Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Game 46: Countdown – A-Mazeing!

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: 1 hour 45 minutes
Total Time: 5 hours 15 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!


  1. Why is Mason bleeding green at the bottom of the pit? Has he been replaced by an alien doppelganger? Perhaps that would explain why he doesn't remember everything...

    1. Two theories - on his way down, Mason grabbed a large mouthful of algae, leaving himself puking green just before he died. That, or it was supposed to be the "no blood" version, and they forgot it in every other screenshot.

  2. Countdown sounds a lot more demanding than Mean Streets. I don't recall getting very stuck in that game. It was just really time consuming with all the flying around, pixel hunting and endless conversation options.

  3. And the latest game from the former developers of Access Software (Now Big Finish Games)... Telsa Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure... can now be had for whatever the hell you want to pay for it, along with a few other games.


    I assure you the developers got a lot better at making adventure games as they got more experienced and Tesla Effect was a great game and well worth it at full price IMO.

    So, no more excuses, everybody buy the game! Buy it now!

  4. I see I'm going to have to start using my mailing list membership to ensure proper emdash uses: Those do not look like the length of a capital M to me.... — isn't that hard to type.... & mdash ;