Requirements: Apple II-series computer with 64K minimum; Commodore 64; Atari 400/800/XL/XE (64K minimum with two disk drives); Atari ST computer; IBM PC/PCjr and compatibles; Apple Macintosh.
Brimstone, the third release in Brøder-bund/Synapse's Electronic Novels series, is perhaps the most literary of all text adventures to date. Literary, that is, in its constant attempt to place the player in a world that recalls other stories and other worlds seen before. With references throughout to Dante, William Blake, and the medieval romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Brimstone occupies a special place in the history of the computer text adventure.
The Dream Vision
Not that it's the first adventure to refer to other books. Far from it. Windham Classics' Treasure Island, Alice in Wonderland, and The Wizard of Oz are based on existing books, as are Telarium's Fahrenheit 451 and Nine Princes in Amber, Infocom's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Bantam's The Fourth Protocol, and Addison-Wesley's The Hobbit. What separates Brimstone from these adventures is that Brimstone is not an adaptation. Brimstone's adventure alludes to several literary works, and the allusions are enticing, but it is an entirely new story.
Brimstone traces the dream vision of Sir Gawain, an Arthurian knight. The player's commands move Gawain from place to place through the dream, and the knight—like all knights worth their salt—has a specific quest and a specific deadline by which to accomplish it. In this sense, the story is reminiscent of the period of medieval romance characterized by the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Knowing the poem doesn't help in general, but to end the quest (and this shouldn't give too much away), it won't hurt to have finished reading the poem.
The world of the dream vision is not Arthurian England. Most of the travels take the knight through a combination of Dante's hell (from the Inferno) and William Blake's special world. To give just a couple of examples of how Brimstone reflects its literary sources: the knight meets Blake himself (and other Blakean characters), and on his wall is a painting that shows the scenes from Blake's great poetic work, Songs of Innocence. And the Underworld sequence starts in the great ice field of the Inferno, which science fiction fans might know from the Niven-Pournelle novel of the same name.
A Sense Of Being There
It plays well. Like the other two works in the Electronic Novels series, Mind-wheel and Essex, Brimstone has a sophisticated parser and is a pleasure to read. It does take a long time to play if you have a Commodore 64, because it continually accesses the disk.
It is not extremely difficult; there is a way out of each trouble area, and there are no impossible puzzles (I say this even though I've hit what seems a dead end, for the time being anyway.) But the descriptions are useful and detailed, providing a real sense of being there, and the quest is both unique and interesting. I know that there are no adventures like it, and there may never be again. Its greatest appeal is to those who have read a fair bit, but it should appeal to all adventure gamers.
There is a sense that Brimstone is a book to read, not a game to play. I personally feel that we need more such products, but fans of ZORK-like puzzles may not agree. You are taken step by step through the story, and you get stuck only infrequently. Furthermore, the game's difficulty increases as you go through it; most of the head scratching comes toward the end. As literature, it's excellent—the story's end should be its climactic and most gripping part—but games often fail in this respect. Still, there is enough to Brimstone to keep you occupied for a long time, whether or not you are interested in the literature from which it is derived. All in all, this is the best so far in a very promising series.
17 Paul Dr.
San Rafael, CA 94903-2101
$44.95 (Apple II series, Macintosh, IBM, and Atari ST)
$39.95 (Commodore 64 and Atari 400/800/XL/XE)