Written by Reiko
Broadhead Journal #10: "I’m in hell. Literally. I suppose I deserve it. I wish I hadn’t broken the party VR, but I didn’t have a choice if I wanted to help the Heechee AI destroy the Assassin. Now I’m paying for my choices and I’m not even allowed to die."
As they say, "out of the frying pan into the fire." This time it's almost literal. I'd just destroyed the Assassin's distraction through VR contradiction. The destroyed party scene dissolves into a new VR scene, a conversation with a huge demon who threatens me with eternal torment instead of pleasure and then throws me into a flaming hydra lair.
|How many ways can I find to die?|
There are actually four different rooms, each one containing a different torment. If I stay in the hydra room, it will eventually eat me after a few turns. From the hydra lair, I can go south to a demon gauntlet, a narrow pathway lined with demons who throw various things at me. After a few steps, they throw a rope net. If I don't escape, the demons knock me into the abyss.
|The result of failure.|
Either way, "death" isn't the way out of this: it merely brings me back to the huge demon, who taunts me for my failure and resets the scenario. So I'm not going to screenshot every one of these failures and call them deaths, because they don't end the game. It's only VR.
|The frenzy dust causes temporary rage and hatred.|
North of the hydra is an empty chamber that seems to contain invisible gremlins that occasionally shove me or cut me. Eventually the invisible blade will slice my throat. North of the empty chamber is a room of mirrors and demon statues. After a few turns, a demon animates and breathes a red dust which temporarily makes me insane enough to try to kill myself by beating myself unconscious against the mirrors.
|Watch how the image in the mirror changes as the frenzy dust has more effect.|
The first suicide attempts don’t kill me, though. It's not until the fourth statue animates and causes this frenzy that I manage to do enough damage to kill myself. But of course I just return to the beginning of the scenario again.
|The hydra doubles its severed head.|
Instead of all this pointless death, I need to break this new scenario. So I take the rusty sword  that's sitting in front of me. I first try to attack the hydra, but while I manage to cut off a head, soon two new heads grow. Classic hydra behavior. That certainly isn't the way to defeat it.
|Collecting the demon's trash.|
So I escape the hydra toward the demon gauntlet instead. When they throw the rope net over me, I immediately cut it with the sword  and then cut it again . This time they throw a sack of garbage at me. I knock it away, and it lands on the catwalk. I don't need the garbage, but the sack might be useful, so I take it .
|Acquiring frenzy dust.|
I escape the catwalk and go to the mirror room, where I put the sack over the head of the first demon statue. Maybe I can get some of that frenzy dust. I wait and am rewarded with a sackful of glowing red dust . First I try throwing it on the hydra, but that just makes it even more aggressive against me. I was hoping that would make it self-aggressive and tear itself apart, creating an infinite loop of new heads. I think I'm on the right track, but I missed a few steps. I didn't do anything in the "empty" chamber yet. But I also die instantly if I throw the dust at the invisible demon there.
If I wait long enough, I can tell it jumps onto a stalagmite stump or shelf. I can put the sack on the stump, with or without the dust, but that doesn't seem to help. I can throw the empty sack at the stump when the demon's on it, but the sack just ends up on the stump as if it weren't there. I die again and again trying different things.
I go away for awhile and think about this. The dust doesn't make the demon visible, but something else might. I realize the hydra room is full of fire, so it also ought to have some ashes. I go back to the beginning and re-examine the rooms and discover that yes, there is ash available. I also discover I can take the net with me after I cut it too . So after I brave the demon gauntlet and get the sack and the net, I go fill the sack first with ash instead of dust.
|The invisible demon is revealed and caught.|
I wait in the empty room for the demon to jump onto the stump, then throw the ash at it to reveal it . Then I throw the net onto it to entangle it . I notice that it's got a ring on, which I swipe  before it frees itself, and escape into the mirror room. A ring of invisibility, perhaps? It even calls it, "my precious"! I wear the ring and disappear ! Now I can move around without danger from the monstrous occupants of the rooms.
|I throw the frenzy dust...|
|...and the hydra tears itself apart.|
All that remains is to sneak back into the empty room, retrieve the sack, and fill it with the dust of madness like I'd tried earlier. Then I can go throw the dust at the hydra and watch as it starts attacking itself , having no other visible target. As some heads are severed, more regrow, but the more heads, the more aggression, and soon the VR breaks from the overload. Maybe this one is overgrow instead of overflow!
|Now I win, right?|
The simulation dissolves and I'm back in the travel pod with the globe dark and cracked and the hatch open. I automatically place the collar in the depression, and the mission is complete. I return to Gateway and everyone celebrates for a week.
I'm given control back in the Blue Hell Bar after midnight. Oddly enough, while the score says 1425 out of 1600, it also still says "You have twenty hours and eight minutes until the Assassin's message is sent." What? Have we missed something? Well, I go to sleep, expecting to receive a message in the morning about what to do next.
|Bad news, we're not done yet.|
I am not disappointed. I put the card in the terminal and access my messages. The new message is from...the Heechee Virtual Personality. That's weird. "Despite appearances, you have not returned to Gateway...you are in yet another reality created by the Assassin..." Oh, no! The AI goes on to explain that since I kept breaking its VR scenarios, the Assassin is trying a new tactic to distract me long enough to send the alarm. But the Heechee AI has slipped a copy of itself into an unconscious part of my mind, so it was able to send this message into the VR while I slept. All I have to do now is activate the Deep Psych VR one more time in order to bring the AI into the Assassin's virtual reality, and it will do the rest. 
I'm actually really confused about how a VR could simulate a flight back to Gateway as well as dozens of conversations with Gateway scientists over the course of a week, all within less than an hour of real time. I can only speculate that this kind of VR can act like a dream where it can summarize activity and make the brain think that it's experienced more than it really has. I mean, at this rate, it would have to simulate months of activity to occupy twenty more hours of real time.
Anyway, I head over to the VR terminal to do as the Heechee AI asked. The tech is gone, but he left his manual, which I take . I sit on the couch and try to start the Deep Psych program, but it still requires a password, and I don't have the current one. There should be a way to determine it from the manual. I read it and find the list, but it requires special light to see it. Let's see, where can I find the right kind of light?
|Activating the Deep Psych program.|
I seem to recall it had something to do with UV light. What about the tanning salon? I take the manual there, and this time I can see the list ! I note the right word for the date and dash back to the VR terminal. I type it in and get a success ping . The last action is press the button to start the program . The rest is all done automatically.
The AI virus invades and destroys the Assassin's AI and frees me from the virtual reality. I put the collar in the depression and the AI resets the Watchtower's message to the all clear. I return to Gateway for real this time and collect boatloads of money, including a bonus of $25 million on top of the $22+ million I'd already amassed. After the fuss settles down, I can return to Earth.
But the Assassins are still out there, watching. "...the WatchTower itself is only an outpost - an active probe ending back daily reports to the most destructive race the universe has ever known
..." And the Heechee AI seemed to think the Heechee were still alive too. Watch for the exciting conclusion when we get to Gateway II: Homeworld!
Somehow I managed to miss a single action somewhere, because I initially completed the game with 1595 points out of 1600. I check through a walkthrough and find that I needed to throw ash on the stump first before catching the demon in order to see his footprints. That's easy to fix, so I replay the ending just so I can get the final screen with a perfect score.
|If you wait long enough at any time after arriving at the WatchTower, the Assassin's message is sent. (#16)|
1600 of 1600
Orion Program (green badge)
4 of 4
Activated the Nexus and destroyed the Assassin.
That's it for Gateway! Next time will be the final rating. We'll see how well the game stood up to my nostalgia for the series.
I really enjoyed the Hell VR sequence! It's great how all the rooms individually are lethal but also provide tools to "break" each other, and I think it's one of the best puzzles I've yet ever encountered in an adventure game.ReplyDelete
Yes! It's difficult but completely fair. You know everything you need is within the scenario. But there's some tricky timing and some mental leaps to take. Works well as a climax puzzle.Delete
Either way, "death" isn't the way out of this: it merely brings me back to the huge demon, who taunts me for my failure and resets the scenarioReplyDelete
This is reminding me of the adolescent Andrew Plotkin's Infidel parody "Inhumane", the successful winning of which requires finding every way to die he baked into the game.
I REALLY enjoyed all the VR scenes in this game--tricking you (the character) into believing it was real; forcing you to glitch out the game to break out. Neat stuff!ReplyDelete
This was a really great game to read about.ReplyDelete
Well done, Reiko. You described the action and puzzle solving so well I almost feel like I played it myself.
This review rather makes me want to read the book!ReplyDelete
Although the setting is mostly the same, the novel has a completely different plot - there is more of a focus on the slice-of-life experience of being on Gateway and the main character's relationships with some women and a therapist AI. IIRC Ilmari implied the second novel (which I haven't read yet) has more in common with the games.Delete