IF today are indeed aging 1980s nerds.
Couched within all of the gags and puzzles is the real heart of the game, which is Duffy's relationship with Audrey and his need to grow the hell up. I wouldn't say it's amazing storytelling -- some of Mr. Sherwin's attempts at earnestness, particularly in dialog, are downright clunky, and there's a curiously unresolved feeling to the whole thing in the end -- but the game manages to be touching in spite of it all.
Did I mention this was a Robb Sherwin game? Well, that always means a nice collection of bugs and other technical flaws. Certainly they're not as bad here as in some of his other efforts, but they're noticeable enough nonetheless. The menu-based conversation system broke on me toward the end of the game, offering totally inappropriate remarks applying to stuff I'd done ages ago. There's also piles of unimplemented scenery, and not enough attention has been paid to the parser, leading to occasional frustrations. Many perfectly reasonable actions were left completely unprovided-for. (Spoiler - click to show)When I was looking for a virgin to drink the holy water for the ritual at the end of the game, I wanted to call on Trett, my fellow employee at the game store. I would have bet money that guy had never had sex. But then in the epilogue we learn that the plump little fellow not only had sex but filmed it (ewww...), so what do I know?
Still, and like much of Mr. Sherwin's work, Necrotic Drift is somehow endearingly more than the sum of its parts. Oh, and the graphics and music are pretty cool too, as is the Magnetic Scrolls homage of the game's on-screen presentation and accompanying manual. (There's that 1980s nerd culture again...)