Developed by: The Digital Village
Published by: Simon and Schuster Interactive
Reviewed by: Zachary Rounds
Robots, Robots, everywhere.
About a year ago I heard about an adventure game that was being developed by one of my favorite authors, Douglas Adams (I've even read, and partially understood, the Dirk Gently books). The premise of the game was that you could talk to any of the robots in the game and hold a real conversation with them via a text parser. "What more could anyone want?", I asked myself. The ability to talk to robots that acted like they had just stepped out of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (Adams' most famous book) caused me to quiver with joy. Unfortunately, Starship Titanic seems to have bit off more than it could chew, and is not the godsend that adventure lovers have been waiting for. If anything, it is more of an indicator that adventure games might really be dying off.
The game starts out with you in your house loading up Starship Titanic for the first time (Ignoring the fact that you have already started the game up). The game loads, at which point a gigantic spaceship crashes into your house. A robot appears and explains that the ship has gone out of control. Since you obviously have nothing better to do than play computer games, you are recruited to fix the ship. Once on board you proceed to wander about the ship, talk to robots, and try to repair the ship's central computer. Starship Titanic doesn't really have a progressive story line; your job is to fix the ship and get home, and when that's done, you're done (getting home is the last challenge, but it is only one puzzle, so you're really spending your time fixing the ship). Don't expect some sort of drawn-out story here; Starship Titanic is fairly devoid of plot. However, I rather enjoyed the fact that I was able to wander about the ship and do what I wanted in any order.
Movement is carried out step-wise (like Myst). Unfortunately you aer not given the ability to spin in 360 degrees at each step, instead being forced to turn in increments of varying degrees (sometimes 90, other times 45 or 180 etc....). This resulted in me getting confused as I wouldn't be sure in what direction I was pointing.
The Big New Thing about Starship Titanic is the ability to talk to the robots via a text parser. This brought back the memories of the old Infocom text adventures. Starship Titanic reminded me of the good old days of gaming when all you had was a text-filled screen, a keyboard, and your imagination. Starship Titanic also brought back the bad old days when you're imagination was squashed into nothingness as you pondered that great question of life, "What keyword will the game recognize?". Although the idea of talking to the robots sounds great, I found myself dreading any conversation with a robot. While you never hear the old "I don't understand what you're saying", you do get to hear an endless stream of useless generic remarks. Worse yet is when you have to ask a robot to do something. At one point in the game I needed to have a robot get a broken light bulb out of a lamp. After trying every way I could think of to ask for the bulb, I broke down and looked at a walkthrough, only to find out that there was only one possible way to ask for the light bulb and that any other way, no matter how reasonable, would be ignored by the text engine. Fortunately, most of the puzzles do not require you to talk to the robots, and are instead based around that tried and true combination of adventure games: Pixel hunting and the illogical uses of everything you pick up.
Compounding my disapointment is the brevity of the game. Although the ship is huge (each of the fifty or so floors can be accesed), there's not that much to do. You never have any reason to explore the other cabins on the ship as they all look the same and have no purpose. I found myself finishing the game rather quickly as a result. The lack of things to do also accentuates the fact that the game just isn't that funny. Sure, there were some parts that had me rolling on the floor, but again, there just weren't enough.
The visuals in the game are generally good, although I have a few things to gripe about (as usual). The ship itself looks really cool from the outside and on the inside. The ship looks like its never been used, as the light gleams off the brass, marble, and polished wood that make up most of the rooms. On the other hand, the animations for the robots were very choppy. I would think that the people who made the ship could get something better than Max Headroom clones to run it. The other problem with the robots is that they look, well, like robots. Although they had voices, their faces never moved. The only way to tell if they were angry or happy with me was by looking at the dials on the control panel (one of the puzzles involves these, but past that, they seemed fairly useless). The total lack of expression (with the exception of the Parrot) lowered my desire to talk to the robots even more.
The sound in the game consists mostly of the robot voices and not much else. There were many rooms where the only thing I heard was the steady background music. This wouldn't have been so much of a problem had the robot voices been better. While the Parrot, Suck-U-Bus, and the time bomb were really well voiced (thanks to the talents of Douglas Adams, Terry Jones, and John Cleese respectively), the voices for the other robots just became dull and repetitive after the first few conversations. Part of this is due to the canned responses, but it took a lot of visits to the Parrot before I stopped chortling whenever he screamed about chickens. Fortunately, the game requires so few conversations, my irritation never got too great.
I really had high hopes for this game. I was hoping that it would bring the adventure game genre out of the slump that it's in right now. Instead I find the Starship Titanic will only serve to bury adventure games more. If the text interface is worked on enough so that when I talk to the computer it responds intelligently to any of my questions, then we may have a winner. But where Starship Titanic and its text parser stand right now, I can only hope that companies will be able to find a balance between innovation and fun.
Our rating out of 10: 5.9
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