I don't know about you, but one of the things that really pisses me off about what's happened to the game industry in the last twenty years is the complete disappearance of adventure games.
Not that I was ever a huge fan of adventure games, really; Kings Quest and Gabriel Knight left me cold. But Zork was a lot of fun, back in the day, and I loved the Monkey Island games, and Grim Fandango was goddamn brilliant. Adventure games let you do things with actual story -- stories with real characters you actually come to care about -- that almost no other digital game style can manage. And with rare exceptions, digital games are relentlessly and really annoyingly unhumorous. Indeed, they're by and large ridiculously portentous: The evil Whatsis of Whatever has entered the world and turned everything to steaming piles of shit, and Only You and your l33t skillz, along with the Gizmo of Frammistan, can rescue us from the crapper, but of course first you have to collect the seven Thingummies of Plot Device.
I am so sick of that. Give me Guybrush Threepwood any day.
Which is my point, of course; adventure games can also be light when most games are heavy; funny, when most games are absurd power fantasies.
I ran across a post, I think on Slashdot, some time ago (I'd point to it, but it was a while ago and I'm on a roll now, I'm not going to go hunting) in which some dweeb basically ragged on adventure games as being exercises in reading the designer's mind--and there's some truth to that. Why, in Zork did I have to light the candle, read the book, then ring the bell, to open the Gates of Hell, when the line is "bell, book, and candle"? Took me hours to figure out that that they were using, like, logic (can't read the book til the candle is lit) instead of conforming to the traditional sequence.... And yet, who really cares? Isn't that what walk-throughs are for?
Give me fun characters, a well-written story, good dialog, and puzzles that aren't ridiculously obscure--preferably with some laughs along the way--and I am a happy camper.
But you know, adventure games don't work on consoles (no pointing device), and everything has to cost a billion dollars to be competitive for some reason, and nothing in the genre has sold enough to justify a budget of a billion billion whatevers in years--ever, actually--and so yet another genre that has its passionate fans goes away.
Until people like Dave Gilbert show up and, purblind fools that they are, ignorant fuckheads who don't understand the inevitable market forces they're going up against, start doing it anyway. Because they love adventure games. And astoundingly, do it as well as anyone ever did at the height of the genre's commercial success.
When I calm down a bit, I'll tell you a bit about the actual game under discussion here, but right now, my basic feeling is: It's a moral imperative to buy this game. Because adventure games shouldn't die. And there's no good reason for them to die, either, goddamn it.
(Oh, and: of course, the link above points to the demo provided by my company, so we make something if you do buy it. Tch tch, such rhetoric purely in my own self-interest, yes? Fine, bubbeleh. here's the game on Dave's own site. Buy it from him. Spite me. I don't care.)
Anyway, look. Dave has been doing excellent work. His games are a lot shorter than those from the heydey of adventure gaming (and cheaper), but they're smart, well written, well (voice-) acted, and, well, first rate. His first was The Shivah, and his second The Blackwell Legacy.
Blackwell Unbound is a prequel to The Blackwell Legacy. Its protagonist is Lauren Blackwell, the aunt of the main character of the earlier game. In Legacy we met Lauren only as an urn of ashes, but learned that she'd been kept sedated in an insane asylum for decades before she died. We also learned that Joey, the family ghost, had haunted the Blackwell women for at least three generations.
Blackwell Unbound takes place in 1973, when Lauren is still around and kicking (or smoking, apparently--several packs a day, it seems). Not surprisingly, Joey is around to to help her, as he helped her niece, Rosangela, in Legacy. Lauren has two ghosts to lay to rest--one haunting a construction site on 53rd and Lex, and the other playing a ghostly saxophone on the Roosevelt Island Esplanade.
(People who, like me, actually lived in New York 1973 will encounter a number of anachronisms, like, say, the non-existence of the Roosevelt Island Esplanade. In 1973, "Roosevelt Island" was still Welfare Island, and housed nothing but a cluster of hospitals and municipal service buildings. It didn't become a residential center, with a nicely landscaped Esplanade, until some time thereafter. But never mind, never mind; since you probably didn't live in New York in 1973, this sort of thing you probably won't notice, and in any event, you know, the game is enjoyable enough in its own right to overlook such minor flaws.)
In Unbound (and unlike Legacy), you can control both Lauren and Joey, switching back and forth between them--which is helpful since ghosts can do things (like walk through walls) that the living cannot, and vice versa of course. (Hard to pick up physical objects with ghostly fingers.)
As with Dave's other games, the writing is first-notch, as is the voice acting. There was an article in the Times this week in which Seth Schiesel went on about how game stories suck and you never actually care about the characters, which, you know, kind of demonstrates that the man has never played a decent adventure game. I hate it when people make sweeping but demonstrably false generalizations like that; to demonstrate the falsity, well -- play this thing.