Posted 7 July 2000 to rec.games.int-fiction
I had half-written this review when a crash deleted it and I had to start from scratch. Aaaargh!
[WARNING: As in all of my reviews, you can expect to find *heavy spoilers* for the entire game. Proceed with caution.]
In a Nutshell: An average (and on the whole unremarkable) game, with a few points of technical innovation/ experimentation.
From the first scene, the game is clearly placed inside the film-noir detective genre. Unfortunately this type of stories is so exceptionally prone to cliches that I doubt it can be used in anything other than a clear parody - here it failed to even create a sense of nostalgia in me...
Moreover in the first scene I also run across the first problem - it took me a while to understand that I had to "TAKE THE MONEY" so as to accept the case - earlier attempts of mine included "accept" "agree" "yes" but they all failed. This may sound as a nitpick, but nonetheless it gave a bad first impression.
Aii.... One thing I understood here is how much I've been spoiled by games such as Photopia, Worlds Apart and Galatea. No longer can I easily swallow one-dimensional characters that serve one puzzle or provide one piece of information and do nothing more. Their time has long passed - and good riddance.
There's not a single memorable character here. Almost all the characters (including the PC) are either obvious cliches or completely one dimensional. It helps to prove once again the quality-over-quantity argument: it's far better to have few developed NPCs rather than a ton of undeveloped ones - or else ways should be found that severely limit communication (check Edifice, So Far, A Spider in the Web) and thus stop us from understanding its limits...
Basically... I wanted more of it. As a game this should have been built as a mystery or a suspense story - as such it could contain clever and unexpected plot-twists. But once you first read about the mayor, you know whodunit. All that remains is connecting the dots and that's kinda... boring. Some twist, something, anything should have been devised. Jessica being indeed the killer. Or the mayor being framed and you being used for that purpose. Or something.
Moreover, possibly more importantly, possibly less so, I think there a couple big plot-holes. For example: Jessica's alibi is no good? Her having dinner in a classy restaurant with her boyfriend, the proprietor, the valet attendants and the waiters all being able to testify on her behalf is no good? If she was in her boyfriend's cosy apartment with only the myopic old lady next door able to testify on her behalf... that might indeed be no good.
And did the blonde simply wait for the tow-truck or did she drive "in a reckless and erratic manner"? Seeming inconsistency here...
Finally a big problem with story-logic is discovered if one tries to understand the process through which you make a number of discoveries - but more on that in the next section.
The game-world seems initially to be huge and in a very good sense it indeed is. There's a post-office, a court, a police station, back alleys, newspaper offices, a strip joint, a classy restaurant, a pawnshop, a bar, a cinema, residential apartments, a hospital etc, etc. So far, so good. A complete, huge city. Very nice - and I guess that's the main reason for the size of the gamefile.
But in another sense this realistic hugeness is contrary to the way that the storyline uses its setting. For example: How do we discover the lost Jaguar? Easy: it's in the city's only garage. And even more obviously, how do we discover its driver? Simple: she's one of the only *three* blonde women in the city. The way these discoveries work is a major blow to suspension of disbelief...
This, coupled with the fact that no matter how many buildings one adds to city it can't ever be realistically big, makes me wonder if an alternate use of the verb "DRIVE TO" should have been used, one similar to 'In The End'. Perhaps locations as the garage and the strip-joint should become available once you first learn about them and their address - then "DRIVE TO GARAGE" would take you there... Or perhaps the description of the road/room should change to include the existence of the strip-joint, earlier just one among many strip-joint but now important to your case.
There were a number of these; far more so than usual. One I strongly applaud is the availability of "GO TO"/"DRIVE TO". It helped me tremendously and did away with the frustrating need to draw a map. Kudos.
Other innovations were less useful, and given the time they must have taken to code, I sincerely doubt if they deserved the effort. Most obvious among these is the way that the game handles money, each coin and note as a separate item, calculating change and what must be exchanged for each transaction. I think that a single object "money" with an property indicating how much it is would be both easier to implement and perhaps even better for the game - it sounded rather strange to have the game concerned about such things.
The notepad's another innovation of a sort, unnecessary for the game, mostly added for the purpose of adding it. But it fits the atmosphere, so I don't really object to it at all. Still, I generally use a real-world notepad... :-)
It also seems that Irene used a system so that the hospital's huge corridors could be represented in only a few objects. Very good - but this again seems superfluous. Something like "The hospital's corridor stretches all the way to the horizon in a long line of rooms, intimidating you from going forward. You must learn the exact number of Kincaid's room." could have been used.
:-) I suppose I'm just nitpicky - especially since Irene has talked about how difficult it was to fit everything inside the limits of the Z-machine.
Finally I have to make mention here of the hint system - atleast some people seem to have liked it. Unfortunately I'm not that enthusiastic concerning it. I tend to feel that hint systems should either be completely separate from the storyline implemented as meta-verbs and the like, or else (which is better) be completely integrated in the game. The pendant in Worlds Apart is a good example of the latter.
But in Dangerous Curves the man in the cinema is a mysterious intrusion to the narrative - I was first intrigued and then disappointed when I realised he wasn't a plot point, he wasn't someone that we should track down and investigate his involvement in this affair. Because originally that's exactly what I tried to do: run outside, ask the youth about who had just left, bribe him to tell me. Alas it was not to be, and the hint system belongs to some kind of limbo inbetween: inserted into the narrative, yet not part of it.
I felt that there were a couple details which were ultra-annoying, even more so because they are easily fixable. For example, the trenchcoat isn't implemented like a SACK_OBJECT which creates the need for manual inventory control. Bad karma! Bad! Something equally bad was that even when inside the car "DRIVE TO <location>" wouldn't immediately turn on the engine. That was a weird combination of making our life easy and difficult at the same time.
Since driving was as fast as walking, I ended up ditching the car and just typing "GO TO <location>" to go there by foot. Which meant then I had to go looking for it, having forgotten where I had abandoned it. :-)
We have again the old need to eat and sleep. I suppose it's unavoidable in a game which tries to simulate the passage of hours and days. I am glad though that most games, including this one, don't feel obliged to simulate the need to pee or crap. :-)
This game is... frustrating. There are technical innovations but none of them really extraordinary. There are technical flaws but none of them really terrible. There's a story but it has no teeth. There's a fully formed world but it has no memorable distinctiveness of its own. It's just an average and rather... forgettable game.
Irene Callaci said that Dangerous Games wasn't originally meant to be a game but more of a collection of separate objects, locations, characters and so on. I wonder if that's the reason or part of the reason for this non-distinctiveness I felt. Generic can sometimes be the same as boring - and I believe that it's the story that must guide the creation of the world around it - not vice versa. There's a similar feeling I got in the upstairs scene of Above and Beyond and the reason may quite well be the same.
Closing I'd have to say that it is a game competently programmed, even if rather unorinally written. I'd be quite glad to see and evaluate what this new writer has to offer in the future. But until then I'm gonna have to go and play Reverberations again. Corrupt mayors must go! :-)
This article copyright © 2000, Aris Katsaris