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|IFReviewed by David Whyld on 2006-10-30 05:26
Provenance starts off well: a nice introduction which does an excellent job of setting the scene (although the final line "AND WITH THE NIGHT COMES THINGS THAT GO BUMP" rather spoiled the mood). The game had a professional feel and it's obvious a lot of time and effort has been put into its making. It also comes bundled with a lengthy PDF file containing the game's background and some advice on playing interactive fiction in general. A nice touch.
At first impression, it seems like a horror game. You arrive on the brick walkway leading to a large mansion with eerie feelings hanging over you. Something tells you it's a bad idea to go further, but go further you do…
The game doesn't credit any betatesters which, for the first game by an author, isn't perhaps a wise thing. To begin with, it didn't seem to affect things too much as I was able to wander around a large number of occasions, perform all manner of tasks, examine things all over the place and all without running into any kind of problems. Later on, though, a number of bugs crept in. A good deal of them have now been fixed (the game is up to version three at the time of writing this review), but quite a few still remain. Some of the bugs actually made the game easier (getting the maul out of the stump was easy in the original version as you simply pulled it out (despite the fact that the game told you that you couldn't do this and the description of the stump still had it embedded there)) yet in the later version it's a lot harder. Likewise, the cellar is now locked whereas before it was wide open and could be entered any time the player chose.
The game is quite picky about what it will and won't let me do. A list of items I found under a welcome mat (not mentioned anywhere in the room description incidentally) advised me of things I needed to collect, although the reasons as to why I was collecting them weren't revealed. One of the items was a canteen which I also needed to fill with water from the well. I couldn't find the canteen at first yet I found a bucket, only couldn't figure out a way to fill it from the well, as even when it was full of items, including a large stone, it wouldn't sink far enough down into the well to fill itself up with water. Then again, I'm not even sure why this was necessary because another location contains a fountain, yet the game won't let me fill the bucket up there. And what about the taps in the house?
Provenance comes with a number of frustrations that I'm sure the author had a good reason for including but which I can't figure out myself. There's a hundred plus location maze which I imagine will have people bashing out QUIT in droves*. There's the item restriction, meaning that you can only carry a certain amount of items and have to spend half the game trekking back and forth picking up different items for different puzzles. As with every ADRIFT game I've ever played which has used an item restriction, this one is amazingly flawed. You can carry, say, ten items (I haven't counted), yet pick up extra ones automatically (finding the knife in the tree trunk, for example, or pulling the axe/maul out of the stump - performing these tasks adds the items to your inventory and neatly bypasses the restriction) and thus go over your limit. The frustrating thing is that if you're carrying more than the maximum item limit and decide to drop one, the game won't let you pick it back up because you're carrying too many items, even though you were quite capable of carrying it beforehand. On top of all that, you're often able to carry around ten or more heavy items, yet trying to pick up something relatively light is too much for you. Oh yes, ADRIFT's item restriction leaves a lot to be desired. In a game like this, with several dozen items scattered all over the place, quite a few of them necessary to complete the game, you're going to be spending a lot of time aimlessly trekking back and forth.
* Actually the maze doesn't need to be travelled through according to the README file which accompanies the game. There's a shortcut to the centre of it from another location, although as to access this shortcut you need to ask the butler about a certain thing that's at the very centre of the maze, and which can't be seen until you've been to the centre, you're going to have to go through the maze at some point. It's even more frustrating that you only need to venture through the maze after a certain point in the game, but nowhere is this made clear. I found the maze quite soon into playing and got out the graph paper and pen and mapped it out the old-fashioned way. Exits from the 100+ locations aren't listed, which was a pain, but as ADRIFT helpfully lists them anyway if you head in a direction which lacks an exit (like up or down), it's fairly easy to get through. But tedious. Oh so tedious. But not half as tedious as reaching the centre of the maze and finding there was nothing for me to do there yet because I'd come too early in the game…
Depending on which version of the game you're playing, you might well find that ADRIFT's in built map has been disabled - in a game which boasts two hundred locations, including one hundred in a maze(!) of all things, this is a bad, bad idea. And there are no hints. No. None at all. So when you get stuck, you're stuck. Later versions thankfully enable the map, but there are still no hints around.
Yes, there are a lot of negative things about Provenance but there are also a good number of positive things as well. It's got a fairly high standard of writing and the storyline was interesting enough to keep me playing long after the many frustrations had prompted me to quit.
One of the game's main flaws is that it often requires the player to jump through hoops to attain a fairly simple result for no other reason than the writer has written the game in a certain way and wants the player to play the game that way because… well, just because. Escaping from the house (whose door locks behind you the moment you step inside) is particularly annoying because there are all manner of windows around the house which can't be opened, broken or climbed through, not to mention the door itself which, if it was locked, I would have merely booted down to get out instead of getting out the way I did. There are also a few instances of puzzles being inserted into the game for no other reason than, it seemed, to include puzzles. I knock on the door of the house, it opens, and then before I can enter it closes again. I'm then required to search for the key, despite the fact that there's someone in the house who needs my help. Why am I required to search for the key? Because the writer wanted me to do so…
Then there's the item list. Granted, it's easy enough to find, but why am I collecting the items on it? For what purpose? And when I've collected them, what am I supposed to do with them? Most of them are easy enough to come across, but with the item restriction in place, it's clearly going to be impossible to carry them all at the same time which is going to require a lot of very tedious trekking back and forth. I never saw a good reason for item restrictions back in the 80's when they were quite common and I sure don't see a good reason for one now. It might be unrealistic to have the player lugging around thirty or forty items, but it's also a handy way of cutting down on unnecessary frustrations. And when I'm carrying a dozen items, try to pick up a piece of paper and get told that I can't because it's too heavy, any kind of realism the writer was going for is just lost anyway.
Overall I liked Provenance but my positive feelings for it were tempered by the many, many annoyances that marred the game. I'm not just talking about the bugs (although they certainly contributed towards a good deal of the frustration), but the way perfectly logical things won't work for no other reason than the writer doesn't want me to solve a puzzle in that way. On top of the lack of hints, the maze and the inventory limit (and the disabled map in the earlier version of the game), I found getting beyond a certain stage in the game something of a chore. Much as I liked it, it was also an irritating game to play at times. I finished it eventually, with the aid of the walkthrough, although the series of events that actually lead to the game's conclusion are a little confusing to say the least. Granted, I'd seen the items list so I knew which items I needed to collect, but where did it say I was supposed to put them there and what I was required to do next?
6 out of 10
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Name David Whyld