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Author: Stewart J. McAbney
Reviewed by David Whyld
The first thing that strikes you when playing Panic is the small size of the font, and also that it's coloured brown on a black background. This doesn't make the whole thing very easy on the eyes and, I suspect, was cause enough for more than a few people to give up in disgust. But persevere (or buy yourself some stronger glasses) and you'll find a very good game here.
Panic is one of those games that clearly has had a considerable amount of time and effort put into it: each location is several paragraphs long and amazingly detailed. The style of writing is quite breathtaking at times, although as I played the game through I sometimes felt it was a little too overpowering; you find yourself yearning for something a little less complicated to read.
There's a nicely realistic feel to the game in that almost every static item you come across can be examined and interacted with in some way. While most have little (or perhaps nothing) to do with the game itself, they add considerably to the depth, allowing the player to be fully emersed in the gameworld.
Puzzle-wise this is a game that will either have you tearing your hair out in frustration or complimenting the writer on some inspired ideas. I found myself falling into both categories. At other times, the puzzles are incredibly difficult and set in such a way that it's doubtful anyone, no matter how good at adventure games they happen to be, would every figure them out: the puzzle involving the rats and the organ is a classic example. Without the walkthru available on the writer's website, I never would have figured this out although in hindsight it does make a kind of sense.
One thing I noticed about Panic after I had been playing it for a while is that it is quite a small game. This isn't something you are immediately aware of: the game is written in such a way as to suggest quite a fair number of locations and you can wander around in the initial three locations for quite some time - examining items, asking questions of the characters you come across, even listening to some ghosts conversing if you like - before realising just how few locations there really are. This isn't a bad thing by any measure; indeed it's pretty remarkable just how adding depth to such a game can give the impression of it being far larger than it really it.
I mentioned the characters before but I'll mention them again now in further detail as Panic is one of the few ADRIFT games I've played that actually has believable and realistic characters. Father Wessels comes across as a rather pathetic figure, Amelia Drummond as a terrified woman. Each can be asked questions about a large number of subjects and their responses are never less than interesting. They can even be asked about members of the ADRIFT forum which is certainly an inspired idea (although how Mystery feels about being referred to as a "he" rather than a "she" I wouldn't like to say!)
When Panic was first uploaded there were problems in relation to the speed it played at: enter a command, tap the return key and you find yourself waiting 5 or 6 seconds for anything to happen, unfortunately making the game almost unplayable. Upgrading the game to version 4 of ADRIFT sorts out this little problem and I hope not too many people were put off by the initial slowness because this is definitely one of the best games ever written for ADRIFT and, I suspect, will remain so for quite some time to come. It's certainly hard to imagine a game with a better standard of writing than this coming along anytime soon.
Logic: 6 out of 10
While there are a few puzzles that can be figured out if you think about them, some are just downright nightmarish. Without looking at the walkthru, I never would have figured out the one with the rats and the organ.
Problems: 7 out of 10 (10 = no problems)
The main problem I had with Panic was with the font being such a frustrating colour (brown on a black background) and small enough to make reading it a pain. To make matters worse, the writer has overridden the option of using your own font so if you don't have 20/20 vision this might not be the game for you.
I found a bug in relation to Father Wessels (examine him and he appears dead even though he's quite clearly still alive and kicking) but this wasn't a major problem by any means.
Story: 8 out of 10
An original idea - a person suffering stigmata takes refuge in a church. There isn't really a background given for why you're taking refuge in a church which was a shame but I think the writer was going for a "mystery background" feel for Panic and, if so, he certainly succeeded well enough.
Characters: 9 out of 10
Well drawn, believable characters who actually seem more like real people than the cardboard cut-outs you find in so many games.
Writing: 10 out of 10
Undoubtedly the best writing in any ADRIFT game I've ever played, although it does become a little overpowering at times. Hard to imagine it ever being topped.
Game: 8 out of 10
A very well written, original and interesting game let down by an annoyingly small and poorly coloured font, but definitely worth playing all the same.
Overall : 48 out of 60
Reviewed by Eric Mayer
In his Mileout guise, Stewart McAbney has posted extensively to the ADRIFT Board, written reviews and how-to features and hosts one of the better ADRIFT web sites, so the release of his game, Panic, is something of an ADRIFT event. The game, in which you play a stigmatic exploring the creepy Cathedral of Saint Venerius during an apocalyptic night, doesn't disappoint, even if it does feature practically everything I personally dislike in a game.
Let's start with the writing style. "Over the top" is hardly an adequate description. Images pile on top of metaphors which scramble over similes. The
author seems compelled to strain for effect in every sentence. You won't find melted wax hardening but, rather "resolving quickly to a state of cool." Does that really tell the reader anything, except that the author is laboring mightily? For me too many words and images, all clamoring for attention, muddy the picture, much as with watercolor, where many different pigments mixed together always end up as brown. To be fair, other reviewers have characterized the writing as "superb" and the consensus seems to be that it represents the best to ever appear in an ADRIFT game.
Then there are the puzzles. One, in particular, struck me as hellacious, if I can use that word in a cathedral. Without the walkthru I'm not sure I would've even recognized the existence of the riddle, and even if I had it would've taken me until Judgment Day and then some to figure it out. Some of the lesser puzzles seemed poorly clued, or at least dependent on actions I wouldn't have any reason to perform except in the world of IF, where you try everything just in case. Traditional IF puzzles tend to have little relationship to the way the world actually works or to people's usual motivations. Thus they seem to me a poor match for any game edging toward the relative reality with which the world is depicted in non-IF fiction.
However, strange visions and bizarre actions are not entirely out of place during apocalyptic nights, nor is overwrought language. Undeniably, the game creates a powerful atmosphere. It is a tribute to the author's skills that, even using methods I dislike, he engaged my interest to the extent that I felt compelled to keep going to the walkthru to reach the conclusion. How often do you play a stigmatic anyway?
Although I wouldn't recommend anyone write in the author's style, I commend the care he's obviously taken to polish the writing. The game setting is original; the concept, audacious. Anyone wanting a glimpse of the ambitions those working with ADRIFT have for the system should start with Panic.
Reviews should be considered copyrighted by their respective authors.
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