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2 Stars IFReview Rating The Commute

IFReviewed by Paul OBrian on 2006-07-19 06:24 

Game Profile

Author
Kevin Copeland

Idiom
English

Authoring System
Ms-Dos

Release Year
1998

IFR Overall Rating
2 Stars IFR Overall Rating
Separator
Imagine if this was your day: You start out in your kitchen, where you drink your coffee and eat your toast. Then you try to figure out the layout of your two-room house (the two rooms are a kitchen and a hallway). All the while you're experiencing one epiphany after another about how much you love your life, except for having to go to work. Then you get your motorcycle helmet (which you think of as a "helmut") and your keys and head off to your important meeting on your motorcycle. Unfortunately, you get a flat tire almost immediately. Then you wait around while your hands get busy and fix the flat, a process which takes 30 seconds (I think you worked in an Indy 500 pit crew before you got your office job.) Then you get another flat tire, which you fix in an amazing 14 seconds. You get 8 more flat tires in the space of 6 minutes. Then you decide to make up for lost time by driving "just above the speed limit," and wouldn't you know, you get pulled over. The cop notices that you don't have your wallet, and kindly sends you home to fetch it. The drive home takes 7 seconds, and you drive your motorcycle through the house, because you have no idea how to get off of it. You haven't a clue where your wallet is, and when you try to get it, you think to yourself "I may not need that. I may, in fact, have it already." So you drive back out of the house and onto the road, but the same cop finds you, and sends you back home again, because you of course do need your wallet and don't have it already. But something about your hallway just makes you think otherwise. So back you go, and the cop pulls you over 5 more times before you decide to point your bike at an embankment and end your "leisurely drive" by smashing into the concrete at 98 miles an hour. OK, so maybe that last part doesn't happen, but you sure wish it could.

This is the experience simulated by The Commute, an incredibly frustrating DOS game. The first difficulty I had was with the interface, which looks like a traditional parser, but isn't. A typical interaction with it goes something like this:

What shall I do? > GET ALL

I'm sorry, I don't quite understand (my mind is elsewhere).

What shall I do? > X FLOWERS

I'm sorry, I don't quite understand (my mind is elsewhere).

What shall I do? > EAT

I'm sorry, I don't quite understand (my mind is elsewhere).

It goes on, but you get the idea. Traditional commands, abbreviations, and disambiguation are replaced by the same markedly unhelpful error message. What's worse, sometimes it pretends to understand things it doesn't. For example, in the Hall you can say "GET KEYS AND HELMUT" (yes, the game forces you to misspell the word "helmet",) and the parser will respond "Yes, I'll need these." Fair enough. But when you get out to your bike and try to "WEAR HELMUT", it says "I'm sorry, I don't have that here." Turns out the parser only pretended to put it in your inventory -- all you really picked up were the keys. Other times, it seems to willfully misunderstand you. My favorite example is when I typed "GET OFF BIKE" and Commute responded "I'm assuming you want me to get on the bike. OK, I'm on!" The game is full to brimming with this kind of frustrating stuff -- it's clear that the lack of an interactive fiction tool like Inform or TADS really hurt this game, much more than it hurt the other DOS game in the competition, I Didn't Know You Could Yodel.

OK, so it had a lousy parser. This can be overcome, right? What I couldn't overcome, at least without a walkthrough, was the "road from hell", where every few seconds you either get pulled over or get a flat tire. At first, this was very frustrating. Then it just became funny. The point of the game seems to be that going to work sucks. This is a point on which I didn't need much convincing, but if I got pulled over 6 times and got 8 flat tires on the way to work, I would be thinking that LIFE sucks, work or no work. Especially since all I get at home is a partner who keeps urging me to get out of the house, which I don't mind doing since I can't even go back to bed, seeing as how I don't have one. Finally I consulted the walkthrough and found out how to get past the road from hell. Turns out some rather non-intuitive commands are necessary. For example, not to spoil it or anything, but the command to find your wallet is "HUG DAUGHTER." Why didn't I think of that? Unfortunately, even with those gentle nudges (OK, violent shoves), I got to work and couldn't open the gate because I didn't have a parking pass, even though the pass was in the wallet I had with me. Once I figured out that I just couldn't see the pass because the only place I know how to look in a wallet is in a hallway, I deleted the game. My life has sucked much less ever since.

Paul OBrian Profile

Name Paul OBrian
Gender Male

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