Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender. (computer game) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Alfred C. Giovetti
Rex Nebular, the main character in Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender from MicroProse, resembles Han Solo of Star Wars. He's the space smuggler pilot of a specially altered cargo ship called the Slippery Pig, which resembles Solo's Millennium Falcon. Rex is mostly a down-on-his-luck pilot who will do almost anything for money where galactic deliveries are concerned.
Rex gets a request from Colonel Stone, a wealthy Elvis impersonator, to retrieve a valuable vase from Terra Androgena, a planet populated only by xenophobic women. Apparently, Terra Androgena's biology-proficient women killed all the technology-proficient men in the Gender Wars and promptly used a cloaking device to make the planet disappear. In order to reproduce without men, the women invented the extremely distasteful Gender Bender, a machine that turns women into men and vice versa.
Rex discovers Terra Androgena, and his ship is immediately disabled by a planetary defense craft. the Slippery Pig crashes into the sea, and Rex must find the vase on a planet of hostile women. Rex also finds it necessary to use the Gender Bender to change into a woman (who resembles graphic adventure game inventor Roberta Williams of Sierra On-Line).
Bug-free Rex Nebular is the first graphic adventure produced by MicroProse, right on the heels of the company's first role-playing adventure, the unfortunately bugridden Darklands. Rex Nebular has very high production standards, and MicroProse has virtually reinvented scanned images with a new graphic rotoscopic process that produces attractive, realistic, and smoothly animated images from filmed actors. The process also integrates the animated images with the back-grounds, blending them into one picture.
The music, which can be turned on or off but has no volume control, is mood enhancing, interesting, and never monotonous, repetitive, or annoying--unlike many of the barnyard noises passing for music in other software. There are an enormous number of Foley and electronically produced squashes, splats, thuds, and squeaks. The beginning animation is enhanced by more than a minute of digital speech with simultaneous text display.
The game has both a naughtly and a nice mode, either of which might be desired in a game where there is only one man on a planet full of women. The nice mode eliminates the one sexual encounter and most of the gratuitous--and ubiquitous--blood and gore.
The interface uses a mouse-activated, text-constructed parser that combines ten standard action words with object-specific action words to produce text parserlike sentences. The treasure-hunt puzzles require the player to find objects and discern how they're used. The game has no dead ends; you get second chances to acquire essential artifacts. It can be played in easy, intermediate, or advanced mode. I'd recommend intermediate, since the advanced mode has significantly fewer hints and is more lethal, while the intermediate mode has more interesting puzzles.
There are a variety of interesting characters, such as the intelligent, 12-foot-tall reptilian "buddy beast" that be-friends Rex in the female underground. Happily, Rex Nebular has no annoying, obligatory arcade sequence. The logically designed connecting scenes are simple but interesting, obviating the need to map or have an automapping utility. Essential items can be maintained and manipulated in the unlimited and versatile inventory. Rex Nebular is highly recommended for novice and advanced players alike.