Thursday, 6 May 2021

Missed Classic: The Nine Lives of Secret Agent Katt - Won and Final Rating

 Written by Morpheus Kitami

Previously, I had almost solved my problems, but was forced to restart the game thanks to an admittedly generous time limit. I do believe it's linked to your actual actions as opposed to in-game time, given the game's speed issues, is a pretty good bit of foresight, all things considered. I mean, someone with foresight would also not force the player through duct work or a crappy action sequence...but I get ahead of myself.

Does that mean we won't be able to sell it?

So, the key, this opens a room with another jewel. It's some stupid name, but it's the jewel that opens the scanner. So this means I can take the final jewel, the one I really need. It occurs to me this is just key busywork, but with another name. Upon using the jewel, the door opens really slowly. As can be expected.

That's awfully blue for a black jewel...

...and I've found the jewel...and no money. I can take it, but the alarm is tripped. I have no empty soda can to change it with. The only thing I can think of that I'm missing is the guard in the bathroom. Leaving my squad somewhere safe, I return to the bathroom. Nothing. I go back to the furnace, crank it up, and return. Nothing. Maybe he's doing a number 2? I try opening the door. It works. I wasn't expecting that.

So what happens if someone needs to take a no. 2?

Aha, the scuba gear. That means the scuba section. I was wondering when that would happen. What wonders await?

This leaves some questions about this place's plumbing

Oh...no...

How does he know I'm an intruder, huh?

Oh...no...

Let me explain this. Shareware games and being underwater have a checkered history. By that I mean all of the games involving water sections were bad. Several games were made in an underwater setting, and they were all bad. I don't really mean that in an ambigious way, I mean bad bad. In particular, I remember one called Scubaman's Quest that was...well, let's just say a game involving Kant would have been better by default. This is worse. Because I'm using the mouse, I control Kat via the mouse. At some point I do get keyboard controls working, which aren't better. This wouldn't be a problem if it was like most shooters. This controls more stiffly. Instead of moving in that direction for however long you pressed the move key, Kat moves in that direction until otherwise told. And everything is delayed. In a section where I have to dodge enemies. I hope that level 1 just means there's a lower area...because otherwise...

I feel this combat bit here is wholly unnecessary. This whole thing has some questionable logic. There's a door I just walk in, into a big water source that's apparently connected to the 3rd floor of a building. There's a dude in the water, in the middle of the night, for no reason. What kind of security is this? Do Italians just casually dress up in a scuba suit, and bring a spear gun with them for a midnight swim? I joked before, but this is genuinely perplexing. Later I discover this is a secret lab, but this seems dangerous to me. I don't know...

Can't I just shoot this thing?

There are two of them, which is still weird. They're guarding a tunnel that leads to an underwater base. There is no way to get into this base. There's no way up. There's a dead end with nothing. In short, there's nothing for me to do here...or is there? Sometimes Kat breaks the scenery by floating into something or by shooting it. Clearly, I'm meant to destroy some of the environment here, but I don't have enough time or spears to handle it correctly.

Doesn't that look destroyed to you?

Once again I resort to cheating, giving myself infinite spears and air. This accomplishes two things, breaking the game, and revealing that breaking it was completely pointless.

Watch out, Kat has broken through the confines of his reality!

Except for the part where I broke through the wall. Since any pretext playing this legitimate has been thrown out the window, where is the quarter? And make no mistake, it is a quarter. Turns out I made the mistake of forgetting that the simplest solution is the right solution. It was the guard in the bathroom, but you need to be disguised and talk to the guard playing the arcade machine first. Maybe its the same guy. I dunno, these guys all look the same to me. He wants a soda, but forgets to tell me that the machine needs to get smacked in order to get it working. This allows me to take the diamond, or jewel. On my way out I take the treasures that make up the combination lock. Unidentified US black ops agency can't afford to send me aboard with a quarter, so clearly they need the cash. I don't know why I need a quarter in Italy though.

Pay attention to that flag there, it's important in a minute

So, I'm home free, just get on this helicopter...damn, I have to deal with the scuba section. But how?

Reminder: Katt is less than a foot away from this

I pondered this after breaking into the left side of the secret lab. If I need to press another key, it isn't obvious. Looking through the files doesn't tell me anything. I'm not even sure there's another level. Something's wrong here. As interesting as it is to break the game like this, it isn't helping me. Then I discover something, pressing F6 causes a white orb to fall from my spear gun. This is a grenade, which blows up the white dome next to the lab, but you have to hit the middle of the dome. As obnoxious as this section is, this particular bit of failure isn't the developer's fault...to a certain extent. F6 is a really bizarre choice of key when you're only using six other keys. It can't be helped when there isn't a readme or manual anywhere. Its not the worst bit of controls I've seen in my life, I've had to use the function keys as an aim function before, but looking down at my keyboard; I have a good 26 buttons, at least that don't involve me stretching my hand in an awkward position. For the record, it's keypad, space and F6.

Miss Nomoney seems to be missing her neck

Wait what? I'm in Switzerland? Is this a freaking ski chalet? What kind of spy HQ is this? There's nothing out that window but snow and ice, looks like that to me. And you couldn't ship me out with some money? I'm guessing those other jewels I've stolen are going towards funding a very necessary acquisition of motorized pursuit vehicles, purchased from an independent Italian company, that will just so happen to be personal vehicles of the brass.

It's helpful that the game keeps the island of Rio on-screen at all times

I guess that explains why I needed the jewel. Going by spy cliches, I'm guessing it was for a laser. Sadly, it turns out that Kat's vacation is permanent. Why? I don't know. We never dealt with Franco, although I suspect that's a blessing in disguise. I don't really have anything else to add to that, so let's go for the rating.

Final time: 3 hours 40 minutes

PISSED Rating

Puzzles and Solvability:

I was hard pressed to find a puzzle that wasn't obvious or required me to read something somewhere. This, ironically enough, inched into being too obvious at times. Yes, you do just shoot down a helicopter with a pistol. They don't call it the world's only crew-served sidearm for nothing. Or the world's worst passcode, 1-2-3-4. In seriousness, while the puzzles were never really clever or tricky (assuming the interface didn't screw with you) they were fun.

2

Interface and Inventory:

Its amazing to see how broken this game was at times, not even those times I was trying to break it. Phantom mouse cursors, seemingly broken hotspots, those were just what I can think of off the top of my head. Because you have to slow the game down, so you can shoot your gun more than once, bring your allies along or even not die in five seconds, the mouse lags. Two, maybe three seconds doesn't sound like a lot in the face of things when you have to do it once. I suppose the keyboard shortcuts would have made that shorter, but I don't readily take to using the function keys like that.

The other characters don't really add a lot on their own, mostly existing to hold onto some items. They're a liability in combat, since without them enemies miss. In practice there's no reason not to bring them along except for three situations. They don't do anything interesting, they're just there because they're there. Which I guess is what you can criticize every unique element about this game as being. We can shoot people because we can shoot people. There's a scuba section because there's a scuba section. It was added without thinking about what improvement this would make to the gameplay. Really, the whole inventory, plus the special equipment can just be put in a big section where the team would be. Almost like what the author did with his other games.

There were several times where the game stopped dead, usually to tell me something, but opening the inventory also did this. Problem is, this just stops the action, usually for a minute or so, you can still press buttons as much as you like. Which if an action can be repeated...is annoying to say the least.

Most of the inventory items were note items, telling me part of a code or some bit of information. I see the appeal, but I own paper, and many, many implements that can be used to write down such information. Which is what I would do if I wasn't writing all this down in a text file anyway. While I appreciate this in a certain way, its not nearly complex enough information for it to be useful. Like complex symbols or something like that. Also, I would have liked for the clothing to not disappear after use, I suspect its possible to screw yourself that way.

1

Story and Setting:

I can only rate what I have in regards to story, as the motivation behind this game is completely missing. What is Franco going to do with the gem, and why does Mobygames mention paperwork? Does someone know something I don't?

Anyway, the building itself is bizarre in both how it functions and how you move through it. You start on the second floor, this leads to the roof, while there's also a third floor. Fair enough. But the second floor is smaller than the third floor by a considerable amount, and leads to a door outside, seemingly on ground level. Meanwhile the 1st floor functions more like a small basement. To complicate things, this is in Italy, where they use the European numbering system. A furnace room and a security room exist that you can't access beyond the ventilation system. Oh, and a little matter of there being a giant tunnel underneath a toilet on the third floor. If this place is built into a mountain, couldn't I see a picture of that mountain? A mountain in Venice, mind you, a place I understand involves a lot of rivers and very few mountains. 

0

Sound & Graphics:

An opening music track, and some PC speaker gun noises. Not even interesting ones, just the player getting shot at.

I think somewhat fondly of the graphical work here. The dark blue used to represent darkness works a lot better than most representations of darkness. But first I want to get the bad out of the way. There's a technique commonly used in the era, I believe it was some special fill tool in a period paint program. This technique adds a whole bunch of random dots to characters that the artist cannot think of any way to fill blank space in otherwise. This is, of course, an awful thing to behold, and I'm glad that's one retro technique that never had a resurgence. You can see it in places with this bikini girl, whom I think is traced, because for some reason every other human in this game looks like a bunch of circles. Sometimes they have spaghetti hair. They're also all Greek gods, but that's an EGA limitation, which tends to require compromises on flesh color.

Otherwise, I don't really have much to complain about. I'm undecided on whether or not the plants look good or not, feels like someone just dumped random pixels there. Most of the areas look pretty good. I wish there'd be more interesting shots beyond the opening one. Some of the areas just there to add space look boring.

3

Environment and Atmosphere:

While the actual content of it was questionable, I have to admit breaking into a high security museum is something that doesn't happen often in video games, let alone adventure games. Plus, other examples I can think of, breaking into a museum, not just a museum in general, are not the most appealing to look at games. It is appealing when the nonsensical layout doesn't take out away from that.

Fisher's work has a unique atmosphere. A kind of pleasing darkness, that actually maintains a feeling of absolute darkness without sacrificing visual clarity. Far too often, games feel like they err too much into pure black or just a room with a lampshade. The problem here is that this doesn't really feel right. At times I'm wandering through rooms that are light, or are underwater and it feels weird. It also feels like the game would like to be spooky, but doesn't have the guts to be that.

7

Dialog and Acting:

Does a handful of statements qualify as dialog? They're basically all just telling me something about a puzzle, or about who I have to shoot in a minute.

0

That's 2+1+3+7/0.6=21.667, so 22. Will Moczarski has the closest guess at 24, so huzzah once again for low expectations.

Am I wrong? I could be, but I could only find a review from Home of the Underdogs, which doesn't really seem like much of a review so much as a description.

As to the RPG status of this game. I must admit I think there's one aspect of this that reminds me of RPGs, damage. Katt and co are vulnerable to getting shot, stabbed, bitten, but not to explosives. Clearly Katt buffed up his blunt resistance to 100%, but neglected to do the same for his piercing resistance. What other explanation is there?

In seriousness, if you want a spy game you should probably play Sid Meier's Covert Action or Alpha Protocol. Neither of which are adventure games. And unlike The Nine Lives of Secret Agent Katt, their action sequences don't feel tacked on.

As to Last Half of Darkness, well...I keep alluding to it, like someone who walked into Star Wars Episode 2 without having seen a Star Wars film before. Thing is, I haven't played any of the first four games in a decade, but I can still go over that house easily, regale you with all the death scenes. I was actually going to do a walkthrough for 3 a century ago, but I never finished work on it. They're not hard adventure games though. Which is ironic considering how it seems horror adventure games are usually infamous for being hard. That said, I'm not sure I'll ever tackle them, for various reasons, but on the other hand I don't really feel like foisting off that blood-soaked time bomb on someone else. Uh...I mean obvious greatest adventure game of all time.

Otherwise, Fisher's next game outside of Last Half of Darkness-related titles, is either Death by Dark Shadows or The Romantic Blue, both released 1994. Except that The Romantic Blue takes place in a town related to the later Last Half of Darkness titles. Death by Dark Shadows on the other hand, is a cinematic platformer, a genre that shares some elements with adventure games. In either event I doubt they will be picked up for '94. Eh, who knows?

6 comments:

  1. "let's just say a game involving Kant would have been better by default."

    You have forced my hand! I must quote a passage from an obscure single-move text adventure I authored:

    ">help
    Is this your first time playing a work of interactive fiction? Typically these programs reproduce the general behavior of text adventures dating back to the '70s, in which intrepid adventurers explore cave complexes, solve dry-goods puzzles and help themselves to any "treasures" not nailed down, using the then-user-friendly I/O system of a text parser (which, when compared to punched cards, is still pretty relatively elegant.) This input mechanism means that you type instructions, typically verbs but often including directions and some abbreviations, into your keyboard, from where the computer determines whether they can understand what you mean and serves the player up output describing the result of the attempt to follow the last instruction given.

    This particular game is atypical of the genre: there are no caves. Also, this game presents a severely constrained version of the text adventure, in which a complete playthrough is achieved in single commands. To illustrate, please allow me to demonstrate. You'll have to figure out how to achieve the other endings on your own, but this one is a freebie:

    > INVOKE THE CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE

    You pull out a worn and dog-eared copy of Kant's Kritik der reinen Vernunft. Sam's eyes open and you are countered with a volume of Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. You trade opening statements and proceed to debate for two weeks, at which point you have just about achieved an agreement on the definition of some key terms. You're both quite disshevelled and have probably permanently stained the diner booth in which you're both installed in your philosophical labours. A group of German students have taken up residence in the diner, some supporting your mode of thinking and others backing Sam's.

    Following one day's especially vigorous debate, some students take you aside and propose that the two of you resolve this dispute with a duel. You sharply retort that such a conclusion to the affair would undermine outside perception of the correctness of the winner's arguments. They nod and appear to agree, but despite that two hours later one of them comes back and shoots Sam on your behalf anyway.

    The bullet is a small-calibre one, and it lodges in the flesh in the upper arm, but all the same Sam needs to go to the hospital to have it ministered to, suspending the debate and potentially putting it on hiatus indefinitely. That night you sit by your phone but Sam never calls you up; perhaps this is what it took to finally shake your unwanted ardour like a terrier shaking a rat.


    *** Admit it, you probably wouldn't have thought of that one ***

    Press SPACE to restart.

    >invoke the categorical imperative

    Ah ah ah, that trick only works once. The old "repeatedly invoke the categorical imperative to score repeatedly" loophole exploited in so many games has been anticipated and denied in this one! Nice try, though."

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    Replies
    1. When was this written? Then I can start saving CAPS to sponsor it as a missed classic when the year comes up for review.

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    2. Sorry to leave you all hanging; I wrote it for "Shufflecomp" in 2014, assigned a song to base a game around. My assigned song was Paul Simon's "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover", which yielded a variation on the Aisle formula.

      Though somewhat half-baked (to anticipate every reasonable input, I needed more like 250 than 50 endings) you can play 50 Shades of Jilting through your web browser via http://iplayif.com/?story=http%3A%2F%2Fmattweiner.net%2FShufflecomp%25202014%2F50%2520Shades%2520of%2520Jilting.z8

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    3. Someday I ought to get around to writing the other 200 possible endings, but Inform 7 has changed enough since the version I wrote it on that my delicate framework made of toothpicks and scotch tape needs to be refactored before I can recompile the game.

      Delete
  2. You could be wrong, and Katt could actually be a misunderstood masterpiece. That said, it could also be that pigs secretly CAN fly but just hide it very well from us, and while an interesting thought experiment, we can safely relegate it to the realm of the absurd.

    It is a shame that none of the game's documentation is around, it might have at least filled in some of the gaps in the storyline. But the game should not just rely on its own manuals and if it cannot at least explain the gist of your mission and/or situation in-game then the score of 0 is well deserved.

    We should also award the writers for the least research done on a game by a fair mile. They knew that a soda in the US was about a quarter, so they just turned 25 cents into 25 Lira and called it a day. Need a spot for the SCUBA adventure? Bathroom stall. Need SCUBA gear? Leave it next to the diving hole. The laziness is as apparent as it is appalling.

    ReplyDelete