Charlie Foxtrot & The Galaxy Of Tomorrow
The best adventure game I've played in a long time? A freeware AGS adventure called Charlie Foxtrot & The Galaxy of Tomorrow, the current Pick of the Month on the AGS site.
This could be taken (accurately) as an indictment of the state of commercial adventures, but I think that would do an injustice to a very capable and entertaining game. From Hatter's Guild Productions, and more specifically Alex V.D.Wijst, it's a mid-period Sierra-style adventure (rotating mouse cursor, all point and click, text dialogue) telling the story of a cloned human attempting to escape from the boundaries of conformity.
It's also a series of sci-fi and TV spoofs, some far too obvious (Star Wars, 2001) but others pleasingly unusual (Tom Baker era Doctor Who, The Fraggles). There's no subtlety in their delivery, but nor is there intended to be, and each is so brief that it doesn't feel clanging.
The puzzles are remarkably well constructed. A couple are far too obscure without enough hints, but most are well flagged and reasonably involved (far better put together than anything in the last two series of Sam & Max, for instance). And for an AGS adventure, no shortcuts have been taken. It's a good few hours long, with a huge number of locations, and a remarkable amount of original animation. A lot of work has gone into this.
But most notable is the utterly astonishing effort that's gone into writing replies for clicking everything on everything. Not since the Space Quest series (that this game owes a lot to) have I seen a game that so comprehensively and wittily responds to every eventuality. Each of the dozens of scenes has a unique response on nearly every object, both foreground and background, for every cursor option. It means that entering a location you'll spend a good while clicking "Look" on every rock, plant, doorway and spaceship, then "Touch/Pick Up", then "Talk To", and then even clicking random inventory items. Walk through a series of scenes each with the same skyline, click on the sky in each, and they'll have completely different responses. And most of all, they're all worth reading. I'm just bewildered by the effort that went in for that.
There's a couple of rather significant flaws. The most immediate is a lack of a sense of completion in a location. Moving on to another planet, I was never convinced I'd done all that needed to do on the previous. It always feels disjointed. Better prompting and signposting would have smoothed things out, and created a greater sense of progress. That's not to say there's none - in fact, when it does signpost, it does it especially well. And there's a few nice shortcuts to find, especially one involving the TARDIS.
The other more general issue is the lack of a stronger narrative to justify all that happens. Ostensibly it's about escaping from conformity and being an individual, but it isn't really about that. That's just a thing that happens in order to string the scenes together. I'd love for the game to have had something to say, some sense of commentary, no matter how irreverent or irrelevant.
But I just can't get over the effort in the writing, with the remarkable number of remarks. Trying to touch a distant rock it said to me, "Maybe if you cut off your hand and mail it there it will be possible to do that by next Thursday." Mocking me. And the puns, the sheer volume of puns, put in place for someone so dumb as to try talking to a pathway. I feel a need to prove this, so have a look here. It's fur-ree, from here, and well worth a look.