Wednesday 29 October 2014

Game 46: Countdown - Will Trade Bugs For Food

Written by Aperama

Unknown Patie--er, Mason Powers, Journal Entry #1: "I'm a little lost,here! I've woken up in just about the crummiest bed I've ever seen before in my life, and I'm just beginning to piece together what's happening. After looking at the chart on the end of my bed, I've worked out that I'm in some kind of.. hospital. I remember my doctor - Farouk Hashish. Last I remember, he was standing over me with some other man saying he'd 'take care of me' - and I didn't think it'd be friendly! After finding a little common cause with the guard outside my cell, I've managed to sneak my way around the floor, and even have a CPR dummy pretending to be me while asleep! It's time for me to begin searching this horrible place properly.."

Countdown is not a particularly friendly game. I've only played it very shortly, and have managed to get killed roughly fifteen times in the opening scenes. I'm kinda going to be at a loss, and I'm likely going to have to have an external catalogue of my savegames, as there's only an eight character limit! (Kinda hard to give myself much info in the save games as I've promised myself I'll be doing for the sake of blogging, given.) The interface is also very unfriendly. For instance, in order to go through a door, you first have to get closeish to the door. Sensible, but just clicking on the space near the door has a very low percentage success rate, it seems, so I instead use the arrow keys to get near the door. I then have to OPEN the door, clicking on the door once and then twice for confirmation. Then, while at the door, I have to GOTO the door to move through it.. *sigh* There's technically keyboard shortcuts, too, but they require use of the function keys, which I find quite grating. Obligatory rants out of the way? Okay. Let's get started.

The save selection screen. I've already seen it more of it than I'd like to, reminding me of its shortcomings!

The room we start off in. Mason kinda looks like Elvis, to me. (The little text descriptions are a nice touch to give a proper feel for the area.)

I'm always one to start off any adventure game by violently searching for each and every item I can find, particularly in the opening few screens. There aren't too many items I can interact with - a sink that Mason doesn't want to do much of anything with, a bed, a table that has an empty drawer, door, window which budges but doesn't open, some broken bricks that seem to do nothing next to a cross that similarly has no obvious purpose, a key and a cup (both of which I impulsively pocket) and a rather large bug on the center of the right wall. While taking in my surroundings, I see a little face peer past the door's glass pane - but I'm not done peeking around just yet, so the guard can wait. Instead, I go to the chart at the end of the bed, looking at it - and in doing so, learn my name! Immediately upon doing so, Mason clutches at his head and I get a couple of little blue text screens. 'I'm scheduled for surgery? Why, what's wrong with me? I feel pretty banged up - but how did it happen? Then, an image in my mind's eye sends chills rippling through my body...'

I'm having.. a MEMORY!

"Make sure he remembers nothing." "Don't worry - I'll take care of him.."

The little dab of digitised voices is a nice touch, and is a good distraction from the heavily text-based interface - or it could well be that they were just trying to wow people in the opening screen or two to make the game seem all the more appealing to the masses. Anyhow, with at least this much in-game impetus set up, I now know that I've gotta get out of here before the doctor at the foot of Mason's bed 'takes care' of him! As such, I now wait until the guard comes by the door, and try to talk to him this time around...

Meet Nirva Toomish; a man only a mother could find beautiful.. after about ten shots of vodka, anyhow

The interface is interesting enough to be worth an immediate comment. You're given the choice of how to interrogate the people you're talking to - 'help' (offer to help the person with their problems, first discovering them and then trying to think of ways to help them from there), 'hassle' (annoy the person into submission!), 'pleasant' (disarm them with your charming wit), 'bluff' (try to make the people you're talking to think you have some sort of advantage over them), 'ask about' (which gives you a short list of names/items to speak with the person about - in this case, I only have my own name, Nirva's, my doctor's and Sanctuary, but that list is sure to grow) and 'use' (give an item / use an item on the person). From talking to Nirva, I don't believe that you can actually be penalized for going through all of the conversation options - they just get to an end and you then either get blown off or told that 'you're out of ideas'. In this instance, I learn quickly that Nirva is a big fan of bugs - and, funnily enough, there's not only a gigantic bug in the room, but I have a cup to trap him in! After showing the bug to Nirva, losing both the cup and the bug, on the next sweep through of the halls a tray of food is slid underneath my door! Success! I've bribed the guard!

This 'tray of food' DID allow me to use the 'taste' option. However, trying to pick it up, I 'don't really want it'.

Next to the tray is not a set of cutlery for what is supposedly 'cold gruel and moldy bread', but a knife! The security's pretty lax around here, I've gotta say. That said, given I'm still stuck in this room, the option's pretty obvious - hack away at the wire screen on the window with the knife. After a few satisfying slice animations, the window opens - and I'm given the option to slip out the side. This leads me to a rather perilous seeming ledge with only one other exit - a window that hasn't been unlatched from the other side two rooms to the side of Mason's. Opening it up, I end up in a very vanilla room - there are three of these, so I won't bother giving much more detail, but suffice it to say there's nothing I can work out to do with them, given that all of the interactive objects are found in other rooms ('sink', 'toilet', 'bed', 'stool' and 'table'.)

Mason Powers: crossing ancient stone buildings in sensible slacks.

I'm thinking that a few rooms like this were added for padding.. or for stealth mode

Getting through the window, there's just about nothing that could have prepared me for what comes next. As I mentioned in the introductory post, I found that the worst parts of Tex Murphy were the ludicrous speeder scenes. They just didn't seem to have any real obvious purpose, and several people pointed out at the time that the game started out as a flight sim, and just 'became' a detective game. This? Well, this wanted to be a stealth platformer game. I'm not joking.

The purpose is pretty obvious - you have to avoid the guards while you slip through the doors. Metal Gear Mason reporting for duty! 

I've already seen this screen a dozen bazillion times. Yes, his eyes roll inwards

So, the forwards path from here is pretty obvious. There's one guard doing a round through a rectangular building with an overhanging lip on each corner. The game actually uses the timer in the top right, so you just have to time your way using his rounds - Nirva will walk in a straight line, hold for about five seconds, turn down the lip I just mentioned, turn back around, then walk in a straight line. To my mind, this should only take him about four minutes real time, but it actually seems like it takes more like twenty for him to notice that you're not actually in your room. So, given this update is probably going a little bit long by this point, I'll say right away that there's not actually too much going on here. Several empty/emptyish rooms, including one which has a skeleton named 'Perry Goldman' that's been in for 25 years! (According to the chart, he's a model prisoner, as he's been completely fine by his plight the entire time - no change in his behaviour between 1971 and 1978! The caveat? He's a skeleton now..) The first room you go into that has anything much of interest, though, is a monitoring room with a naked guy in it..

He looks so happy to see us, too! (Do you guys want to see the hilariously stupid faces these guys pull? They all seem to have ones like this, at least in this level of 'Sanctuary'. This is using the 'bluff' command, to give an idea of the dialogue.)

Mr. Spaulding reacts well enough to us telling him what's going on and seems candid, but he refuses to give me any information until the radiator is turned on. As I can't work out from what I have available how to turn it on for him, I'll mark this in the 'later' pile and keep going through the rooms. Continuing in a clockwise pattern (as that's how our friend Nirva goes, even though he comes from counterclockwise when Mason is in his room), along the top wall is a large room with a wire coat hanger (yoink!) and a CPR dummy (which has 'a remarkable resemblence to Mason') and a coat hanger inside. While at this point I hadn't received the 'you were found out of your cell' death, the game spells it out so clearly that the second I see it I immediately know that the dummy's to go into bed. 

Couldn't spell it out any more for me, game? Why not say 'PRESS THIS BUTTON TO NOT DIE', like modern games?

Continuing around clockwise, I find a few more empty rooms, one with a man in a straitjacket who states to me that 'if I bother him again, he'll kill me' (he doesn't in reality) and in completing the circle, a supply closet with a whole bunch of useless bed pans and anti-bacterial agents that I can't use, a fire extinguisher that - you guessed it, I can't use, and.. a pair of scissors, which I pocket. Given this is already going forever, I'll sum up here.. the game's taken me a good hour already, but most of that was just getting used to the interface in truth. Will hope to be out of the hospital by the end of the next post!

For my own little flavor on this shindig, I'll leave you with my current inventory at the end of each post, so you can all laugh at my misfortunes (and I can cover what I've missed out on) at each new stop.

A key to a supply locker
Coat hanger

The game is already paying homage to the other one that's being played at the moment. Classy, right? 

Session time: 1 hour
Total time: 1 hour

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!


  1. I've also started the game and let me say that the whole "avoid the guards" -routine is even more annoying than I remembered. I am just happy I finally got out of the hospital, but if the game continues in same vein, I don't know how long I'll want to continue.

    1. Also, the game seems somewhat inconsistent: sometimes you can pick up or use things across the room, but at other times it's really picky and you have to be standing at the exact position to get anything done (especially doors are real pain).

    2. Yeah, I'm a couple of updates in now and can attest to that. It took a while to work out that Mason had ESP - but selective ESP.

    3. I thought Mason had Reed Richards -powers, but ESP works too. And I just assumed some objects had weird radioactive substances that nullify Mason's powers :P

  2. And also a Hotel California reference.

    Yes, please keep showing the ridiculous faces. They are...ridiculous. :)

    1. I second that. Deliciously ridiculous. Also, why is that dummy in a cell? And why would it look like Mason Powers? Is there some kinda weird fetishism going on in that place? Are you absolutely sure that is a CPR dummy? That oral orifice might not be for mouth-to-mouth but mouth-to-peni... er... peniTENTIARY wall. Or something. I don't know. Shut up.

  3. Sanitarium - recently released on Steam and on special for $6 for the next few days...

    A good game - you play a guy who wakes up as a patient in some kind of hospital.

  4. I am somewhat glad that I picked Operation Stealth! It may actually be the better game. :)

  5. My only fond memories of this one are the digitized speech, which blew my mind at the time. There were so few lines that each one acquired a real presence and resonance, echoing over the next long, confusing stretches of the game. I did beat it, eventually, but I remember almost nothing of the details along the way. Perhaps I've been the victim of a shadowy conspiracy....


    In the spirit of the holiday, the first 6 people to ask before the end of the steam sale will get either a nice treat of an adventure game, or one of the worst things I can find in the steam Halloween sale. Either way, in exchange for the game I'm expecting you to play it. WHO DARES CANAGEEK'S CHALLENGE?

    1. Do we have to write about our experience? I'd take you up on it, but I have a Mac and Steam support for Macs is somewhat limited.

    2. Huh, I guess no one wanted to risk it.....

      I wasn't going to make you, but I also forgot about it. Oh well, saves me money.

    3. Yeah. I'm surprised no one tried for the free game. (I decided to disqualify myself as a site admin but otherwise I would have played.)

      Maybe if the first few words in your post were "FREE GAME" you might have had more responses :)

  7. I really enjoyed this post Aperama, as weird as it is to be a reader rather than a poster. One thing's for sure. The guys at Accolade really enjoyed making their actors look stupid. Mean Streets was also filled with completely insane, or just plain ugly, looking people.

    I'm looking forward to more...