Saturday, 22 November 2014

Game 48: Operation Stealth - Magic, Mazes, and Minigames

Written by Joe Pranevich

James Bond's Mission Log #4: I have made some new allies with the local resistance movement and together we stormed the palace of General Manigua. All I can say is that I hope the General had his architect shot after building this place-- it is like a maze! Eventually, I found the General’s office and a hidden safe containing the documents I have been chasing, but I was nearly captured again and had to chase after the documents on jet skis. Naturally, I succeeded and am delivering them to the US government for analysis. Will they reveal the location of the STEALTH plane? Where will I be going next?

Good thing I dropped that pick-axe. I’d hate for the boat to spring a leak.

Where we left off last week, Julia Manigua and I had just survived being thrown overboard a yacht with rocks strapped to our feet. When we finally broke the surface, there was a boat waiting for us. A rescue? Or another fine mess?

Fortunately for both of us, the boat is a rescue! Our rescuer, a man named Tonia, takes us to a rebel base deep within the jungle and explains the situation. Julia is not the General’s wife, but rather his niece. It also appears as if the General himself is a victim as he is trapped in the palace while Otto pulls the strings. Julia and Tonia are leaders in a resistance movement against Otto and hope to restore democracy.

This is crying out for a caption contest. Any takers?

Rather than just hanging out in the jungle and dying of malaria, my hosts have a plan: we will sneak into the palace and take on Otto. Or maybe they are trying to free General Manigua? Honestly, I do not know what they are doing except that I am going to tag along and use them to get into the palace myself. If Otto has the documents, then that is where I need to be. The President (but really Otto?) will be having a performance at the palace and the three of us will disguise ourselves as performers. That should at least get us by security and through the door-- but what then? I guess we’ll play it by ear.

Purple carpets really say “third world dictator” to me.

I suppose Hamlet was beyond the abilities of our resistance movement, because the performance of choice is a magic act. Yes, Toinio-- I mean “Rudolfo”-- is the magician and Julia and I are the lovely assistants. Well, I am lovely and all, but don’t you think the General would recognize his own niece at the performance? And how convenient is it that Tonio also happens to be a professional magician with props and everything? I suppose that could have been his occupation before he became a guerrilla fighter, but it stretches credulity a bit.

We start the performance and Tonio will be doing a disappearing act. Julia and I are each brought on stage to fantastic applause then each of us goes into a large box and disappears. Finally, Tonio makes the whole box disappear. This allows Julia and I to slip into the palace properly undetected-- except Julia is immediately kidnapped and calls out for me to rescue her. Our cover is blown and now not only do I have documents to find, but also a damsel in distress.

Less fun than it looks.

As soon as Julia is hauled away, I find myself in a maze minigame. Each level consists of a sequence of interconnected hallways patrolled by guards. If a guard catches you, you die. Somewhere on the level is a blinking key-- grab it and a stairway to the next level opens up. Adding to the strategy is that a number of walls may be rotated, giving you a momentary respite or trapping guards in a walled-off location. The game is not that difficult, but there are four screens and each get progressively harder. While the winning strategy on the first two levels seems to be to trap as many guards as possible in small areas off the path to the key, the latter two require a lot more timing and luck as not all guards can be so isolated. In addition, moving some walls also can cause other walls to move elsewhere in the maze, opening up or closing other avenues for the guards. I probably died at least twenty times clearing the four levels, but eventually I make it through.

This is the only “adventure” game room of this entire play segment. Try to make it last.

I emerge from the maze into an empty hallway with a large door. There does not appear to be anything else to do than walk through the door, so I do and emerge into a nicely furnished office overlooking the sea. There is a bookshelf, a large desk, some chairs. I search the room and discover that pulling on the statue’s arm opens up a hidden safe in the pedestal. I have been waiting to use my safe cracker since the bank vault!

1-2-3-4… no, that’s not right.

The safe cracking interface is another example of this game being very easy when you know what to do, but very difficult when you have to puzzle through cryptic error messages and poor interface design. The safe has a four-digit combination with arrow buttons to select the next digit and a round button to confirm it and go to the next one or submit the combination. If you get any digits wrong, the safe explodes and game over. When you place the safecracker on the safe, it flashes a set of LEDs as you change the digits in the combination. The combination seems to change every time you reload, so it is difficult at first to figure out what the LEDs mean. My first inclination was to choose digits that had the most LEDs lit, but since the same LEDs flash regardless of what position of digit you are in, that is not helpful. It was not hard to deduce that the LEDs would show the position of the number-- so if the number “1” had the third and fourth LED light up, then the code would be “??11”-- and that turned out to be correct, but after a few explosions I was convinced that solution was “too easy” and looked for another. In fact, I was correct but my problem was the order that you have to do things: after verifying the combination you have to turn off the safecracker, remove it, and then push the round button again. Remove the cracker without turning it off? Boom. Obvious in retrospect, stupidly difficult in the moment. With that little mystery resolved, the safe opens! The envelope that I have been searching for is there, just waiting to be picked up.

You’re not my real father!

I am starting to think that envelope is cursed: I am surrounded by Spyder agents yet again. The next scripted scene is difficult to follow, but someone else comes into the room (the Russians?) and the envelope goes flying out the window and into someone’s (Otto’s?) waiting hands. If someone can explain what just happened, I would appreciate it! I give chase and we both climb down a rope from the balcony down to the beach where a convenient pair of jet skis await. We both jump on board and resume the chase over the water.

See? I just knew there would be a dock with a motor boat. Well, jet skis in this case.

Chasing the spy is done using yet another minigame. My target is just in front of me and I have to maneuver the jet ski to avoid some obstacles-- not sure if they are sharks or rocks. If I last long enough without damaging the jet ski too much, I catch up to the bad guy and take back the envelope.

Is anyone following the plot at this point? Who is this guy?

Once I get the envelope, the second round starts. This time, rather than trying to catch an enemy agent, I am fleeing from enemy agents on their own jet skis. This segment was much more difficult than the first and I only survived because I found that if you park your jet ski in the lower-left corner, only one of the enemies is able to reach you. I keep taking damage, but fortunately not enough to end the game. After some period of time, the chase ends and I arrive at a giant submarine climbing out of the water. It is the Americans! I turn over the envelope to the CIA for analysis and await my next orders.

Ninjas on jet skis? Turtle power!

This week was far more a collection of action minigames than an “adventure” game. We have now had four arcade sequences in a row with only a single adventure-game room to play in and no inventory-based puzzles. I am also confused over which spies were doing what. The safe was clearly Otto’s and I recovered the documents from him, but was that the Russians interjecting? Tonio’s liberation army? And what happened with Julia? I was expecting to rescue her, but it seems that she will remain a captive of Spyder for now. (Unless I missed something, but with only one room to explore, I doubt it.)

Session time: 1 hr 30 mins
Total time: 6 hr 30 mins

Note regarding spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There's a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. Please... try not to spoil any part of the game for me... unless I really obviously need the help... or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've not made any requests for assistance. Thanks!

New Contest - James Bond References & Trivia

As I indicated in my review post, I am not a James Bond expert - but you might be. As I play through the game each week, please post comments with all of the James Bond trivia and references that I am missing for the portion of the game that I have played. At the end of the postings on "Operation Stealth", I will tally up the unique comments and the contributor that finds the most references will receive a "Dr. No" DVD provided by me (or an Amazon gift card equivalent if shipping or region locking is prohibitive.)
Joe Pranevich blogs about random geekiness at and about religion at Coat of Many Colors.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Join the TAG reviewers!

written by “The Adventure Gamer” -reviewers

In case you haven’t been paying attention or are a newcomer to this blog, The Adventure Gamer is a creation of one person, known only by his alias, the Trickster. Things evolved and now it is a group effort, managed by a community of adventure game enthusiasts. The rules are still same, as when Trickster was doing it solo. One of us plays a game and writes posts of his or hers efforts to beat it. No walkthroughs are allowed, but the player can make a Request for Assistance, if the situation looks dire. The game need not be won, but the player must at least play it for six hours, before completely abandoning it.

We work hard day and night...

...and sometimes we have to get out hands dirty...

...but that just makes the rewards seem that much better!

We are always looking for fellow adventuring fans, who would like to join our community of reviewers. Do you see an upcoming game, which you enjoyed as a kid and which you would love to try again? Or would you want to explore titles you’ve never even heard of? Or do you think we’ve missed some classic adventure game you’d like to scoop up and review for us? Or maybe you are interested to do a more general article on some aspect of adventure games? Or are you perhaps not so much into playing and writing, but would consider doing the necessary administrative work for keeping the blog going?

If you answered any of these questions affirmatively, just join our Google Group or send us a message to ; we’ll be happy to take you along in our trip through the adventure gaming history.

Join the TAG reviewers, see the worlds (or graphical simulations of them)!
It’s AFGNCAAP’s life in TAG reviewers!

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Game 46: Countdown – The Plot Thickens!

Written by Aperama

Mason Powers Journal Entry #4: “God, it feels good to be out in proper fresh air again! I'm not counting scaling the side of that cliff, anyhow! The old piece of junk I was in didn't take me very far, but thankfully it got me to a train station, and that's all I really needed. I took the eight hour train from that godforsaken place in Konya, Turkey – and I've ended up back in my old haunts of Istanbul, where the CIA has its Middle Eastern HQ. I'm probably a fugitive in their eyes – but thankfully, nobody knows I'm gone yet! So I've had plenty of time to examine McBain's apartment, and have had plenty of memories shoot back to me. It's all so clear, now – I was waiting for a third agent, Scorpio, to debrief, when that bastard Fontaine shot my Chief down – and then went for me! I was able to jump out, then got hit by the car... ugh. I managed to find McBain's hidden computer... now I have a better idea of what's going on – a terrorist organisation named Black December is hoping to take out a major US landmark, and McBain was close to finding the truth. To cut to the chase, I'm back in my apartment, trying to find all of the evidence I can to first chase down McBain's killer, and then uncover what's behind this whole Black December plot!”

Travel in this game isn't too painful at all. Though I was so hoping to travel by Indiana Jones' red line!

Having found my way out of Sanctuary, I'm glad to say that even though I'm only technically blogging about two or three screens in this instalment, the game has picked up massively. You might notice the timer in the top right of each screenshot – that's been wearing down on my psyche a touch, so I've been trying my best to shave all of the extraneous time spent double clicking on everything that moves through massive save scumming. It's not actually unreasonable to do – and I now have a savegame coming out of Sanctuary that leaves me with only an hour of the ninety-six I've got to complete used up. I'm also quite enthused as my score has gone up quite quickly concurrently – there might be a fair bit more to the game, but I'd say I'll be able to manage my way through without this worry. There are two forms of transport (one which you don't have straight out of Sanctuary, being plane travel) – trains are slower, but cost less. I do like this slight tension created by the game, but don't mind saying that I'm not going to be paying much heed to it for all of the savescumming I plan to continue doing. I'm not letting this one sneak up on me, dammit! (The timer is actually indicative of real playtime, with the exception of travel taking hunks out of your time limit pre-established in the manual.)

“I suddenly remember McBain came from a wealthy family and had a lot of style, but this place is incredible...”

I decided that I should start with McBain's apartment (yes, this is supposedly an apartment!) as I figured I'd probably get more info out of here. Long story short, there are quite a few interactable objects in this place. You can fiddle around with the light switch, you can look at things.. well. Everything in this place seems to be a one-room puzzle, more or less – there's not an amazing amount to it, but I don't like to think of that as necessarily a bad thing. First and foremost, if you're like me, you'll look at the blood or the glass.. which is bad, as you get the same old non-skippable cutscene from the last playthrough from seeing blood. This is, to put it very mildly, annoying. However, if you look at the glass, and you'll get the following text: 'Fragments... the window... shattered glass! It's all so familiar. Now I remember.”

“The assassin who shot McBain turned the gun on me! Someone must have known about the meeting and they were after anybody who was there. McBain was expecting someone else. Was it Scorpio? Or was he the one who fired the shots..”

There's plenty more to do in here, though, but two of them irritated me as I feel like I stumbled upon them almost entirely through the benefit of luck. Well, one being luck, and one being the experience of playing this game telling me to interact with every single object using the first four functions available (USE is only to use an item in your inventory, GOTO just either moves you through or to somewhere, and TALK, TASTE and TRAVEL are all pretty self-explanatory.. I'd be surprised if I even find a use for TASTE.) So, the more obvious is the huge statue standing in the bottom left corner of the screen.

Secret passage? Check!

Actually, I'm not quite right on this account. It's not a secret passage, per se. You move the shield, and the centre of the statue opens to reveal a keyhole! Of course, I'm up to the pixel hunting task here, and I'm thinking it's in the desk, on the bookshelf.. who knows. So I'm clicking around (finding an encoded note on the desk that the game alludes to can be decoded by something in my apartment, a 'travel kit' on the bookshelf that has a false passport and five thousand dollars in various denominations – score, I can take planes now! Even though it's a bit creepy that McBain had a passport that obviously had my picture in it.. well, I won't dwell.) But no, it's none of these. When I moved the bookshelf, I was astonished to not find a key or something similar hidden behind.. but another safe! Yeah, I wasn't so sure of what was really going on.. let's just save the five minutes of screen sweeping for you all and explain this: see those shards of glass over the chair on the right? The top two are glass. The bottom one is a key. If I hadn't clicked on every last thing I could find, and hadn't accidentally swept my mouse over this? Again, likely request for assistance. This game is not awfully fair. But what it lacks in fairness..

It makes up for in explosives. The next line of this also says 'Use Only Under Adult Supervision'. Thanks, Access!

So, after using the largely invisible key in the statue, the fireplace opens to reveal a secret computer! And, more importantly, explosives. Lots of explosives. Five lots of explosives. Before I let my pyromania speak up, though, I'll explain what the computer has to say verbatim - “Possible strike points for Black December's latest terrorist operation 'Thunderbolt': A) Washington D.C./Lincoln Memorial, B)New York/Statue of Liberty, C)South Dakota/Mt. Rushmore”. I've had 'Black December' in my ask about listings for a little while now from the newspaper on the floor in the doctor's office, but it wasn't clear enough for me to fully understand that Black December is the generic terrorist organisation within this game. I presume they get their name from their assassination of Santa. Oh, who am I kidding? There's only so much more of this I can take..

The game literally takes ten in-game seconds for the payoff

Hidden inside the safe is a box filled with a dossier of Iraqi agents working in Israel – it seems a rather bizarre thing to hold onto, but being a secret agent (who has just blown the living poop out of his boss's palatial apartment), I naturally get Mason to snatch up the evidence and run along to his apartment.. 

“My place is plain and practical. Basically, it's a particle board and Elmers glue design.” (And has a photo of my ex-fiancee on the ground. Not creepy at all!)

The first thing anybody in their right mind would notice coming into this room would have to be the annoying as sin squawk that reverberates through one's brain. Yep, that's a bird cage in the corner. And yep, it's a parrot inside. Being a game with no music apart from the opening guitars, it's impossible not to notice when a sound effect suddenly attempts to deafen you. Again, it's time to go rummaging through the room, though. He's got a pile of work sitting on his desk - “Case files on a terrorist group known as Black December. … A handwritten note on the side of the page says, 'Who is Stormbringer'?” Continuing, there's a bird cracker on the table, a battery on top of the TV, a toolbox hidden in the cupboard above the sink (with pliers and wire cutters inside), a key to the bird cage hidden underneath your pillow (why hide a key to a bird cage at all? Ask Mason Powers, international spy of not bothering to wash his clothes for days on end.) But clearly the thing we came in here for was the item to help decode the message left on McBain's desk. It's explained in the manual – you've got a 'Standard Agent Issue Computer Access Device' known as the CAD. (In this instance, it's hidden behind the pot plant on top of the fridge. Mason Powers, ladies and gentlemen. Security is #1 with this guy.)

Aww! (There have already been four Bond references to this point by the game itself, just for clarity)

So, we need to find Mason's password. I actually tried several obvious ones after pulling up the manual section which lists the CAD – it's an in-game puzzle, though. 'Mason', 'Powers', 'Password', 'Company', 'CIA', 'Secret', 'Agent', 'Secretagent'.. no dice. No, Mason has a much more sophisticated design towards hiding his passwords..

Open parrot cage. Give cracker to parrot. Key to desk drawer falls out of parrot's mouth. Why? Not sure.

This may indeed be one of the least coherent puzzles that I've ever seen in an adventure game. Give me Nikstlitslepmur any day over one like this, I say! Still. At least so long as you thought to move the pillow and can as such unlock his foul-mouthed parrot (whom he has taught the phrases 'Drop dead, wimp!' 'Loser!' 'Feed me!' and 'Mason's a butt!' - he clearly has high self confidence), you're pretty likely to put two and two together and realise the cracker is for the parrot. Now, with 'dolphin' to unlock my way into the CIA's files.. I receive an email. Pretty spiffy for 1992! “Mason: McBain was right. There is someone inside the agency working for Black December. I have my suspicions about who it is, but I need time to verify them. I will contact you later. - Hakeem Ababash, 10/1” 

The CAD already has the makings of one of the most interesting parts of this game

The CAD has three functions. It'll tell you if you've received an email when you're at the travel screen or on the first time logging into it, you can ANALYZE objects in your inventory (only a select couple – you can't, for instance, ANALYZE the SCALPAL) – in the above screenshot, there's a picture of analysing the note found in McBain's office, which reveals a new name of 'RACHAL AKURE' to add to our list. It also allows us to RESEARCH the dossiers of the characters who you've unlocked the names of through dialogue. Through this you learn a couple of things – one, that Stephen Lucas, A.K.A. Scorpio, is.. well. That can't be right.

McBain told us to 'GET SCORPIO'. Problem? The game's set in October of 1992.. and he died in January of 1991!

You also learn a little bit about a few of the other characters. Amongst this little repository of knowledge is the meaning behind 'Stormbringer' – it's the notion, largely held by Frank McBain, that there is a mole inside the CIA working for the terrorist organisation Black December. The CAD looks like it only has one set of information to work off of, which is a little bit disappointing, but it's nice to get a few little pictures etc as it comes to these people. Anyhow, I'll end this update here, even though I'm a little bit further ahead – this just seems to be a nice, neutral spot to stop.. so! My new inventory is now ludicrously large..

- Coat hanger
- Mason's wallet
- Scalpal
- Keys (this seems to be call 'regular' keys, given that the game suggests that Mason enters both apartments without forcible entry)
- Grappling hook
- Flashlight
- Boots
- Bag
- Old wine
- Box (I believe I picked this up along with the passport and cash on the bookshelf – it just sorta appeared)
- Box (of the Iraqi agents working in Israel variety)
- Fake passport. Still creeped out.
- Cash ($5903 – gained 5000 in McBain's apartment, but lost 100 on the train to get there.. sweet deal?)
- Four doses of plastic explosives – supposedly lethal within 15 metres. Short of the SCALPAL, this seems like the only way I have to deal with the deadly 'Fontaine'?
- The CAD
- One Ni-Cad rechargeable battery, found on top of Mason's television. Doubtlessly stolen from a remote control.
- Pliers. Handy for.. plying.
- Wire cutters. I'm worried that I'm going to have a bomb diffusing scene a la Police Quest 2..
- Note with hidden message to Rachel

This screen actually makes me feel excited to play this game, finally! I didn't die once during this update!!!

Session Time: 0hr 45min
Total Time: 6hr 0min

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There’s a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game for me...unless I really obviously need the help...or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've not made any requests for assistance. Thanks!

Friday, 14 November 2014

Game 48: Operation Stealth - Just Keep Swimming

Written by Joe Pranevich

James Bond's Mission Log #3: Even master spies have bad days! The documents my contact had sent me to retrieve were a trap: I was captured and sentenced to an unnecessarily slow death in a collapsed mine shaft. Fortunately, I was able to break out and swim to safety. While investigating the local resort hotel, I was captured by a different group of thugs and taken out to sea. This time, the death was swifter: being thrown overload tied to a rock. Because I am a master spy, I escaped from that too (all while rescuing a beautiful woman)-- but I have had quite enough swimming for one day.

Spies have great handwriting!

In my previous post, my contact in Santa Paragua had been shot before my eyes and I barely escaped being captured by the local paramilitary thugs. All was not lost however as he had given me a key and a number, probably for a safe deposit box at the local bank. That sounds like a good next step.

In the bank, I show the card to the teller and he is kind enough to open the underground vault for me. The safe deposit boxes are numbered and it is easy to find the right one and open it. But rather than the documents that I was looking for, I find a briefcase. Not just any briefcase, but one identical to my own: it must belong to another spy. I file that thought away as something to check up on later, then open the case and its secret compartment. Inside the compartment is a “small box” which I recognize as being part of the safe-cracking kit from the manual. (The manual also mentions special cigarettes and I suspect that I will stumble on them in time-- if I haven’t missed something along the way.) At the very bottom of the case is an envelope. Is that the documents that my contact asked me to find? I am not sure because even before I could touch it, I found myself surrounded!

Wait? Aren’t you dead?

Well, that is unexpected: my contact that had just been shot before my eyes wasn’t dead after all! Or rather, my real contact was dead and that meet-up had been a charade to get me into the vault to open the secret compartment in the briefcase. The manual says that each case is boobytrapped, so having me open it must have been the safest approach. The Russians, led by this Colonel Karpov, have the documents now-- and I still do not know what secrets they contained.

In the game of spy vs. spy, there is only one rule: don’t kill your opponent without subjecting him to an overly complicated death trap and walking away. Colonel Karpov and his lovely assistant Comrade Ostrovich, tied me up and dumped me in an abandoned mine shaft before blowing up the entrance. If I do not suffocate, I’ll eventually starve. What a death for such a handsome spy!

Don’t forget the James Bond trivia contest!

I take stock of the environment. The tunnel is short with the collapsed section just ahead. The support beams holding this section seem to be doing their jobs, so I am not going to die of a cave-in quite yet. John is tied with ropes and sitting on the ground near the end of the tunnel. I sift through my inventory, but there are no obvious choices. The spy-pen I am carrying is supposed to be able to melt through metal, but it must not have a setting for “rope”. I search the screen for pixels to click on and there is a spot labeled “ground” right behind me. I “examine” then “operate” the ground to clear away some rocks. Voila! A bit of sharp metal appears. Thank goodness for plot-necessity because if I had been sitting just a few inches in any direction, I never would have found it. I use the metal to cut the rope and feel my way around the cave. I cannot dig my way out through the cave in, so I explore the back. There is some air flowing near the rear, suggesting a possible exit-- but I have no way to go. If only I had a shovel! I head back to that piece of metal and “operate” it again and see that it is a pick-axe. What did I say earlier about plot-necessity? Using the pick-axe is tricky as “using” it with the walls and beams has no effect-- but if I just “operate” it then John swings it Donkey Kong-style at whatever is just to his right. I do that in a bunch of random places near where I feel the air and a hole opens up. Freedom at last!

The hole leads to a submerged shaft and I find myself swimming. The regular controls do not work, it is more of an arcade-style minigame. The object appears to be to swim through the flooded tunnel without running out of oxygen. I can click where I want John to swim to and I have to make it from air pocket to air pocket before my breath runs out. The activity is not difficult, but each of the three screens gets harder and the real challenge is more the interface than anything else. If you could control John with arrow-keys instead of clicks, he’d get stuck a lot less and there would be fewer pointless deaths.

For the record, I did not know anything about this when I made the Ninja Turtles joke last week.

I counted fourteen reloads before I was able to make it back out into the open air. Eventually, I resurface by the florist shop, climbing those stairs which I had hoped would lead to a motor boat. Oh well, that dream is dashed but at least I survived.

Back in the open air, I take stock: most of my inventory is gone. I noticed in the cave, but there was not really time to think about it. But now I am back in the city with no money, no passport, and no spy briefcase. Even most of my collected incidentals are gone including the newspaper and telegram. On the bright side, my spy watch and spy pen are safely with me, as is my carnation, and safe cracking device. The carnation I understand: they wanted me to die handsome. But why would they leave me with the safe cracker? I have no idea. And of course I also have the pick-axe which I just picked up. Not having anything else to do, I resolve to re-explore all the screens to find anything that changed.

Is this supposed to be the guy sleeping by the bank? Or does everyone have these snazzy hats?

I find no changes in the garden, palace, or bank-- but now there is a man selling swimmers’ bracelets on the beach. They sound quite handy: they inflate with air if you need a floatation device while out on the water. They are “only” 20 cruserous, but that does not help me any. I barter him down to 18, but that is still 18 more then I have. Should I have bought one before my last swimming adventure? I restore back to just before the safe deposit vault just to check, but he is not on the beach yet. I guess this is a new problem for me to solve. At least I did not make the swimming minigame more difficult than it was supposed to be!

My reputation precedes me. Otherwise I’d be late for all my appointments. 

The hotel is the last screen to re-explore and circumstances have changed there as well. The bellhop seems to recognize me now instead of just informing me that there were no vacancies. Inside, the receptionist greets me and lets me know that my luggage has been taken up to “my” suite. I hope this is the rest of my spy stuff arriving! We have a good track record so far of gadgets arriving in luggage. Unfortunately, the receptionist does not tell me which room is mine and I am too crippled by a bad user-interface to ask him, so I will have to search the hotel again floor-by-floor. I start this time on the top floor, but cannot exit the elevator: a cleaning woman is blocking the way. I suspect that a master spy-ninja-chemist should be able to say “excuse me” in Spanish, but John Glames apparently does not speak any Spanish.

“Permiso, por favore.” Sorry, I don’t speak Spanish either.

Well, this puzzle is easy: I take the elevator down to the second floor and take the stairs up to the third. I was half-expecting something to happen on the stairs, some reason why the game needs you to go up that way, but nothing. I must just be the suspicious type.

I try each of the doors on the third floor one by one-- should the receptionist have given me a key?-- but the last one is unlocked. I head in, but my dreams of new spy equipment in my luggage is dashed immediately. There is a woman in “my” room, threatening me with a gun. Her dialog is a bit difficult to follow, but she claims to be Mrs. Manigua (the General’s wife?) and informs me that my crimes will not go unpunished. Frankly, I am not sure which crimes she is speaking of since I do have a “License to Kill” and all, but before she can clarify another well-dressed man and a group of paramilitaries storm the room and take us hostage. That is twice today.

I thought they said this was a suite? I want a refund

These guys do not follow the spy code for elaborate death traps. (Or perhaps the mine shaft they had intended to use had suffered an unexpected cave-in.) They take the woman and I out on a boat into ocean. Listening into their conversation-- good thing it wasn’t in Spanish-- I learn that the woman’s full name is Julia Manigua and she is a freedom fighter, apparently against General Manigua. Are they husband and wife? I am not sure, but that would make for some awkward dinner conversations. The well-dressed man is Otto. Mousing over the men on the boat tells me that they are “Spyder” agents, so I assume he is as well. He seems to think that I am a Russian spy, or at least suspects that I might be working with them-- so he does not know about my adventure earlier in the day. However, he does reveal that he has managed to recover the documents from them. I am a bit confused on the various groups all vying for the same secrets except that all of them enjoy kidnapping me.

Fish are friends, not food.

Once the exposition is over, Julia and I are tied up, strapped to some heavy rocks, and thrown into the ocean. We descend rapidly past three screens of blue ocean before coming to rest at the bottom. The oxygen bar appears and starts counting down so there is no time to lose. How am I going to get out of this one? I check my inventory and my pick-axe is gone. Well, not like they would have let me do that trick twice. I click around the screen and the only things to act on are “John” and “Girl”. Apparently the interface cannot be bothered to remember that I was just told her name thirty seconds ago. I struggle and click on things, but before I make any headway my oxygen runs out and we both die.

I replay the death scene a few more times, but there does not appear to be anything that I can do. I even try crazy item combinations, but no dice. The solution must involve those water bracelets that I was unable to buy earlier. There must be a way to have enough money to buy them. I restore all the way back to before I entered the bank vault and exchange some more money with the teller first. That gives me “change” and maybe the Russians cannot be bothered to steal my pocket change. I replay the whole sequence of the vault, the cave-in, and swimming to safety over again and check-- YES! I have some coins. I use them to buy the swim bracelets then head back to getting captured in the hotel and getting thrown overboard. When Julia and I make it to the bottom, I press the button on the bracelets expecting salvation and… nothing happens. Worse, nothing happens with a stupid error message. Damn. I restore again.

I’m drowning, I have a rescue bracelet that I am trying to use, and you do not see the point? Aargh!

My first guess is that I need to use the bracelets earlier. Surely, the spies would notice if John Glames, master spy and red corsage-wearer, was also sporting a pair of water wings? I restore back to the hotel and push the button there, but that does not work either. I wait until we are on the boat and this time I notice that there is a brief period while Julia and Otto are talking that I can use items. I “operate” the bracelets and they make a whistling sound. That is a promising start. I get thrown overboard again and this time when I get to the bottom and “operate” the bracelets again, they “deflate” and the ropes loosen enough that I can get them off. I am not sure of the mechanics of all of this-- did my captors really not notice that I was wearing water wings?-- but since I am closer to not drowning, I can’t really complain. I expected that the bracelets would jet me to the surface, but that does not seem to be the case. I swim over to Julia, untie her ropes, and the two of us swim to safety.

Except we run out of air before we get to the surface and die.

I restore and try again. I find that I can operate the bracelets in the water before descending all the way to the ocean floor, giving me a couple more seconds to get to Julia and untie her. We repeat the process and swim to the surface, but freedom is again too far away and we drown before we get there. Did I miss another item? Is there more to do with the bracelets? I try again and again and it is slow going. Each time I have to watch a cinematic of our rock-laden bodies falling to the bottom of the sea. Each time, I use the bracelets and rescue Julia only to have to watch us slowly swim up three screens and die just before the tip. It is quite frustrating.

I won’t tell you that I found a strategy, but after doing the same routine over and over again, I eventually got lucky and was able to untie Julia in the first possible moment and just make it to the surface as our breath was running out.

John looks so casual after drowning almost two dozen times.

After we break the surface, there is a lifeboat there to rescue us. Friend or foe, I am not sure yet-- but it has to be better than drowning. As a wet and bedraggled John Glames climbs into the life raft, I am ending this play session. Thus far, I am not finding the puzzles particularly hard, but these arcade/timed sequences are a real pain.

Session time: 2 hr
Total time: 5 hr

Note regarding spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There's a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. Please... try not to spoil any part of the game for me... unless I really obviously need the help... or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've not made any requests for assistance. Thanks!

New Contest - James Bond References & Trivia

As I indicated in my review post, I am not a James Bond expert-- but you might be. As I play through the game each week, please post comments with all of the James Bond trivia and references that I am missing for the portion of the game that I have played. At the end of the postings on “Operation Stealth”, I will tally up the unique comments and the contributor that finds the most references will receive a “Dr. No” DVD provided by me (or an Amazon gift card equivalent if shipping or region locking is prohibitive.)

Joe Pranevich blogs about random geekiness at and about religion at Coat of Many Colors.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Game 46: Countdown – A-Mazeing!

Written by Aperama

Mason Powers, Journal Entry #3“Ooh, boy! This is not exactly what I call a holiday. The catacombs left here by the monks isn't quite the spookiest place, but I can sure see why nobody really knows about it – you could get lost here for days without even trying! Still, after quite a bit of trial and error, I managed to make my way past untended moss, stagnant water and lots of creepy sarcophagi to run into Barney Sacnussen! Eerily, it looks a lot like he was killed and then dragged somewhere – but I didn't have time to stop and examine him. I've gotta get out of here! Quickly, I managed to work out that there was a hidden escape tunnel accessed by pushing in some fake wine bottles, climbed up a cliff using my patented ACME™ Mountaineering gear.. and I think I've found Dr. Hashish's car! Thank god, time to get out of here and clear my name!”

Obligatory maze section? Check!

At the age of around seven or eight, my brother and I received a pirated copy of Captain Comic 2. This was in the days before wide-spread Internet, given out by someone through a bulletin board system – and whilst illicit, it was fun enough. However, when you get around about two thirds of the way through the game, you receive a fake screen informing you that you 'haven't gotten all of the items you need to finish the game'. This sends you back on a wild goose chase – it's actually copy protection, as any game not installed from the original diskette would give you this screen. We even got a small 'help me!' article printed in one of the major newspapers at the time, desperately seeking aid. (We got none until the days of the Internet and into our twenties.) I found this to be a fantastic idea, and was greatly appreciative of the game until I learned of its treachery – but I digress I'm glad to say that Countdown appears to give this consideration also, trying its best not to dead end yourself – which just about drove me wild during this gameplay post. But I digress. We were last about to head into the basement..

This game knows how to make me agree with it, I will admit!

Inside the (furnace) room, there are only a few interactible objects – a few piles of coal, a furnace which burns your hand every time you try to use it and a phone box. I presumed that I wanted the wires out of the phone box, and used the scissors – but instead just mangled them, destroying the scissors in the process. Presuming this was the intended idea (don't let them call out that you've disappeared!), I went on to try to use the crowbar on the completely obvious hole in the wall.. to no avail. Stumped, I was about ready to call an early post – but after moving things like crazy, discovered a pick hidden in the larger pile of coal! I was extremely relieved to find a pickaxe inside, which lead me into the 'catacombs' (the aforementioned obligatory maze section.)

The only thing of note that happens in the maze – it's literally a time killer

I could tell you about the fifteen minutes I spent trying to eat the moss, open the sarcophagi and exploring the maze – but there's simply nothing in there to note. There's one large hole which I saved before trying to walk into, figuring it to perhaps be the way out – as the above screenshot implies.. I was more than a touch wrong. After mapping out the entire maze (only a few screen's worth, which would fly by if not for Mason's ridiculously slow walkspeed) I found what was literally the only interactible object.. a doorway, which I entered.

..'letters, “B.S.” Poor Barney!
I'd love to know why it looks like he was shot and dragged given the blood in the bottom left
 – but maybe I'll find that out later!

The wine cellar is, as you can all probably guess, something of a front. I opened one of the crates (grabbing a free bottle of wine but losing my crowbar – not exactly the best deal in the world!), a water-covered rag (used for polishing off one of the plaques on the wall – it disappears as you use it) and soon learn that the monks who used this place were bad poets in their spare time. And I quote: 'Since we founded this place so close to the sea(,) we've needed a way to escape quickly. Four bottles of wine moved in order by thee opens a passage which sets you free.' I read this as 'it's a secret escape route, doofus', and continued to search – the box next to the wine casks hides a plaque that reads 'Monastery founded MCDXXXIII'. Or, to put it another way, '1433'. Simple enough puzzles like this are quite the relief to receive, as they do make you feel like you're on the right track..

It's the simple things in life..
“No! No!”

“Get.. Scorpio..”

Looking at Barney's corpse – or any blood, including in the top floor locker room, will give you this little cutscene – another dark blue swirl of text explaining that it's all Mason's memories slowly flooding back to him with little trigger images. While there are lots of things that Countdown does undeniably wrong, this is something it really has going for it – these quick little digitized cutscenes are a great break in the action, and actually create a great aura about the game which makes you want to go forth and find more to keep you coming. The notion of the game being a 'movie which you are the lead character in' is really strong when you get these – and the text blocks contextualise them well, showing Mason's thought patterns throughout.

You get a closeup of Mason's eyes and a little text blurb before and after each cutscene. It's a little, but really strong part to wanting to learn more about what's actually happening in Countdown

Going through the secret exit, you're led out to a cave that leads out into a puddle of water.. and the back of a cliff face. Evidently, the Sanctuary is built onto the back of a mountain or something similar – and here is where the game punished me. You see, while I went crazy looking for things, I tended to ignore the top floor, as it's a largely difficult area to find your way through, with two guards severely limiting your access. So I brushed through it once, found several things, and figured I'd found all I needed.. until here.

Oh? Um. How about a canvas bag? Can I use a canvas bag? No? No, you're sure? Right..

Here is where the pain really started. I was almost sure that there wouldn't be too difficult a slog back through. I'd intentionally left saves at critical points – in this instance, I made sure to have a game save as of just before exploring the catacombs, as I was certain that it'd come back to haunt me if I didn't have a way back. So, I re-explored first the beginning floor (the painting in Barney's room states that he is a 'spelunker', which immediately made me think that he must be hiding some mountaineering gear somewhere in his room) then double checked the doctor's office.. and finally, bit the bullet and went back to the top floor that is quite difficult to maneuver through. Then.. this happened.

What is this? The freaking Wile E. Coyote school of adventuring?

Sure enough, the room with the crowbar had a box in the top left that I mistook for being just another 'medical supplies' item (there are six other boxes, some that look similar, which all gave me a 'don't bother' styled text.) It required me to use the crowbar, but didn't use it up – I wonder if you could dead end yourself here by getting the wine first down in the catacombs as I would have done? Anyhow. There was a grappling hook inside the box – which I thankfully realised wouldn't be enough to climb the mountain. If there's a box of mountaineering supplies in a hospital, it stands to reason that Barney must have some clothes etc – so I went back into the locker room across the hall from the supply room. Sure enough, after moving a towel (the two on the wall give default messages, but the one on the bench moves to grant you a key..)

How. Convenient.

So, I trekked my way back around the place. It was all going good. I saw the post that had me leaving Sanctuary already coming to mind – the zone was found, the cliff was scaled! Sure enough, the boots were used, then the grappling hook got me over the cliff face. This led me to the front of Sanctuary, and two cars – one of which was an old 1940s rustbucket, and another which was a seemingly functioning 1983 blue Ford Thunderbird, which I was already sure I had the keys to! First, I looked at the thing, though, which sent Mason into another bout of memory..

Mason gets thrown out of a window, hit by a car,
and then hovered over by either a ghost or a member of the Ku Klux Klan

So, naturally, I read the little text blurb about what happens, followed by him supposedly blacking out in the street – evidently, the way he managed to get dragged off to Sanctuary? And then, just to make sure that all was ready, I tried the keys in the ignition, and was given an inspiring little text quote! “Escaped at last! I've got to get a grip on the steering wheel and what's going on here. They say I murdered Frank McBain. Am I that kind of guy? I don't believe I did – but that whole night is a fog. Nothing at all except weird flashes. Maybe those are just remants of Sanctuary food. I could go back to my apartment and look around, or waltz through McBain's home to gather clues..

Insert rage here

As I alluded to in the start of this post, the game wouldn't let me leave Sanctuary without a key thing – the name of my attacker. Having figured it to be Jack Quinn, I thought I'd already summoned all of the information that I needed from Dr. Hashish – but the game not only told me that I couldn't leave without it, but exactly what I'd missed! I'd already spent quite a bit of 'doubling back' time, so I figured maybe it was the name I'd received through the cutscene, 'Scorpio'. I went back to Dr. Hashish – no answer. I then tried Leonard again – similarly, nothing. About ready to throw my keyboard at the wall and request assistance, I took half a breath – and then noticed something that the manual had pointed out earlier which I hadn't quite grasped until that very moment. It suggests in the opening few lines that you should try multiple combinations of the 'HELP', 'HASSLE', 'PLEASANT' and “BLUFF' tactics – just flicking through them in a line doesn't actually give you all of the conversation options. Ironically, it was talking to Leonard (uselessly) which gave me this inkling – I managed to piss him off by pretending to be a security guard and wanting information through 'hassle' and then trying to make it up to him with 'pleasant', which gave him a new line of text which I hadn't received before then! As such, I started pleasantly, getting to the point where I confusedly told of my tripping out in seeing the doctor over my head in the first cutscene of the game, and then went to 'hassle' mode..

I only had myself to blame for not understanding the engine correctly! 'Fontaine!'
Finally I get to properly threaten with my SCAL-PAL!

And now, I get to make my getaway..

Apologies for the length of that post – but I really wanted to make my way out of Sanctuary before the end of it. Now, for my little bit of spice – the item listings...
A coat hanger.
Mason's wallet.
Car keys (soon to be used in a sweet, beaten up '83 Ford Thunderbird)
A grappling hook
A flashlight
Mountaineering boots of convenient size
A canvas bag
An extremely old bottle of wine that I sincerely doubt is going to be tasty
$2003 in cash.

Session Time: 1hr 45min
Total Time: 5hr 15min

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There’s a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game for me...unless I really obviously need the help...or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've not made any requests for assistance. Thanks!