Go-LIATH? ... But hardly a colossal game (as yet)!

By Len Green (July, 1999)
I love reading reviews, all sorts of reviews, but particularly reviews of Quest/Adventure computer games since they are my main hobby. I often read well over a half dozen different reviews on the same game. Before I have purchased a game, the average assessment gives me a reasonable idea as to whether or not it's worth shelling out the cash and making the effort to buy it. After I have finished a game, I like to compare whether the reviewers praise or damn it in any way similar to myself. In addition reviews often give me an interesting post-mortem viewpoint or slant that had not occurred to me whilst actually playing the game.

I have written a few walkthroughs and articles on Quest/Adventure games but never a review, it's just not my 'thing'! So this is not a review. Maybe a compendium and comparison of some others' reviews, with a few impressions and generalities of my own thrown in ... not restricted solely to Liath.

Before even starting, it must be mentioned that everything following is based solely upon the European version of the game. I have no idea what changes there may be with the USA version if and when released ... hopefully there will be many improvements!

Since I am probably a bit weird in that I am possibly more interested in the "structures" of games than in actually playing the games themselves (and am usually better at the former!), I would like to concentrate upon the lessons that could be learnt (by developers, publishers, distributors, players, etc.) from this game, and some general ramifications arising from same.

I have read somewhere around ten reviews &/or previews of Liath and quote below some extracts from four reliable, well known, and experienced reviewers (no names or Sites mentioned - this is not personal!). As always, it can be maintained that short quotes may be taken out of context. If so, I apologise in advance to the authors.

[A] "Look forward to the {USA} release of Liath in September 1999 - it should be a winner."
(N.B. This was DEFINITELY entitled a Preview, and [B] was similar if not in name!)

[B] "Liath is a traditional quest-style adventure that should appeal to those seeking a pure example of the genre. It is challenging but not overly difficult and should provide a pleasant gaming experience to old and new adventurers."

[C] "Despite its many rough edges Liath still has a lot of charm and though I'd like to give it a positive review, in all fairness I just can't. The graphics and music are excellent and I thoroughly appreciated the fantasy ambience, but all the problems mentioned above conspired against making it a satisfying game."

[D] "As long as I have been writing for [a well known] Review I have been lucky enough not to encounter a game in which I couldn't find at least one redeeming factor. But, as was bound to happen, one came along in which I couldn't. Liath is that game."
....... "This game is one best left on the shelf. I don't even know if I would recommend it as a bargain bin purchase, really. It had such potential but was killed by the lack of a coherent, cohesive, or even interesting storyline, terrible puzzles, and illogical game flow. I can see that even die-hard adventure game fans would be disappointed in this game as I was - a shame really, since it is one of the few traditional adventure games available to buy right now."

Some personal thoughts on the above assessments
As confirmed by the above, I am constantly amazed at how a game that I thought extremely good is thoroughly trashed by some reviewer, and of course vice versa. I suppose it is self evident that however objective we all think we are, subjective emotions influence us very considerably. To churn out the old cliché which applies to everything and everybody, "One (wo)man's meat is another (wo)man's poison" (I think that 50% or more of computer Quest/Adventure game reviewers are women!).

Actually IMHO, all the above are valid ... in different ways. Diplomat or coward?

[A] I certainly hope so! ... but a fair bit of cosmetic surgery will have to be performed to achieve anywhere near "winner" status. From a little hands-on experience, superficial improvements should not be at all difficult or time consuming, and well worth the extremely modest expense incurred.

As amply stressed by the previewer (and also all of the reviewers), the English subtitles need to be radically corrected, revised, and improved so that they more or less faithfully parallel the speech. It would also help if names were consistent throughout the whole game, manual and maps --- e.g. either Criss or Chriss all the way through; likewise Jeve, Ive or Eve; etc., etc.

The manual should be considerably updated, revised, expanded, and written in decent English. Illustrations of spells in the manual should coincide with those in the game and not be all jumbled up as in the version I received. It would save a lot of unnecessary frustration, particularly near the beginning of the game if a clear explanation were added as to how to use the two different (and pretty confusing) game menus with a description of how the game reacts, or often doesn't react, to their various manipulations. In this respect, it would help to add a mini-walkthrough just of the opening gambits, with particular stress on how to use the different 'controls' ... this has been done in several game manuals where the interface is somewhat unusual and awkward! Incidentally, although not mentioned anywhere in the game or manual, the maximum score appears to be 1010 points (with a small possibility of 1020 if you can somehow summon up an additional mite of witchcraft or whatever), and thankfully you are never 'killed' in Liath! These facts could be mentioned; at least in the manual.

Finally, a good deal of the voice acting should be studio-replaced since a lot of it is of extremely poor quality (and some of the British dialects may not appeal to many USA gamers). This too is not an expensive operation.

[B] Yes! I (and many others) have repeatedly written about the almost total absence of new 'pure' Quest/Adventure games. Even though Liath is not in the same class as a Monkey Island or a Gabriel Knight, it nevertheless provides many hours of activity and interest for those who are addicted to the genre. I have found that every Quest/Adventure introduces some novel procedures, special effects and sequences which have never been attempted before. Liath is certainly no exception to this, and although disappointing in many respects it also provides some very welcome and interesting innovations.

[C] Here comes the rub! One of the other reviewers quoted a retail price of 39 Pounds Sterling. I received my copy as a gift, but for anyone who hasn't got an almost unlimited cash budget this is a hefty price to pay for a somewhat questionable game. Unless the USA price is slashed considerably I have grave doubts as to whether a sufficient number will be sold, particularly after reading recently (in a series of articles on a major Net Game Site) that about 100,000 need to be sold in the USA in order merely to just about 'break even' financially.

If, as I pessimistically fear, the game is not considerably improved and is a market flop, it will unfortunately provide even more ammunition for the not so silent 'majority' (who seem to dictate trends!). It could give them another opportunity of repeating phrases, already heard too frequently, such as ....... "You see! Pure Adventures don't sell. They are not commercially viable. We must add action - and particularly fighting and killing, and the more gore the merrier!". Kings Quest Mask of Eternity may be evoked as an example of things to come ... and with all due respect (or personally and more honestly; disrespect) to KQMOE this will really sound the death knell of the traditional Quest/Adventure genre.

[D] Although agreeing with many of the criticisms contained in this review, I wouldn't go as far as to say that there are NO redeeming features in Liath. There are many clever, intriguing, and even rewarding activities. Every single (p)review I have read agrees that the rendered graphics are REALLY excellent ... maybe magnificent, even when compared to the likes of Riven. The ambient background music and SFX are good also.

However the game has a general lack of cohesion and comprehensible story, a very clunky interface, and other negative features. These all combine to make it virtually impossible to play without continuously consulting the built-in hints or the company's walkthrough (which is for the most part identical). This is amplified by the fact that almost the only 'legal' hints given to the player in the game itself are through some dialogs with a few NPC's, which generally lead you on correctly but are sometimes misleading, deliberately or not!

My own individual (subjective) impressions
As mentioned at the beginning, my intention is not to write a review. So I will not mention the topics usually included in a review, like an outline of the plot (such as it is) or judge the general merits or demerits of the various aspects and features of the game. These can all be read in the dozen or so (p)reviews already written. Some are emphatically positive and others equally negative.

My own personal overall judgement is very similar to [C]. But I feel quite guilty about this and expressing my lack of enthusiasm for Liath. There was recently an exchange of on-line articles, where one writer claimed that we should stop criticising the shortcomings of Quest/Adventure games and instead buy every one as and when it is released (this shouldn't involve any outlay nowadays; unfortunately!) in order to demonstrate our solidarity and support for our beloved genre. To a very great extent I agree, and personally could afford to do so. However, I guess that this would make life very difficult for all the many unfortunate reviewers out there ... i.e. to whitewash an exceedingly badly constructed game and imply that it is good, thereby encouraging folks with limited budgets to buy it. So on this matter, to quote one of my favourite Sites - I'm in a Quandary!

I think that the two features which annoyed (occasionally infuriated) me most were as follows: The game has a total of 30 locations (these are VERY easily accessible via fairly simple mouse clicks on maps, the only drawback being quite an amount of swapping of the 2 CD's) and the impression given is that the game is almost entirely open ended. When you come to play it however, you find that in reality it is instead nearly completely linear. Much of the gameplay involves travelling to unknown locations, often in some predetermined order known only to the developers of the game (or use hints!). Added to this you finish up with well over 40 items in your inventory and 20 spells. Often, I found myself trying all these items on every possible object at every location until I got fed up clicking at the huge number of permutations and combinations, trying everything on anything. In the end I frequently gave up trying, and simply accessed the hints (after having saved - hah; cheat!!) to find out at least WHERE on earth (sorry ... on Azeretus!) to go next.

To finish this rant off, one reviewer complained about an action which had been successfully concluded (and the regular 10 points obtained) but apparently out of context with the order that the game 'demanded'. There are unfortunately several similar situations and they spoil the construction and integrity of the game.

The one which caused me the most anguish was as follows: I was given a verbal clue to go to a certain castle. I went, and on entering the throne room and without doing a single thing, the castle (and presumably everything in it) was destroyed. Wow; +10 points ... I must be on the right track! Later on in the game (fortunately not TOO much later on) I got completely stuck ... a frequent phenomenon in Liath. Eventually I gave up in despair and had to summon up a built-in hint. "Go to Khekatt in his castle" it said. My heart sank ... I had totally trashed his castle, and he was presumably obliterated. But no; when I clicked on the map and returned there, the whole citadel had been miraculously and perfectly restored, with Khekatt nonchalantly sitting on his throne again as though nothing had happened! Amazing what you can do with a wee bit of magic - but I'm certain that this was not spell-magic but programmer "magic". So, back I went to one of my earlier saves (essential in this game). On replaying, I skipped the abovementioned castle, and all was well ... great sigh of relief! Apparently the developers 'intended' me to liquidate the castle at a considerably later stage of the game! But how was I, or anybody else, to know?

In conclusion
On reading over what I have written above, I see that it is probably a mass of contradictions. But I console myself with the fact that most Quest/Adventure games are such anyway. One of the attributes of the genre is apparently the ability, or maybe necessity, to almost or completely suspend belief ... at least for a good deal of the time!

Finally, my intentions are 'honourable' (I hope) in writing this article. There is nothing I would like more than for Liath and EVERY "proper" Quest/Adventure game to be a winner. Although I have come out with plenty of grumbles, I think I have also outlined some very positive qualities. In voicing my complaints/criticisms, I sincerely hope that the game will be improved as much as possible for the USA market, and hopefully will turn out to be a very great success.

Copyright © Len Green 1999. All rights reserved.