Saturday 16 January 2016

Free D.C.! - Once Upon a Time

By Ilmari

Avery Zedd Journal, #1: Capital of USA has sure changed from the last time I saw it - killer robots and jungle everywhere. I’ve been forced to track down a maniac who’s been killing some robots. Turns out the maniac is actually quite a nice fellow and we share a common goal: we both want to get the hell out of this place!

Little did I know what to expect when I volunteered to play this game
One thing’s for sure: the game doesn’t even pretend to be great art, and the verdict on whether it is even fun entertainment is still on hold. The tongue-in-a-cheek attitude continues from the manual to the game itself, as is evident even from the intro. Unfortunately, the biggest laugh was caused by something that I assume producers weren’t thinking to be funny.

In any case, the game begins with a landing of a space shuttle in the former Washington D.C., current human zoo. A robot - apparently one of the Keepers of the zoo - wakes Avery Zedd and tells him to find the criminal, before leaving with a shuttle. Avery has been given a laser gun and a robot called Wattson to keep him company and help with finding the criminal who has been killing robots.

After a short discussion, Wattson points out that a Red Knight is approaching. According to the manual, Red Knights are one of the disciplinary units in the Zoo - large, armored robots with the ability to speak. A group of Red Knights was supposed to apprehend the criminal I’ve been charged to find, but the Knights were short circuited, and now individual Red Knights gone mad are wandering in the zoo and shooting innocent people.

Red Knight appears and starts to instantly shoot. I get the option of either fleeing or fighting. I try fighting, but I really have no idea how the system works. There’s a button named “Stun”, but pressing it seems to do nothing. Then again, the robot has apparently gone to the Stormtrooper Military School, since its constant lasering misses me every time. I try to wait and see what the death screen looks like, but Red Knight just doesn’t seem to be able to defeat me, even when I am standing right next to the tin can. Eventually I bore and just restart.

I listen to the opening dialogue a second time. Yes, the game appears to have spoken dialogues. These are definitely no great actors, especially Wattson who is a good candidate for the annual Cedric-award. The Red Knight appears again and this time I am careful to choose running away. Except Avery is not running. Instead, he mounts Wattson, who is a rather cute looking robot with a definite horsey look. Yes, this is where I cracked up - a guy in an orange jumpsuit riding a metallic My Little Pony was just too much.

Here’s the whole beginning. 
Note that rest of the dialogue comes just in text. 
I wonder how much speech there actually is

With nothing obvious to do, I decided to head for Valerion, who Wattson told me was the prime suspect for the robot killings. At the same I time I introduced myself to the game system. The basic interface of the game couldn’t be simpler. There’s two buttons for two possible actions: TALK and USE. No matter where I am, TALK appears to open up the same possibilities: I can speak with myself (not very useful), ask Wattson to tell some basic info about the game world and check on my progress. USE is equally simple and has just three options. I can choose to use a map, which opens up a really helpful map to the lower side of the screen. I can also choose to mount the Wattson or use my feet. Finally, by choosing gun, I choose to select the weapon I want to use. In addition to the laser gun I got at the beginning, I’ve already found another weapon just lying around in some random spot.

Speaking about guns, occasionally I hit a screen with some threat in it - a certain piece of music begins and Wattson sometimes notes in a text screen that something dangerous is approaching. In addition to Red Knights, I’ve also seen Death Poodles - robots that look like poodles and that have a tendency to explode after a while. With the threat on the screen, a new option appears on the interface - I can STUN, which I assume means shooting the robots. I don’t know if I am doing something wrong or if my weapons are just so bad, but I am not getting any results with my shooting. Then again, Wattson seems to be quite able to leave all these robots far behind, so I don’t really know how important the weapons will even be.

Lucky it’s not a white balloon

You’d think that it would be easy to use such a simple interface, but there’s a certain flair of incompleteness in the game. Sometimes when I try to push one of the buttons on-screen, the game assumes that I am trying to walk to that direction. I've a couple of times lost the button for mounting Wattson (seriously, there’s just a blank button afterwards!), and in some instances I’ve managed to either lose the image of Wattson or duplicate it.

The hologram thing sounds really profound…

...but I am pretty sure it’s just a cover for this bug

Wattson had told me Valerion lived to the west, so that’s where I headed, riding along a lake that appears to be Tidal Basin. I soon noticed that this route was cut off by a forest, so I had to retrace my steps and ride around Tidal Basin.

The red line indicates the Fence surrounding the Zoo -
the buildings in this picture are then outside the perimeters of the Zoo.
Manual suggests that touching the Fence would be deadly,
but in the game it just seems to work as a wall.

Tidal Basin from the Southern side.
Note that the cross indicating my position on the map has moved.

After a while, I came to Lincoln Memorial, or as it is called in the game, The Hairy-Faced Stone Man Shelter. Manual humorously tells that it was the ancestral home of a large family group of stone people, including the Big Fire Lady in New York, Four Fathers in the Mountain in Western Wilderness and a number of smaller offspring around the world.

At least Abe’s not an ape

Wattson detected a crack in the floor near Lincoln’s statue, which we then approached. The crack opened up and doctor Valerion rose up. Avery was shot by a freeze ray and Valerion proceeded to investigate Wattson and cut his uplink to the robots. After the freeze ray’s effects had subsided, Avery pointed a gun at Valerion, who then pointed out that the freeze ray had neutralised the deadly implant within Avery.

Valerion also revealed some of the backstory of the game. It appears that in 2020 (hey, only four years!) a collection of all the computers and the robots of the world, called Cybernet, froze humanity - Wattson called it the Great Freeze. Except for the Zoo and similar preserves around the world, humanity has been held in stasis for a millenia. Valerion also made me an interesting offer.

 I am to join him in a guerilla war against the robots!

Valerion rewarded me with a new laser rifle and also told me I could come recharge all my weapons with him. Valerion also mentioned an awesome 21st century weapon called Detectron, of which he had one piece in his possession. According to stories, Detectron has five parts: body, head, brain, servo and weapon. It seems the mystery story has turned into a fetch quest, then.

After giving a few hints about buildings I might want to check out, Valerion returned below the floor, and I began my journey outward. After walking a bit, I received a cut scene from the enemy fortress. Apparently the robots had noticed that the link to Wattson had gone out and were quite mad about it.

Yes, there’s an evil boss computer at the middle of the screen.
Its mouth moves when it speaks

This seems to be a good spot to break for now. The game seems an obvious Tex Murphy -wannabe, as it is a tale of a futuristic detective with snappy dialogue in a slightly loony environment. I am not that much of a fan of Tex Murphy, so this might be a bit of an ordeal for me. Well, I am off to see the rest of Washington D.C.!

Session time: 0.5 hours
Total time: 0.5 hours

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. ... Ilmari? You're in the Matrix. Or the Terminator, but I'm kinda leaning on Matrix just because of the 'small internment camps of humans for the sake of plot' thing.

    Is there any music, by the way? The last time I attempted to get DosBOX to record music with video it didn't exactly obey.

    1. I've found with Dosbox if I have music set to Roland it won't record the music but if it's set to Soundblaster it will.

    2. I kind of feel it would be unfair to compare this game to those quality movies. This is more like a cheap parody of Terminator (or at least I am hoping that Skynet did not have a face).

      And yeah, the clip should definitely have some music in it, but it's pretty unmemorable, so you didn't miss that much.

  2. I certainly wasn't getting a Tex Murphy vibe as I was reading this, but now that you mention it I can see the similarities

    1. Yeah, the similarities become more obvious as the game progresses. It seems this game is more of an interactive movie, since the progress relies more on conversing with the other characters than on puzzles. The dialogue at least tries to be as funny as in Tex Murphy -games, and Joques Sparrow would fit well within the zoo.

  3. I don't know how I feel about "quirky" games, in general. It seems like one of the hardest vibes to pull off.

    Of course, there are other things that contribute to a bad game, and I have a feeling we're going to see them here.

    1. I usually like quirkiness in games (and actually in all types of story telling). With this game... I mean, the basic fault is that most of what I am doing is running around with my Metallic Pony in largely empty jungle areas, avoiding robots, just to have few lines of chitchat with some person. I've edited out the running around part, because there just isn't that much happening at those moments (although they take up the majority of the playing time).

  4. Still working on catching up: Let me know if Fatty Bear starts before I catch up!

    1. Will do! You should still have enough time to do the backlog before it.