Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Game 46: Countdown - Won!

Written by Aperama

Mason Powers Journal Entry #7: “It's been the ultimate pyrrhic victory. I solved the case of the Black December terrorist group.. that's something. Also kept a gigantic bomb from going off in the middle of Paris – go me! Unfortunately.. just about everyone I've ever known has died. Some died meaning well, some didn't – but it doesn't really matter, I guess. Jack Quinn is dead, Earhardt Fleischer and General Leeland both took their own lives before they could be exposed as the true masterminds behind the group, Hakeem is dead, Lisa.. oh, Lisa! She fell off of the Eiffel Tower, and.. well, she was.. I guess she was a bad egg after all. Hey. Wonder what Rachel Akure is up to?”

“You know. Because we think you're a terrorist double agent.
But hey, we think maybe you can do something for us, so may as well just let you go free huh?”

This last play post took around about an hour, and it was an extremely frustrating hour that undid all of the good will I had for it in the last post. Jack Quinn and Earhardt Fleischer (pictured here making sweet ear nookie) have very little to offer. The Cliffnotes version of the whole conversation is as follows: “We think you're the mole that McBain was trying to ferret out, we still think that you're the one that did everything bad – but the only person that Hakeem Ababash, who this pair of clowns is certain will be the only person who has actually managed to collect the necessary information on Operation Thunderbolt, will trust is Mason Powers. Yup, you got it. The one person they need the most, just so happens to trust the only one they believe is guilty of all of the crimes. So, in order to prove that we're not that person, we're being sent out to grab Hakeem, who is apparently in the Roman Colosseum.. ugh.

Surprise surprise, though, when we head over to the Colosseum, we're encountered by.. being proven to be the incompetent ape that we're constantly being accused of being. Mason hears a whisper near the scheduled drop point, he turns his head to discover the source of the noise.. and gets knocked out. He then wakes up in a scenario that I think may have actually been designed for the other game being played..
No, Mr. Bond – I expect you to die!

What follows is possibly one of the most aggravating things that I have ever encountered in all of my years of playing video games. After being stuck in the air for what is legitimately a minute in real time, the candle tears through the rope, and Mason is left in front of what is the least aggressive tiger in the planet. I'm convinced that the bloodstains on the ground must actually be the result of the frequent feedings he's been given – it's the only reason I can think for him not even attempting to go after you, simply walking around in circles. There's some rope on the ground – and behind the well-picked skeleton, there's a hook. So I'm thinking either grappling hook (but you can't use items on other items in this game) to swing over the tiger, or a lasso to take the tiger down. The little lever underneath Mason's prone face is to open and close the tiger den – but good god, the collision detection is horrible. If it had an obvious, clear reasoning behind the tiger taking you down, sure – but it seems that more or less every time it passes by, (that is not in front of you, but is horizontally on the same axis as you with your body and its back legs) you die. The way to get around it is to walk towards the gate, use the awful clipping to your advantage and end up with your body half way down the 'talk' command on the interface..
Zoological fans, tell me – can a Bengal tiger really eat a wimpy ex-CIA operative in three chomps? Tell me in the comments!

So, I'll spare you all the pain of getting lucky enough to have the tiger walk into the den (it will also walk through the top gate if you don't push the lever immediately) and have it not eat you, and subsequently not have the game bug out and decide that you're stuck in that little piece of the screen next to the 'talk' command – and instead say you move under the window and throw up a rope. It's possible that you need the hook in order to do so – I'm not going to go back and investigate, as the very screen gives me the heebie jeebies.
New top suspect: obscenely fat people?

The body hanging up there is your good friend Hakeem Ababash. Yep, sure enough, he's dead too. There's not too much in here, but this is another room that is obscenely easy to get stuck in. Every one of those stones are an interactible object. A few of them (the ones just to the right of the table) note that 'a gush of air' is popping out from behind them – there's one stone that when 'moved' (not 'opened' or 'used') makes the door pop up, with no obvious reason behind it being that particular stone. Worse still, that stone would be in reach of the person being hung up – so theoretically, he could open it and try to call for help. More importantly though, items! There's a branding rod sitting next to the hot coals. A sack with all of your stuff next to the window, which I immediately pinched. (I lost my two random boxes, all of my plastic explosives, my toolbox, flashlight, my keys, my mountaineering gear and my bag? But most tragically, the SCAL-PAL. (I shed a single tear of pain for that one.)) The table has a blueprint that is 'written in French'. Regardless... I have no earthly clue as to how you can read these blueprints, but they're there, and I take them because that's the sort of thing that Mason Powers would do. There's a newspaper article explaining that there's going to be an international summit on terrorism this Sunday in Paris, because General Leeland is winning several polls on the terrorism issue. There's also a postcard under the sack of greasy fast food that is of.. uhm. I'm honestly not sure what it's of.
The great landmark of.. uhm.. a mountain.. and a canyon.. Roman pillars.. I don't even know what country this is supposed to be. My first thought is maybe the Grand Canyon? It was one of the listed 'terrorist targets' for Operation Thunderbolt..

Admin's note: I guess it's Acropolis

Given the fact that I'm loading this up with the CAD – and everything else has had hidden writing in it – I zoomed in, found no writing – but then the game came up with 'MICRO-DOT DETECTED'. It's a small black dot just between the mountain and the building, which gives you the knowledge you need to finish off the game. It would really not have been hard to miss – essentially the only reason I did was how little I trusted the game by this point. The 'dot' reads 'Regarding your concerns about a possible change of location, when the Jackal leaves Belgrade on the Orient Express, he will be carrying a second device. The first device is already in place, but this will make out plan fool-proof. - Stormbringer'. All of my hard work until this point is proven rather useless as I travel to Belgrade and make my way to the Orient Express.. on Saturday at 10 A.M. I'd managed to keep myself to Thursday at 8 AM by this point, so I was a little miffed to be honest.
This game was before the Last Express,
so I suppose I can at least be lenient in the setting of the 'inrtigue'..

… But I can't forgive it this. What-a you say-a? You no need-a the book, yes?

The train carriage doesn't have much of interest. There's a bunch of people who 'speak bad English' (they didn't want to make another portrait is my guess), a bunch of useless red herrings – and a telegram that has been conveniently discarded just next to an ashtray. It reads 'To Jack L. (ha!), awaiting your arrival from Belgrade. Stop. Per your instructions I will look for you as a man of the cloth. Stop. I will be expecting a special package from you. Stop. Gina.'
Mr. 'Jack L.' has apparently dropped in on Father Flanigan...
 (It's apparently a reference to the charity group BoysTown and its founder)

The main carriageway leads to some side cabins. Most of them don't have too much to speak of – one that has a chess set 'where the Bishop has been knocked over', which I think is supposed to be a joke about how they've just had a priest killed for his costume. The 'jackal' is in a room a few down from him, and he's quite easy to get upset..
I kick arse for the Lord!

This is one of the last dialogue puzzles in the game. Basically, you have to play to the Jackal's strengths – the idea that I think they're trying to convey is that he's someone who would rather stay in character, because he's such a master of disguise. You convince him that someone has fainted in the next cart.. he tries to get out of it but soon realises that to be a convincing priest, he really needs to at least drop in.

Food, food. It's all this guy talks about! Some international superspy..
(He looks nothing like he did in his picture!)

We've got the knockout capsules, slip it in his food.. yeah, it's not too complicated. None of the puzzles in this game have really been too big and surprising. Long story short, he comes back, eats some food and passes out. You pinch his clothes and his briefcase (filled with a hundred thousand dollars) and go to meet 'Gina' in his stead. Before that, though, I was quite concerned about the note that the Jackal was apparently wandering around with a backup nuclear device. I found it, found some plastic explosives and electrics in there.. and had no other interactions in spite of using every single item I'd received in an attempt to sabotage it. Mason, being Mason, was too afraid he might trigger the explosion. So he leaves the Jackal on the train, with the nuke still aboard... does he search him for and steal his gun? Toss him out the train cart? Nope, just leaves him to his own devices. This guy really is inept. However, instead of taking screenshots of the casket with the nuke inside..

… I decide to reminisce to a far, far better detective game

… then get to admire the gloriously 80s dress sense of this lady
who is clearly phoning her performance in

Gina has very little to speak of, again. I kinda think they were going with the thought that people would be more eager to rush out to the end of the game by this point – I'll admit that I might have rushed it were I not here to take screenshots. She uses a pretty lame codephrase – 'Have you got the yo-yo?' 'Then I've got the string'.. and then promises to take us off to replace the nuclear device on the premise that it's faulty. She leads us to a back alley to the conference site that the world leaders are all congregating at in France via a back alleyway. The game leaves us with a forced 4 hours to complete it in – but it took nothing like this long. The rooms are a bunch of extremely simple puzzles that don't even involve the objects you have in your inventory..
In this room: a shaft missing a gear! (I've already replaced the gear in this screenshot)

In this room: A gear! That leads to a pulley, that pulls down the drawbridge
to make a walkway, which won't work.. Hard puzzle, game!

It's this sort of puzzle that just bugs me about a game. There are a couple of potential red herrings to bring your thoughts out – but as soon as you locate the gear, it's almost impossible not to immediately react with the thought of 'just put it in the next room?' It's just padding, plain and simple. Go across walkway, go up ladder, and you're in a room full of largely cheap seeming art. (One is actually listed as having a 'retail value of $20'.) There's one doorway that leads to instant death, and another one that's been boarded up – the only item left in our inventories at this point that interacts with it is plastic explosive.. Seems safe nearby a nuclear device, right?
Priceless art, eh?

AMERICA! Something.. yeah..

The final room of the game is just about desolate. There's one interactive object – an elephant on top of a box – you move the box, you move the panel behind where the elephant was. This all felt like padding. Just taking us to one room with a few puzzles in it that led to a crate holding the plastic explosive would have well and truly done, in my humble opinion. Anyhow, we're to the true final screen of the game: The bomb!
Let me just pull out my trusty screwdriver..

This should be fine. I've already been told what to do with the wires.
Blue: 3 o'clock, Green: 9 o'clock, Red: 6 o'clock. Probably in that order t--

um.. oops.

So, I've got no idea how you were supposed to actually get the order to cut these in. My thought was it was in the order of the note that was given – but regardless, as there's no actual stress in this situation, it wasn't a trouble. I blew up Paris a couple of times, reloaded, found the right order. I presume that it means we had to do something with the blueprints found back in Hakeem's death room – but I honestly don't know how. And this game honestly doesn't make you want to reload to find these things out – it's just as easy to re-reload, even if it's probably at the cost of a few points.
In true superspy tradition, I waited until the last second to strip the final wire

And like that, Countdown's climax is at hand! The game proceeds with a short set of end-screen speech, which I'll recap instead of going through screenshots. “I had saved the President's life... along with the heads of state of six other countries. Black December was exposed as a fraud. Phony terrorists organised by an inner circle of self proclaimed messiahs trying to seize control of the most powerful country in the world. At the head of this conspiracy was General Leeland, the man who would be King. His second in command was Earhardt Fleischer. But there would be no trial for their crimes... Both had arranged to save the taxpayers a substantial sum in case their plan fell through. One died by poison, the other by gunshot. Other co-conspirators, though no one would ever know if all had been captured, were rounded up and the incident was closed. Well... not quite! I got a big promotion and finally started moving up in the company. Now, I felt I could try to strike something up again with Lisa...”

“I love you..”

“Die, pig!”

This was a really nice, if largely unneeded twist – the game really didn't need it to conclude, as Lisa has really done very little throughout the game. It just shows off another conspirator – Lisa didn't have to be a part of this.. but turns out she was! Mason ducks as she lunges with a knife, he reaches out to save her regardless – and she slips from his grasp with a shriek. Eep.
Yep, Mason's that nice a guy

Cue hard rock music from intro! (And the second piece of music period for the game..)

If anyone has any information on my missing 35 points (take off two for not being able to re-see the cutscene where Mason jumps out of the window in this playthrough), feel free to let me know. I never used the battery, the branding rod, the 'watch' that appeared in my inventory from the sack in the torture room, the pliers or the coat hanger – everything else actually had either one or multiple uses.

On to the rating!

Session Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 10 hours


  1. You're SUPPOSED to stop the bomb at 007, silly. They even gave you a counter without a colon!

    1. In my defense, I had recently watched Galaxy Quest.

      As far as the Acropolis, the notion of it being a Greek building didn't really occur to me - the dark red/sandstone appearance only reminded me of two international landmarks immediately, neither of which are in Europe. (The Pyramids could be that color maybe?) Greek architecture makes me think of white/marble, so the idea didn't even pop into my head. Good get though, methinks.

    2. Yes, the colour of the picture is way off, but the shape of Parthenon and the mountain on the background seem to fit. Maybe the it's a photo taken with the red light of the setting sun?

    3. Oh, I agree wholeheartedly now that the notion has been thrown at me. As it was, though, with the exceptions of the shape/style of the building and where I supposedly was, I had no real reason to suspect it! I'd love to be berated for my lack of either imagination or knowledge here, though. :)

  2. All Quest for Glory and King's Quest games on sale on GOG for a total of $8.


  3. Now that I've read seven of these posts, for some reason my primary thought is still:

    Man, I hate this style of art.

    No matter how good the game is, I don't think I could have played it. :)

  4. Also: The Orient Express has been used as a setting for intrigue many, many times. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie and Horror on the Orient Express is a famous Call of Cthulhu scenario.

    1. And now it's a Doctor Who setting too, in the recent episode Mummy on the Orient Express.