The Pawn For Atari ST
What is a Roobikyoub dwarf? What is the chief product of the Farthington Real Ale company? Where is Kerovnia? Is Honest John really honest? What do gurus live on? Does alchemy work? Does a horse need legs to walk?
Truly, these are pressing issues. For time unmeasured they have obsessed us, entering our minds with the coming of the dawn and turning to dreams—sometimes nightmares—with the dark of night. But now, at long last, Firebird Licensees has provided us with a way to discover the answers.
We need only buy The Pawn.
The Pawn is a work of illustrated interactive fiction, a text adventure with pictures. As in most such games, you take the role of an adventurer, working your way through a fictional land and an intriguing plot, meeting other characters and figuring out what to do. You simply type in what you want your character to do, with commands such as "Look in the fountain" and "Drop everything but the pot and the trowel" (hint: one of these commands is certainly worth trying), and the computer responds accordingly. Like most text adventures, it is addicting; also like most, it is filled with frustrating, yet intriguing puzzles. In fact, it is typical in many ways. If you've played Zork I, you'll have no trouble getting into The Pawn.
In fact, The Pawn is quite clearly a parody of the Zorks and their ilk. At one point, the hint book even admits this, although the admission is hardly necessary. Everything in this story must be taken with a grain of salt, and at many points you'll find yourself laughing at the absurdity of it all. This is not to suggest that the Zorks were meant to be taken seriously; The Pawn parodies the entire genre of interactive fiction, showing us that much of it—even the serious stuff—has its shortcomings.
As far as the game itself goes, there are several notable features. The parser is good, allowing workable conversations with other characters and permitting a wide range of actions. The story itself, with its descriptions, is very funny in parts. There are puzzles, but there are no mazes. In fact, a character within the adventure is actively campaigning to eliminate the dungeons and mazes of text adventures. And, once you figure out what it is, the goal of the adventure is gripping.
Furthermore, the game has graphics—pictures to accompany the text. Some of the pictures, especially those you see first, are stunning. In the ST version, at least, they blend colors and shading superbly. The title page, copying the game box, reflects the atmosphere of the latter part of the adventure. The pictures of the grassy plain and the wilderness, with their three-dimensional perspective and fine sense of pictorial composition, are worth staring at for several minutes before you move on. But my two favorites are the stone bridge and, especially, the palace gardens. The latter uses professional shading and texture to produce a truly excellent screen display. Few of the later pictures approach the quality of this one, but one great one is enough. I wish, though, that the pictures were integral to the play of the game; Firebird might consider making them so in future games. As they stand, they are nice to have, but you don't need them to solve the adventure.
The Pawn provides excellent documentation. The main book is a 44-page story that leads up to the time of the adventure. Reading it is not necessary to playing the game, but it is well written and good fun, and it helps with the atmosphere. At the back of this book is a coded hint section, a fine idea for all text adventures. As the book tells us, the hint section "overcomes the Adventurer's usual nightmare of phoning the author, begging him for 20 minutes to impart some snippet of advice on how to kick the stuffing out of dragons, and finally being cut off halfway through the solution. It's also considerably quicker and cheaper." Strangely, though, the hints are a mixed blessing. They greatly reduce the frustration of playing the game, but they also reduce the time it takes to solve the adventure. If you're the kind of person who wants a text adventure to occupy months of your life, tear out the hints and throw them away. Otherwise, the thing can be solved relatively quickly. Still, the hints don't give everything away.
The Pawn is a good design, and it should appeal to those who enjoyed being frustrated by Zork. Those who have never played a text adventure will also find it enjoyable, even though many of the jokes will not mean much. Firebird has given us a good adventure, one that bodes well for the company and for all of us adventurers. As for the answers to the questions in the first paragraph of this review, you'll have to find out for yourself. The only answer I'll provide is, "Not necessarily." The question is up to you.
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