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|IFReviewed by David Whyld on 2006-10-30 05:18
Blurb: “Ben is just your average scientist...until something extraordinary happens that changes his life forever! These two episodes chronicle his adventure so far.”
(Warning – container spoilers!)
The second in TDS’ serial IF series, The Haunted Horror House, as might be gathered from the title, is a comedy. And a parody of other IF games to boot.
The Haunted Horror House follows directly on from the previous game - The Wonders Of Science - with the main character, Ben, being transported to another world via an experiment gone awry. As he explores, he quickly discovers that this world is largely a parody made up of a number of IF games.
As with most parodies, spotting the original game on which a particular scene is based is part of the fun. A couple I got (one was mine so it would have been pretty sad if I hadn’t) but I didn’t recognise the others so any hidden jokes in relation to them stayed unfortunately hidden. As is usually the case with parodies, they're only funny if you’re familiar with the games they're parodying; the rest of the time, you’re sat there wondering just what all the fuss is supposed to be about and if you're missing something. I experienced the latter several times during the game, when I was sure something had just happened that ought to mean something to me, but I couldn’t for the life of me see it as anything other than a very strange little scene. Maybe some mention at the start or end of the game, or in an accompanying README file, naming the games that are being parodied might have been a good idea.
The game suffers from quite a few bugs and guess the verb problems, as well as some downright unfairness in the way some of the puzzles are handled. It’s possible to put into an unwinnable position very easily (miss an item early in the game and you'll find yourself unable to open a shed later on) as well as having EXAMINE and SEARCH as two different commands and not telling the player that this is the case. I missed an item I needed during my first play because at the time I was using the EXAMINE command exclusively; it was only later in the game when I’d exhausted every other command I could think of trying to make some more progress, that I discovered that SEARCH gave a different response to EXAMINE in some cases. By that time, of course, I’d gone past the point of no return and the only way to get back to the earlier part of the game to try SEARCHing a few things was to restart. At least it’s a shortish game so it’s not like I had hundreds of commands to re-enter to get back to the stage I had previously been at.
Guess the verb? Yes, some bad examples were at play here. I spent what seemed like an age trying to hit upon the correct phrasing for throwing a rope over a branch. THROW ROPE AT BRANCH, THROW ROPE OVER BRANCH, THROW ROPE AT TREE, THROW ROPE AT BRANCH, THROW ROPE and so on and so forth didn’t work. In fact, quite a few times when I referred to the rope as plain ‘rope,’ the game asked me which rope I was referring to – the rope or the old rope? As there was only one piece of rope in the location, this was kind of strange to say the least. Even more strange, when I found a cookie and tried to throw the rope, the game asked me which rope I was referring to – the rope, the cookie or the old rope? Bizarre. I assume the former problem was because the room came with a built-in description for the rope when it’s been successfully thrown over the branch, and you can also be carrying some rope, hence the ambiguity problems. But quite why the game assumed I meant COOKIE when I typed ROPE I can’t imagine. Must be a very strange looking cookie indeed… As it happened, the solution I was looking for was relatively simple, although decidedly misleading. TIE ROPE TO TREE was the command I was after. Which, funnily enough, ‘throws’ the rope at the branch.
Bugs? Quite a few unfortunately. The guess the verb with the rope notwithstanding, I also came across a shed which I unlocked, was told the door was blown open by an explosion, but which I then had to open before I could go inside. I could also eat the cookie twice, the second time producing ADRIFT’s generic response for eating an edible item (no doubt a clear case of a non-repeatable custom task for eating the cookie which doesn’t actually eat the cookie…). Another location had a trapdoor in the ceiling which, if you try to open as soon as you come across it, which is the most likely course of action, you'll fail because it’s out of reach. You'll then find that even when you're correctly positioned to open it, the game won’t let you. Yep, you only get one chance to trigger the task in question, and if you try before you're ready, the game won’t let you try again. Ouch. I was forced to restart the game on numerous occasions and also restore from previously saved game positions far more than I would have liked.
I ran into a few more problems at the end of the game (assuming it’s the end, as I didn’t actually manage to finish it but it seemed pretty ‘end-like’ if that makes any sense) when I was attacked by someone called Michael Spanner who I was unable to defend myself from. Or, to put it better, who I was unable to fight because the game wouldn’t accept any of the combat like commands that I tried. Attempts to kill him met with ADRIFT’s default of NOW THAT ISN’T VERY NICE, killing him with the knife with I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU WANT ME TO DO WITH THE BLOODY KNIFE, hitting him with Michael SPANNER AVOIDS YOUR FEEBLE ATTEMPTS, and so on. When he killed me, I was actually quite relieved.
Overall I didn’t intensely dislike The Haunted Horror House but it was certainly a step down from the first game and just too buggy for me to recommend. It isn’t always easy to ensure a game is bug free and guess the verb free, but for one as small as this, it wouldn’t have required a huge amount of testing to fix the numerous errors that are present in it. Even a quick run through the game from start to finish should have caught most of them.
One laugh out loud moment saved the game from a more scathing review – when removing a knife from the back of an injured man, he cries out about the knife and so you apologise and put it back in him. If only the rest of the game had been as amusing as that I’d have had few complaints.
3 out of 10
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Name David Whyld