Puzzles and Solvability
What a place to start! When I look back over my screenshots, it becomes clear that there are only really two sections of the game where traditional adventure style puzzles come to the fore (I guess the ship maintenance sections should count too), and they’re at the beginning and the end. In both cases, there are serious flaws with the puzzle design! The game lets you move on, despite having missed vital information and items, and gives no warning at all that this might be the case at the time, or even later when said information and items are required. More critically though, the parser system in Codename: ICEMAN is simply unacceptable. There were numerous times throughout the game that I was put off the correct scent by the parser not accepting my very Sierra safe commands. I tried to sit with Stacy when I first met her. I tried to get the duct tape off the fridge when I first saw it. I tried entering the coordinates into the diver when I first picked it up. I wasn't able to do any of these things. That’s not cool and I have to punish the game for it.
I'm still angry about the duct tape.
However, I haven’t discussed the rest of the game, which is really just one mini-game after another. Controlling the submarine involves referring to the complicated manual instructions time and time again, and just when you get the hang of things, the game asks you to do something else that you have absolutely no clue how to do. It was like a test of endurance for me, with hours wasted figuring out what button did what, which person knows what, and what command I might need to type. I really didn’t enjoy it. Then there’s the dice game! It’s tough enough having to win games of dice that involve a fair amount of luck, but the game forces you to win an obscene amount of games, and then doesn’t allow the player to save and restore more than three times throughout. They may have wanted to make it a little more realistic by making the player feel the pressure, but it got repetitive and boring very quickly. I haven’t even discussed the diving or driving scenes, which are both confusingly handled. In the end, most puzzles (and therefore solutions) only become apparent when a game over message pops up on your screen, which is just not good game design.
What did I do wrong this time! Oh come on!!!
Interface and Inventory
Codename: ICEMAN is certainly an ambitious game. It tried to do something completely unique, and the designers had to implement a whole range of keyboard and mouse control systems to make it work. While it seemed very clunky at first, controlling the ship was actually not too bad, particularly once I learnt which actions were better handled by keyboard or by mouse. Unfortunately, the addition of visual diagonal movement (the game was the first to do this) made moving Johnny around the ship harder than it would have been otherwise. It made no difference whether I used the mouse or the keyboard, Johnny would randomly walk diagonally when I was trying to go vertically. I guess I can partially forgive this flaw though, since the game also allows direct movement commands. Manually walking across a room and then lining Johnny up with the bottom of a ladder was not easily done, but it was once I figured out I could just type “climb ladder” from anywhere, and he would do the rest.
You'd think getting from here to the bottom of the stairs would be easy wouldn't you.
The inventory system is adequate, and I was glad to see that the designers didn’t choose to use the horrible text based system that appeared in Police Quest 2. Since there is no better place to talk about it, I have to mention in this category that Codename: ICEMAN is filled with bugs. Quite a few times I was unable to view my inventory, instead receiving a message saying “Sorry, not enough memory”. There were a couple of times where commands I typed brought back information from something that wouldn’t occur until much later in the game, such as when I was being told about the Captain’s injuries before he’d even taken a fall. I even had at least two occasions where mini-games screwed up on me and certain triggered events never occurred. All of these bugs led to masses of confusion, and in a game which would have been difficult already, they made it almost unbearable to play. I’ve already fired some shots at the parser, but this is technically the right place to do it. I will just reiterate that its limitations are unacceptable for a text driven adventure game, and move on.
What head injury? Sorry, who did you sedate?
Story and Settings
Codename: ICEMAN is one of those games where on paper the story would sound pretty cool. Its mix of James Bond and real life naval operations is both unique and geared for excitement and intrigue. However, it’s in the details where things can really fall apart, and that’s the case here. As Charles has pointed out in one of his comments, there’s actually no antagonist, and really there are no critical characters apart from Johnny himself. All other characters appear to be an afterthought, including the secret agent / love interest Stacy. Considering its very possible to (and in fact quite likely that players will) never meet Stacy in Tahiti, her inclusion towards the end is fairly irrelevant. She offers a map and access to an apartment, but that could just as easily have been handed over by the fisherman that gives Johnny access to the harbor.
Well let's ask Charles since he never even met her!
Probably my biggest problem with the story though is the writer’s inability to give any of the circumstances a legitimate reason to occur. There’s no way anyone is going to put an inexperienced outsider at the helm of a high tech submarine with a mission to save an Ambassador and in all likelihood prevent full scale war. There’s also no way that the same outsider would be left alone to fix problems with the ships weapons systems. I realise most games take liberties like these, but they at least try to make some sense of it. The only time I saw anything like that in Codename: ICEMAN was when the captain fell and was therefore out of action for a while, but he was standing by watching me screw up for the rest of the game. I guess if I’m going to find positives, it’s that the plot is by far one of the more serious on offer so far, and has more resonance than say, Gold Rush, where the protagonist’s actions are pretty much for selfish reasons.
Well, since it's your job, why don't you fix it. What? You're leaving?! Where are you going?!
Sound and Graphics
I recall the very first time I started Codename: ICEMAN, I was impressed with the very moody music that accompanied the opening intro shot. A few moments later and I was subjected to horrendous eighties electro as the credits rolled by, then a simplistic, repetitive attempt at reproducing a ukulele for the opening beach scene. Then silence! After a fairly audible start, the majority of the remaining game was comparatively quiet, bringing music back in only for particular scenes. There are some sound effects in quite a few sections, but they too are minimal and unobtrusive. The graphics are probably on par with the likes of the Larry and Police Quest sequels. On the positive side, I actually think the animation is better for Iceman (check out the way the bikini clad women smoothly stroll down the beach), but there’s nowhere near as much variety on offer. The choice of colours in the engine, machine, storage and weapon rooms need to be answered for also!
Actually she kind of is!
Environment and Atmosphere
The opening sections of Codename: ICEMAN felt like Leisure Suit Larry and the closing sections more like Police Quest 2, but everything in between at least offered something fresh. It’s probably not until The Last Express in the mid-nineties that adventure game players were expected to spend so much time stuck aboard one form of transportation, and I believe that game showed that it can work when done well (I haven’t actually played it mind you). I actually think the game has some decent atmosphere due to the suspense of the situation, but the effect is completely overwhelmed by the frustration of actually achieving anything. Credit where credit is due though and the mix of naval and political themes certainly made me feel like I was part of something important. If there had of been less bugs and repetition, I probably would have enjoyed the experience.
Well it sure beats "Lolotte is very evil and will use the talisman to bring more evil to Tamir"
Dialogue and Acting
This one’s a mixed bag I’m afraid. In some ways the dialogue in Codename: ICEMAN is fairly representative of the Police Quest series, which means reasonably correct language and jargon to match the setting and situations (most likely thanks to the involvement of a real life navy officer), but in other ways the game feels very rushed, with incomplete descriptions and a noticeable amount of spelling and grammar mistakes. There is certainly a lot of dialogue in the game, with a lot of it made up of ship commands and mission instructions, but that’s no excuse for shoddy play testing. How does something as obvious as the below screenshot get through play testing when it appears right near the beginning of the game. I could have used any of about twenty examples here, so this is by no means a one off.
Expolsive! Is that bad? It sounds bad!
So that leaves Codename: ICEMAN with a round 40. How do I feel about that? Well, it makes it the lowest ranked Sierra game so far, which seems fitting. Although there was that Black Cauldron game that was pretty average too, and that got 42. That doesn’t sit too comfortably to be honest, but nor does using my correction point to move the score into the positive (that game only took up six hours of my time too, whereas this one took over sixteen). A score of 40 also leaves the game ranked higher than all the French entries so far, as well as Uninvited and Shadowgate, which feels right too. You know what, I think I’m going to have to leave it exactly where it is once again!
I always look forward to finding out who the winner of Lars-Erik's sponsored game prize is. This time the winner is... The Mad Gamer! Congratulations! Wow, that's not the first time a reader with one of the lowest predictions has got it right. Either I'm a very harsh judge or you guys are overestimating the quality of some of these games. Oh well, Hero's Quest is up next!!!! It will be interesting to see what you all think I'll give it, especially as you already know it's one of my very favourite games. I really hope it lives up to my memories, as I haven't played it for about twenty years! Note that predictions will be slightly different for future games. You can all vote for whatever score you really think I will give, and all correct answers will go into a draw (which I'll figure out how to do fairly).
Companion Assist Points for Codename: ICEMAN
It’s time to dish out (and perhaps deduct) some points for those that predicted things and assisted me along the way.
45 CAPs for Jarikith
* Ilmari's Challenge Award - 10 CAPs - For passing Ilmari's challenge
* Companion Award - 10 CAPs - For playing along with me and completing the game* Companion Aid Award - 10 CAPs - For helping a fellow adventurer in need
* Reenactment Award - 10 CAPs - For hilariously imagining Stacy's CIA briefing
* Minor Assistance Award - 5 CAPs - For answering a question about cylinder length
43 CAPs for Lars-Erik
* Sponsor Award - 20 CAPs - For sponsoring the blog with free games!* Major Assitance Award - 10 CAPs - For revealing a possible dead end on my request
* Deciphering Award - 8 CAPs - For solving four out of 10 mixed up adventure titles, then donating points to unimural
* Longest Journey Award - 5 CAPs - For announcing the Dreamfall sequel
36 CAPs for Ilmari
* Major Assitance Award - 10 CAPs - For responding to a Request for Assistance
* Companion Aid Award - 10 CAPs - For helping a fellow adventurer in need
* Deciphering Award - 6 CAPs - For solving three out of 10 mixed up adventure titles, then trying to convince me that he didn't deserve 6 CAPs
* Dead End Award - 5 CAPs - For warning me of potential dead ends
* Minor Assistance Award - 5 CAPs - For contributing to a Request for Assistance response
* Destroyer Bug Award - 5 CAPs - For letting me know of a potential bug in the game that was affecting me
* James Bond Award - 5 CAPs - License to Drill
* Ilmari's Offer Award - -10 CAPs - Giving 10 CAPs to Jarikith for successfully completing his challenge
35 CAPs for Charles
* Best and Fairest Award - 20 CAPs - Because sometimes winning isn't everything
* Sandy Award - 5 CAPs - For calling Stacy Sandy and sticking to it for the entire game
* Burger King Award - 5 CAPs - For stopping in for a burger mid game
* Infinity Bug Award - 5 CAPs - For finding the unlimited points bug
30 CAPs for unimural
* Phantasmagoria Award - 20 CAPs - For making my self-judged ridiculously clever riddle seem simple
* Deciphering Award - 10 CAPs - For solving the hardest of the 10 mixed up adventure titles and then receiving bonus points from Lars-Erik for his success
25 CAPs for Fenrus
* Major Assistance Award - 10 CAPs - For helping me figure out whether I should restart
* Minor Assistance Award - 10 CAPs - For contributing to a Request for Assistance response twice
* Greenpeace Award - 5 CAPs - For finding a non-hostile way of getting past the Russian destroyer
15 CAPs for Canageek
* Genre Support Award - 10 CAPs - For commenting about a BIG new adventure game sale on Steam
* Safe Sex Award - 5 CAPs - For commenting on how irresponsible James Bond is to women's health
15 CAPs for The Mad Gamer
* Clairvoyant Award - 10 CAPs - For predicting the score I would give the game
* Grammar Nazi Award - 5 CAPs - For doing the right thing and telling me when I'm wrong
10 CAPs for Corey Cole
* Corey Cole Award - 10 CAPs - For being Corey Cole
10 CAPs for nhil
* Deciphering Award - 10 CAPs - For solving two of the harder mixed up adventure titles
5 CAPs for TBD
* Genre Support Award - 5 CAPs - For commenting about a new adventure game sale on Steam