Well, Jack T. Ladd is back, and despite his ingrained sexism, I was rather pleased to see him. Innocent until Caught, his last adventure wasn't such a bad game, it had some tricky puzzles, and fortunately some of its glaring problems, such as the messy inventory box, have now been rectified. The writers haven't done away with all the pixel hunts, but they have made it much easier to 'use' one object on another (anyone who played Innocent will remember just how frustrating it was trying to manipulate objects), and the new inventory in Guilty works like a charm. Just drop in the objects you pick up, then with a click of the mouse they are nicely arranged for you. The inventory is bigger too, so you can collect more and scroll up and down to survey your collection.
However, the biggest change in Guilty is the inclusion of a second character, Agent Ysanne Andropath, who works for the Federation Police and pilots the space ship, 'Relentless'. You can choose to play as either Jack or Ysanne and it is well worth playing both characters as the puzzles you will face at most locations are different.
Jack hasn't changed much in this game, he's still pretty obnoxious, and he would undoubtedly still lament the lack of 'naked babes' in his newspaper. Ysanne, on the other hand, is described as having 'ingrained male-oriented misanthropy'. Actually, after playing the game and noting Jack's antics, I would rephrase the above and describe Ysanne as 'having a good deal of independence and a healthy mistrust of the Jack T. Ladds of this world.' Believe me, Jack deserves everything he gets!
Though perfectly simple, this story is cleverly told to utilise both characters. Up to a point, at least, it works rather like the BBC TV comedy/drama, The Norman Conquests, for anyone who can remember that far back. It begins just after Jack has been diligently tracked down and captured by Ysanne but, instead of delivering him straight to prison where he belongs, the hands of fate - or should I say, of Jack T. Ladd - intervene, and the two characters set about saving the world.
If you begin with Ysanne, in the first scene you are alerted by a radio transmission to a space disaster that has occurred somewhere between your position and your intended destination. You're not keen on playing the heroine and only want to see Jack get his just deserts, so you decide to hyperspace around the problem. Oh dear, your plans are foiled when Jack joins you on the bridge after having escaped his cell, and announces he has sabotaged the hyper drive. This doesn't please you at all, and you are even less pleased when you find out you're low on fuel for the impulse drive.
And it all snowballs from there. You have to land on the nearest mining planet to get fuel, but something is amiss. No one answers your radio communication. You land and opt to investigate whilst Jack finds the fuel, and you learn of an alien invasion that has caused the aforementioned disaster and, of course, you now have no choice but to do something about it. Your investigations alert you to a trans-dimensional hole through which the aliens are slipping. You must first locate the transmitters that will reveal the position of the hole, then find and destroy it.
As you hop from planet to planet in your search, each character is given different tasks to perform. For instance, just as Jack's task was to find fuel at the first destination and Ysanne's was to investigate the mining disaster, at other locations similar parallel problems are set. You are only controlling one character, so although your partner always comes up with the goods, you won't know the details of his or her success until you replay the game as them.
Going back to the beginning then, when you come to play Jack, your first task is to break out of your cell, after which you inform Ysanne of your dastardly deed, and then you proceed to fill in all the gaps in the story by firstly finding some fuel and thereafter completing the separate tasks that need to be attended to at each destination.
I liked this way of storytelling. It worked just as well for a computer game as it did for a television series. Having the story filled in and learning how either Jack or Ysanne completed their respective tasks was quite well done, although it was a shame that the initial scene(s) with Jack confessing that he had destroyed the hyper drive occurred at different locations on the 'Relentless'. And I wish that the writers had sustained this mode of play right up till the very end. But they didn't, not quite, anyway. And I will say no more on that subject, I'll leave you to make up your own minds.
Although this game won't be the best for 1995, it's still quite respectable. Even the repartee between Jack and Ysanne wasn't handled too badly despite slipping into needless sexual innuendo on at least one occasion. The voice overs must have been reasonable because I am usually annoyed by bad voice acting and in this game I wasn't bothered at all.
The interface is very simple and almost identical to the one used in Innocent Until Caught. Select the fist to take things, the hand to use them, etc. And I am pleased to report that this game gives you lots of choices on how you wish to run it. You can make the characters scurry around or just leisurely stroll from place to place, you can control the music, speech, etc., and just about everything else.
As for the puzzles and problems in Guilty they were quite reasonable too, and some took a bit of head scratching to work out. Not much was as straightforward as it seemed. For instance, at the first landing, getting the fuel involved solving a number of problems before the gas supply could even be accessed, and learning about the mining disaster wasn't all that easy either, especially as no one was left alive to tell you about it. Sadly, there are still a few pixel hunts, but they really didn't spoil the game.
Easily the worst part of Guilty was the stop-over on the pleasure planet. This is where Jack gets to practice all those boring old 'lines' as he makes his pass at the hostess. He gets his comeuppance, but I thought the 'joke' too tired to raise a smile with many players. And here, too, all the hackneyed, old stereotypes make their appearance - the above-mentioned hostess, complete with cleavage and the voice of a three-year-old, the gangster's moll, the dim-witted secretary and the bouncer with a brain the size of a pea.
Cut out the pleasure planet and Guilty would have improved no end. It could have been a little longer, but it has a fair serving of problems for the adventure game fan. I must admit I quite like this series and the addition of Ysanne has certainly helped it along. If there is another, I'll play it, and especially if it is told in the same way with the opportunity to play each character separately.
Copyright © Rosemary Young 1995.
All rights reserved.
386/25 (486/66 recommended), 4MB RAM, CD-ROM, mouse.