Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Game 46: Countdown - Leaving on a Jet Plane

Written by Aperama

Mason Powers Journal Entry #6: “I'm finally beginning to make some headway into this case, I think! It's all confusing, really, but I'm definitely less lost than I was just a little while ago. My trusty CAD let me know where I had to go next – a lovely night club in Barcelona, Spain. Carlos Ramirez was Jackal's handler – it took a bottle of wine that probably cost more than my retirement fund, but I got him to tell me more about Jackal – and why McBain was still looking for the presumed-dead Scorpio. He also gave me a lockpick, and I think I now know how to disarm the bomb that Operation Thunderbolt is inversely linked to! Anyhow, this all sent me down to Venice, Italy, where I met a money-grubbing bartender, a lovely stripper with some delightful moves, a KGB operative who looked like he could snap me in half like a twig.. and, most of all, Scorpio! Turns out he faked his own death after the Jackal began to threaten him, sure that the Company would just send him to a mythical place like Sanctuary.. turns out he probably would have been right! I've only got time to say this because I took a flight to Rome, Italy – my old lover Lisa Loomis let me know that the Company was willing to hear me out. I'm ready to present my case to Jack Quinn and his lapdog – I sure hope I don't mess up any words!”

Technically, this flight cost $700. But travelling by line-air is all worth the while

Countdown, since doing its utmost to lose me completely, has been remarkably straightforward and game-like as of this update. This is very much working in its favour coming up to a PISSED rating – but I still don't think that coherency now saves it too much in the face of what has happened. And there are still lots of gaping issues that should really be addressed.. but again, I ramble over the game because my cheeks are still glowing with a mixture of anger and pain at the way things have come together. Anyhoo! Last I left you all, I was left with a vague clue as to where to go next. I've learned the likely name of 'Stormbringer' – 'Jackal'. Confused? Don't be, they're all just the creepy guy with the moustache in the last update. I thought at the time that he was likely 'Scorpio' – but the game seems to have left that thought for dust throughout this update, as several people have affirmed that they're two separate people, and I just don't see why people such as Carlos Ramirez, Jackal's handler, would bother to lie to me about that sort of thing..

My first attempts to persuade him to join the good fight were.. less than convincing

Carlos is a drunk. Well, the game doesn't really give you a clear idea of this, but you meet him in a cabaret, and he repeatedly goes for swigs of alcohol from what appears to be a cognac glass while you talk to him. The only way to get him to talk is through BLUFF-BLUFF-PLEASANT-PLEASANT. Basically, you intone that you're a member of the CIA looking into some double-crossing action, insist that you don't want to involve the full chain of command, and then offer him the ridiculously old bottle of wine found back in Sanctuary. He sees a good deal (this must be 15th century or so – I can only imagine how expensive it must be) and begins to blab along. He doesn't really have too much of use to tell about Jackal, ironically, given he's seemingly 'the only one who could wrangle him' – instead, you learn something about Scorpio through him. Scorpio used to have a girl back in Venice, Italy by the name of 'Golden Desire' – turns out, he was thinking of turning coat to the Soviets at around about the time that he had his 'accident' in Beirut...

Yeah, mister? Well not only did I live to tell about Fontaine, but I left him in an alley, completely conscious and.. oh god he's behind me isn't he?

The other thing he has to offer – which I got absolutely no indication of other than the fact that I obsessively use every item on every person in an adventure game that feels like it's lacking in sense (if you offer cash to someone who is willing to take money, they'll pull up a 'haggle' screen) – is a lockpicking kit for $400. Sure enough, that's what I needed for the safe back in Athens. Technically, I didn't rush straight out there – I'm on a deadline, and Italy is on the way to Greece – but it definitely felt as though you were supposed to race back there straight away. There is only one thing in the safe, being a small, encoded message – fed through the CAD, it reads as follows:


Do you put plot-sensitive pieces of encoded paper into blatantly obvious safes, too? Congratulations, you can be a part of Black December!

Anyhow, this stop 'technically' happened near the end of the playthrough here – but there again, in truth I'm very mindful of the timer in this game and had actually run from Carlos the moment I got it to take a peek. Savescumming hurts nobody, right? (Right.) From Greece back to Italy, and Venice – and what would appear to be either a high-rent strip club or a low-rent cabaret, I'm not entirely sure which. The first room brings us out to a bar, where there are two wise-cracking Europeans, and a bartender – we'll get to him in a moment, but first let's continue our little tour of what I plan to now title the 'striparet'.

The front room, where hilarious jokes are told.

The back room, where.. BLACKJACK?!?!?

I'd been wondering for a little while as to how this game would be completable if you hadn't found all of the caches – and I could already sense my dollars going down rapidly given that I was taking the plane every time for time constraints. But no? This room has a video blackjack machine. Excuse me for a moment..


Leisure Suit Larry has taught me well, sensei

Yeah, I ended up with about $5500 before I actually worried about things like 'plot'. Psh. Who cares about plot, anyway? The back room really had nothing much to speak of, as I wasn't able to talk to the dancer onstage, and she didn't seem to be going away any time soon. The dancer's room is closed off with a bouncer, and you can't threaten him with a scalpel OR plastic explosive.. no fun, game. A quick jaunt up to the front bar (where you can taste some Finlandia vodka no less) and we get to talk to the bartender.. who unsurprisingly wants a bribe. $500 seems a whole lot less when you're wandering around with an infinite money-generating device in the next room, so I pay the man and happily – he tells us that Golden Desire is more than likely to be willing to chat to us, and that he'll tell her to come down from the stage and wait for you in the next room. He also mentions that it seems strange – he remembers the name 'Scorpio', yet after the reports of him dying came out, she never seemed particularly worried about them despite them seeming quite the couple..

I'm only insulting these people for -you- guys. You wanted to see their silly faces, right?

Mason's default dialogue is, to be perfectly honest, somewhat dire. All he seems capable of doing is insulting her or introducing himself – but that's fine, as she doesn't need any real coercion to tell you things that might help you. She mentions that the Jackal was an absolute animal when he worked with Scorpio – and gives a rather impassioned plea attempting to explain that Scorpio was knotted up in all sorts of trouble, got unlucky and got taken out, and is clearly very angry with the CIA for putting him in a position like he ended up in to begin with. The dialogue is actually decent here for what I take to be about the first time in the game thus far – the writing makes her seem legitimately angry, and almost human. This is about the first 'sad' sprite that we actually get to see, but it's not actually that humorous – so instead, here's her reaction to being called 'babycakes'...

Good thing that the CIA have knocked Mason off of their lists – he's a walking sexual harassment suit

The next step is more than a touch counterintuitive. Unfortunately, the game has taught us that time is an issue, so you should rush whenever you can – I'm still staring at the top right corner of the screen every time I get involved in anything. Thankfully, keeping saves sitting around, I was staring at the screen and trying to use my inventory on everything and anything – and then the bouncer up and left. Yup, just left. No tact or foreknowledge necessary – he just up and went away. Hooray! That makes things easy enough, I guess. The room ahead is Ms. Desire's dressing room – there's not too much of interest in here, really, just a one-room puzzle that involves finding a key which leads to another key which leads to a memo. The memo runs through the CAD, and gives an anonymous memo that essentially reads 'I'm going away for a while, don't tell anyone anything – Buzz Brezhnev will know where I am.' (There's also a makeup kit, which I take just.. because.)

Bonus quiz: where's the first key in here? Hint: it's the thing that looks like a clipping issue..

As last time, I'm almost tempted to end it here – but everything else that I've done to this point is entirely set in the chat window. Buzz Brezhnev is a man that looks like he belongs in Red Alert more than anything – he's described by the bartender as a 'big Russian bear'. He's also in Venice.. the weird thing is that it's not entirely certain as to how Mason manages to find him, as he's apparently 'somewhere in Venice'. There's a pretty consistent problem with this – it's never particularly clear as to how exactly we find out where these sorts of things are. Regardless, Buzz is here, and he's quite a difficult man to get anything out of. It takes several minutes of messing around to find the exact key – he likes to be harassed heavily, in that co-conspiratorial fashion I'm imagining. He's also full of the most ridiculous faces in the entire game IMO, having a full range of emotions in his character portrait.

He's quite fun to be around, this ol' Buzz.

Eventually, by sheer trial and error, you work out that you have to convince him that you're sure that Scorpio is alive, using the knowledge of the memo – and after a little bit of work, you manage to get him on your side. After you manage to convince him that you're not angry or looking to take out Scorpio, he'll share the fact that indeed, Scorpio is alive and well.. and looking to speak to you! He's also in Venice. He has a lot more information to give you, including the fact that the KGB have similar interests to you in taking out the Black December cell. This is a nice little touch from this game – they're essentially giving you a reason why this KGB agent is actually willing to talk to you, which I rather like. He also passes along some knockout capsules to be slipped into people's food at a cost of $500.

They really worked on this man's expressions..

Given we don't even leave the state, let alone the country to do so, I'm including Scorpio's short piece. He's quite condescending, telling you how he's amazed that you've even made it as far as you have. He's open that he's a member of the KGB now, and asks for your promise of silence on the matter. He doesn't actually offer anything particularly groundbreaking at this point, but he does make it rather clear that he's not the Jackal in disguise. He's also a well-thought character, making this more or less three for three – but that doesn't forgive the sheer amount of caricatures that have existed up until this point. If anything is to be taken, just the following conversation should really do as an example of this game at its best:



This is an amazing example of what this game can be.. and I wish, was, the whole way through.

Scorpio more or less gives us a running commentary on the things we've learned up until now – and he continues to keep the idea going that he was a bad guy to be on the wrong side of.. and that Jackal is just as bad in his own right. He's clearly the bad guy, but I'm still a bit weirded out by the idea that Scorpio and Jackal are very, very similar in looks to my mind. The story is actually shaping out really well, now – Jackal's motives seem to be an attempt to get the ultra-conservative General Leeland elected as the next President of the US, given that 'another large-scale terrorist attack would almost clearly win the election for the General' according to more than just a couple of people. The game's actually beginning to get some positive points for it, which has me quite happy to say I think it might finish strong. When leaving Scorpio, a message pops up from our CAD, sending us off to our e-mailing system – Lisa Loomis has something to tell us, and she just happens to be local, just down in Rome..

See you next time, dear! (This entire picture was such a fan service moment. Why didn't they just have it on an e-mail? Woulda been fine..)

The notion of listing inventory has backfired a little as the game refuses to get rid of seemingly innocuous things, leaving me with two uninteractive boxes that I can't tell apart and a bag – but I'll keep up traditions..

- Coat hanger
- Mason's wallet
- Scalpal
- Keys
- Grappling hook
- Flashlight
- Boots
- Bag
- Box (two separate ones)
- Fake passport.
- Cash ($3703 – no real risk in losing any more.. we've got blackjack now!)
- Three doses of plastic explosives
- The CAD
- A battery
- Pliers
- Wire cutters
- Note with hidden message to Rachel
- Screwdriver
- A photo of Jackal
- A makeup kit
- 'Stationery' (the note to Golden Desire)
- Knockout capsules
- Message with (wiring diagram?)

Session Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time: 9 hours 00 minutes

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!

7 comments:

  1. I found using the CAD for deciphering the message sometimes a bit tricky: you had to get to the exact magnification to get certain keywords you wanted to ask.

    In addition to the cluttering inventory, I found the ever-growing set of keywords a bit clumsy. If I could have, I would have dropped Nirva Toomish' name quite a while ago, since no one will have anything of interest to say about a Sanctuary guard,

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  2. "What's your name, Beelzebub?" Instant classic.

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  3. Clipping error? In 2D art? Um...
    That said: The coat behind the rack they didn't bother to draw all of?

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    1. I'm pretty sure I saw it but forgot to answer. On top of the door!

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  4. Also, am I the only one who notices that character looks like a fatter version of Spiderman's boss?

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