Mon 19 Jul 2010
Episode 1 of King’s Quest 9 is out. It’s short, shiny and everyone wants to check it out after 5 years of production. So after doing just that I spontaneously decided to review it, the main temptation being it seems that it takes just a couple of sentences to tell that…
You don’t have to be an avid fan of King’s Quest to have acquired some complex feelings towards the series. That’s because it’s what raised the old, great Sierra to fame and shaped the company’s remaining Quest games. In other words, the design concepts that premiered with King’s Quest No 1 – the parser, the “3D world” (that’s how it was advertised back then), the surprise deaths, the narrator mocking player actions, the mix of classic stories with parody, puns and general craziness – had a huge impact on everything that came after. And which basically means you can’t ignore KQ if you’re interested in adventure games.
As an added bonus with almost each new KQ some fresh controversy arised – after all they were the babies of Sierra’s immensely successful founders Ken and Roberta Williams – they demanded media attention and scrutiny. And so, the Daventry saga was equally famous for tales of daring-do, as for bugs, dead ends, nonsensical puzzles and for the claims from competing game designers that they made their games to specifically avoid KQ’s flaws. Finally, game critics couldn’t stop complaining that KQ is never as good as Space Quests, Leisure Suit Larry’s, Quest for Glory’s or Police Quests. How much influenced all this was by the creators’ celebrity status no one can really tell.
Yet another thing was that with King’s Quest games Sierra used to introduce new graphic engines, new controls (the switch from parser to point & click icons) and in the end they even used it to realize the truly controversial move away from classic (and non-action) adventure games (King’s Quest: The Mask of Eternity in 1998). Before that happened though, for many years KQ tried to match the atmosphere and look of Disney’s animated feature films and maybe even compete visually with Don Bluth’s Dragon’s Lair games. Consequently, on the date of its release King’s Quest 5 was the best looking VGA game in town, King’s Quest’s 6 pre-rendered intro caused viewers to have aesthetic orgasms, and the high-res (640×480) King’s Quest 7 looked even somewhat like a real cartoon. Yet in 1995 Roberta instead of a new KQ offered the players a spiritual anti-King’s-Quest titled Phantasmagoria – another controversial title, a gory FMV horror (with a rape scene and a brains out scene) which legend definitely benefited from the fact that it was its creator’s break with the KQ tradition of colorful games approachable for children.
And so, the above paragraphs appeared here just to give you an idea that King’s Quest is something big, in case you didn’t know. And that was necessary because… because the fan-made King’s Quest: The Silver Lining is something totally just as big as the old ones, and a perfect homage to King’s Quest’s ever-present ambition for grandeur. Having premiered a week ago with the 1st episode, TSL was 5 years in the making and it really shows in a good way. Interestingly, even the buzz around the game is not that much unlike if it was a commercial, professionally made sequel – probably helped by the intense copyright battles that ensued around releasing such uniquely high-profile fanficiton.
The game starts with a decently cinematic and rather long intro. Some grand royal wedding (or maybe just birthday) celebrations are cut short when the Daventry king’s children are put under a terrible spell – to be sure it’s very much sugary good vs. pure evil fairy tale style, but that was always part of the series’ flavor. However, it doesn’t make for the entirety of the required KQ feel – the other essential bits come in when the actual game begins, as silver-haired king Graham takes off his royal garments and puts on his muscular body the cheesy adventuring costume and Adventurer’s Cap that he wore in KQ1, KQ2 and on several other occasions. Shortly thereafter, we hear a series of mocking comments from the female Narrator and we can already say with delight that we’ve been taken back home into a classic Sierra game again.
The adventure begins. The Silver Lining recreates in 3D the Land of 4 Isles from King’s Quest 6 (arguably to most fun part of the series) and it indeed looks splendid in this version – arguably the best-looking King’s Quest ever. The Isle of The Crowns is in particular focus here – the palace, the city, the harbor. Voice acting is of excellent quality, rain and wind effects build an impressive atmosphere together with the music, especially the soothing but catchy tunes you hear in the palace. With both new and old locations, with Graham’s lively gestures, with a plethora of amusing descriptions, conversations and interactions offered by benches, old gnarly trees and dog guards, this old-new King’s Quest world is a pleasure to explore. A couple of weaker animations (like Graham’s jerky walk) don’t ruin the impressive overall effect one bit.
Let’s now have a look at the real weaker side of things, as without doubt there is such. The main disappointment comes from the fact that the actual playing time of this first episode takes about 15 minutes and has only one real puzzle to solve (a simple inventory-based one), the remaining 20-30 minutes are all cutscenes – very good looking, but also throwing a huge amount of dialogs at the player with little clear plot development. The following chapters promise to offer much more, but as far as we know the second one is still a couple months away…
Can one really evaluate The Silver Lining experience by this short Prologue, I asked myself? And I definitely hope that what follows will surpass it by far and become a full-fledged adventure game – even if it should be only medium-sized with all-chapters-combined. However, What is Decreed Must Be has enough meat to it to be judged as a production worth playing with, if only for bringing the magical world of KQ to life again with an all new look. Also, for pushing the boundaries of how impressive can an indie, freeware adventure game look like.