Mr. Bill's Adventureland Review
Reviewed by Laura MacDonald
This game first surfaced a good year or so back. The graphics looked good and the storyline was definitely not a cookie-cutter adventure game. A number of preview copies were sent out around the gaming community, but the dialogue was Rumanian with English subtitles, and the documents and signs were not translated. As best we could tell, it seemed to be a dark, futuristic game with a great deal of promise.
Having finished the game, I wish I could say that it was good, fair, or even just tolerable. But that's not the case. Instead, this game gets a big 'thumbs-down' from me. If that is all you need to know, then don't bother with the rest of the review. If you want to know what happened with this game then read on at your peril.
Yes, I know... it seems contradictory. But Midnight Nowhere did have its share of high points. In fact, my initial impression of the game was very positive. I liked the demo and was all set to have a good time with this game.
The graphics that impressed me in the demo were in fact even better in the game. They have a surreal look and feel to them that is unique and appealing. As you wander through the game, there are a large number of objects and places to look at and interact with that aren't essential to the plot or game advancement. You get glimpses of violently torn apart rooms, and still figures hanging or crumpled in death, just out of reach. All of this created a mood that was disturbing, but entertaining. I don't mind a dark horror-tinged game in the least.
The look of the game is base-line industrial generica. But the posters with their neon swatches of color, and other items, add great dimension to the look of the game. The faces of the people on posters and in photos are all slightly off... nightmarish even. So I wondered as I played if perhaps the whole thing was a nightmare, and not real to the character at all. The music added a whole other layer to the atmosphere, and I really enjoyed myself at this early point of the game.
The story was fairly original and at times riveting. There were many plot possibilities that passed through my mind about where the game was headed, and what had been going on in this 'hospital of horrors'. The ending, though rushed, was acceptable and made sense.
So the real issue is, with such a unique storyline, great graphics, ambiance and other positive factors, how did this game not only lose my interest but also cause me to dislike it? Well let's see, where do I start?
In the beginning, you find yourself climbing out of a body bag. You have no memory of who you are, where you are, or how you got there. This part of the game was pretty good. With all the obvious carnage and violence, it seemed fairly crucial to figure out fast who you were and what was going on. I had a number of tasks to complete and challenges to overcome. It is essentially an 'open the door', get to the next level, multi-task game. I liked the game at that point, and was fairly engrossed. So I got to the next corridor and there were a number of locked rooms. No problem. I figured my way into a few of them, started accumulating inventory items, and had a good impression of the game so far.
But that is pretty much where the puzzling stopped in terms of variety. It was not just one door, or even 4 doors, but an endless stream of one locked door, broken door, jammed door, tied-off door after another. And there would be multiple locked doors in every new area. So it was difficult to tell which couldn't be opened 'til later, or held the keys to the other locked doors, or might never be opened at all in this game, or in this lifetime. I can say that I actually like locked door puzzles, but a whole game of them gets a little dull after awhile.
There is also another aspect of the game that, truthfully, didn't disturb me a great deal or ruin my gameplay... BY ITSELF. The language in the game is definitely on the rough side of the spectrum. Now there are many adventure gamers who will find that reason enough to take a pass on this game. You definitely wouldn't want to play this with your kids. But I suppose I got acclimated after the first 20 times or so, and... well, this guy is obviously not a polished good guy. He looks and acts like a soldier or undercover cop out in the field. So I just sort of shrugged and moved on.
Then there are the soft pornographic pictures. Again, I went huh? Hmm, ok. They were less than what you would see in Playboy, or even many fashion mags these days, but they did get more realistic and graphic as the game progressed. There is a chapter where you are in a prison cell with some definite low-lifes, so it seemed logical to the plot, if unnecessary. Again, many gamers out there might easily add this aspect to their list of reasons on why to not buy this game.
But what did it for me are the ugly parts of this game, which when factored into my gaming mood, made all the annoying stuff go from annoying or noticeable to grating. SO... the terrible parts of the game created a cascade effect, where my view on the game got worse and worse, until I wanted to stop playing and smash the game.
Getting back to the interactive part of the graphical environment... though I truly liked the surreal imagery, and the many items you could look at and interact with, many of these I could have also done without. The posters themselves were pretty funny. One in particular dealt with the risks of drug use, and had a person who was eventually killed because a machine operator who hated drug addicts ran the guy over. Juvenile probably... but I laughed hard at a number of these public service-type posters. However, your character's comments were many times stupid and annoying, and after a while just started ticking me off.
Which leads us to the dialogue. I have mentioned the choice of language, but what really got to me were the comments the guy makes as he examines his environment. A great deal of your quest for 'door opening devices', and/or items that will lead to 'door opening devices', involves searching and examining dead bodies. Conveniently, they are liberally strewn about... so you have a lot to look through. What was annoying, became irritating, and moved on to obnoxious, were these little comments.
For example, one dead woman would have been great "with a little more silicone". Another was a princess, but he wouldn't be able to explain that one if he took her home. This guy never ran out of a new way to smack down a dead woman. After the 15th reference to a cold shower, steaming the mirror, or whatever phrase saying the same thing, I just got pretty tired of the lack of creativity in the dialogue. 20 times might have been slightly humorous... maybe. But 100 times and you just want to shoot someone. To get another perspective, I had my 14-year-old give it a whirl... and he got bored and cranky sooner than I did. He asked if 12 year olds had written the dialogue. Hmmm, maybe they did?
This aspect was ugly, but what really kindled my growing disdain, were the eternal pixel hunts, and the interface, which added a whole new level of pain to this endless searching.
The interface uses a sort of throwback mechanism, like those used in early LucasArts games. Instead of an automatic interactive cursor, you have to manually click up top to change its function. If you want to pick up something, you have to click 'grab' to enable that function. Even that wouldn't have been too bad if the interface had been consistent, or if the cursor would have lit up on items of interest.
It did, but ONLY if you had the correct function selected. In other words, if there was a close-up needed to get at an item, but you had 'grab' selected, then when you slid your cursor over the area nothing would happen. And what function would get a response wasn't consistent. I spent more time trying to figure out which function would allow me to do what the game clues and my own logic told me should be done than I did in just doing it.
For example, there is a radio in the game. I needed batteries. Seemed like a logical source for such a thing. Except no interface seemed to work. 'Look' just got the same comments. 'Grab' didn't work. Finally it came down to getting a walkthrough, seeing that I had been right for the last hour, and using some weird combo to get the thing and access the battery. And that was just for one lone inventory item, and of course you needed two batteries.
This occurred endlessly throughout the game. A chair had a very important item. But 12 passes over that chair showed nothing there to interact with, and I was stuck for quite a while. It wasn't until I inadvertently had a different function selected for the cursor that it suddenly reacted with a glow on that spot. Add in the fact (which should have been a positive) that this was one fairly long game with a large number of environments to access and explore, and... well, it didn't take long for me to no longer care how or when I got to them.
Not only is there an over reliance on pixel hunting, but also many of the separate 'hot spots' were so close that it was difficult to tell that there was more than one in a given location. Even when you 'knew' that there were more items to discover in a given spot, it could take painfully slow panning, and clicking over and over again, to trigger the right hot spot.
SO... for those who think the seedier elements of the game are the reason for my low opinion, think again. They were just the icing on a bad cake. This game could have had a Jane Jenson-driven plot, and this interface would still have made me see red.
The End of the Road...
I would say... don't get this game unless it is bargain-basement priced, and only if you have a walkthrough in hand to help you find the hot spots in the game. Even then, be prepared to search and re-search the same area to trigger them.
However for people interested in collector's items, you might get it. I think it will have a hard time getting published here in the USA, given the language and sexual content. Now I personally think that should not be an issue, because games have been and will be developed for adults only. But if the consensus (right or wrong) is that only kids buy games, then this one will have to have a 'Mature' or adult only rating here in the United States. That will make it a very hard game to carry in stores. I doubt that the developers would want to, or even be able to change the game enough to qualify for a more kid-friendly rating, so it likely will be a 'UK only' purchase for those who want the English version. And those quantities dry up fast, so I see this game fetching huge prices on Ebay and the like in a year or so.
Other than just curiosity or as a collector's investment, I say save your money for other games.
© 2004 Laura MacDonald
Developed (2004) by Saturn+ and Buka Entertainment. Published in North America by Tri Synergy.
Rated: M for Mature 17+ (blood and gore, very strong language, pornography, use of drugs)
Minimum System Requirements:
PC: Pentium II 400 MHz Processor; Windows 98 / 2000 / ME / XP; 64 MB RAM; 4X CD-ROM Drive; DirectX Compatible Graphics Card; DirectX Compatible Sound Card; 1 GB of Free Hard Drive Space; Mouse
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