Backpacker: The Lost Florence Gold Mine
This title is the first step into the world of computer game design by its developer Animagination. It is being promoted as an 'Action Adventure', but I would be wary of this label as it might be a little misleading.
In particular, I am pleased to report, there is no combat in Backpacker in any shape or form. In this case the 'action' is confined to three or four action/arcade type sequences and other than these the game play is pure adventuring. Except for an unfortunate bee, and two baddies who take a wrong turn, nothing and no-one gets hurt on this adventure ... well you can get hurt if you really try ... but more about that later. Hence Backpacker certainly won't suit 'action' fans and, sadly, there are just enough fiddly bits to annoy the pants off adventure purists. But this isn't a game for adventure purists, or for experienced adventurers, it's much better suited for novice to intermediate adventurers and younger game players.
The story is set "along the trails of the Great Northwest" in Idaho, United States, and you play Detective Chuck McBlade. As it opens there is a quick flashback to the year 1886, a campfire in the wilderness with a group of men arguing over some sought after treasure. Foul play is imminent, and as the screen fades two shots ring out.
It's sixty years later, the home of Chuck McBlade somewhere in suburban USA. A car draws to a halt and a shadowy figure drops something on McBlade's doorstep, rings the doorbell then immediately retreats. McBlade (you) retrieve the mysterious package along with the attached note which is signed simply M.F. The mysterious M.F. is in trouble and begs for your help. In the package is the diary of John Florence, the recipient of one of the deadly bullets mentioned above, and it tells of his journey in search of the Nez Perce Indian Legend ... the Cave of Death. Irresistible. So off you go to solve the mystery.
Backpacker: The Lost Florence Gold Mine is a third-person adventure game with lots of wilderness to explore, plenty of chores to take care of by collecting items for other people, and a little learning as an added extra. The learning component is well integrated into the gameplay and takes the form of various descriptions of flora and fauna native to the wilderness area and a puzzle sequence where you must identify plants to collect the correct ingredients for the preparation of a meal.
Of course, plants and berries, etc., can be poisonous, so sampling the wrong one can lead to a abrupt ending for Mr McBlade. So you need to remember to look before you eat. And there are a number of other ways to meet a premature ending in this adventure: stepping into raging rivers, missing your footing on a mountain pass, breathing noxious gas, etc. As far as I'm concerned a 'death' experience or two has never bothered me whilst playing adventure games, but I know it drives some players mad. Be assured, in Backpacker resurrecting your character is a simple task as the game immediately offers the option of restoring to a previous saved game or to your last 'quick save'. This quick save feature is very useful, just press the F6 key, and F5 is right there beside it if you ever want to speedily restore to your last quick save.
I say I don't mind 'dying' occasionally in an adventure game as I like to experiment, live life on the edge, so to speak, even if it is vicariously. However, it's a completely different matter for me with regard to 'arcade' type sequences when I'm simply trying to survive. Be aware this game has a couple of these episodes where frequent dying is inevitable. These sequences are likely more suited to younger players and I did wish that the writers had included a 'way out' for players like me who simply don't have the patience.
Still, this aside, Backpacker is fun to play with lots of pure adventuring problems and a respectable number of locations, so much of your time will be spent exploring, solving puzzles and retrieving objects. Thankfully there is the option to speed up character movement so there is no endless waiting while Chuck ambles across a screen. Also, there is an option to turn off the music which I did very early in the game. Not because I found it annoying, but because there are no separate music and sound controls. I found that the music sometimes drowned out the voices and, as there are no text captions for any of the dialogue, the music had to suffer.
The graphics in this game are not 'state of the art', but I don't know many dedicated adventurers who would be put off by this. Backpacker is another of those games that takes you back a bit and reminds you of the good ol' days. To my mind it is very reminiscent of several of Sierra's older games, King's Quest 5 in particular, with an omniscient narrator (a tinge on the patronising side), a small collection of icons for walking, looking, using and talking, a little romance, and lots of things to do to keep you busy.
All in all Backpacker isn't a complex game, but there are a variety of problems to solve and it doesn't take long to get into the swing of things. Really, it's a game that all the family can join in and enjoy. Young players will certainly have some fun with the arcade bits and they'll likely need to come to the rescue of Mum and Dad on these occasions.
This one is another game that could also slot into our children's reviews as there is only one 'still' dream scene with a couple of pixilated bodies to cast the teeniest shadow in this respect. It is worth a look if you don't demand gee whiz graphics and mind crushing puzzles all of the time and if you can face the odd arcade sequence. And it's particularly good for families who don't have the latest hardware because you don't need a Pentium 2000 with a 500 speed CD-ROM for it to work. It is also reasonably priced compared to other recent releases.
Copyright © Rosemary Young 1997.
All rights reserved.
486DX66 or faster, Win 3.1 or greater, Video Card providing 256 (8-bit) colours, Sound card, 8Mb RAM, 7 Mb free hard disk space, 2x CD-rom or faster, Video for windows (on CD).