Passage: Path of Betrayal

Developer/Publisher:  Dragon Works
Year Released:  2001

Review by Rosemary Young (August, 2001)
PassagePassage: Path of Betrayal is a truly gallant effort. It is an adventure game created by one dedicated young player, Darris Hupp, with a little help from a few of his friends. Darris did the lion's share of the work; he designed the game, he wrote the story and the dialogue, created the graphics and did the animations. Help came from his friends Todd Zankich who was responsible for the game engine and Michael Brewer who dreamed up the music and in turn had some added help. In all Passage was put together by Darris and just a handful of people in a couple of years ... something to be in awe of ... and something to bear in mind.

Approaching doom!
It all begins with a dream. Riff, the hero of this story, is awakened by a terrifying spectacle of an army assembled under the leadership of a red-eyed demon poised to invade the land. This is where you take control of Riff in this third person perspective adventure. Once you have picked up a few things, made it into town and visited Windar, the Magic Keeper, you will learn about the land of Arkane and the Passages that lead to the tortured land of Acarth. For most of the time these Passages are sealed but every ten years they are opened. This is the time of the Passing when, in an ancient ritual, the people of Arkane gather around the nearest opening to witness prisoners pass through the portals to the evil land beyond. This is the fate of the wrongdoers of Arkane. On the other side they risk being overcome by evil and mutating into a dreaded Shifter.

Windar explains all. He also reveals that he had the same dream and that the meaning is clear. Because the Shifters have united under a single leader they are now strong enough to invade Arkane. They will take their chance at the time of the next Passing when the portals are open ... and that is in two days time! So Riff must set out from the village and travel to Locksen to warn the royals and so the story develops from there as he uncovers jealousy and treachery and faces many perils before he makes it to the ultimate end of his journey ... the land of Acarth itself.

Enter the portal
PassagePlaying Passage is like entering your own personal portal and travelling back to bygone days of the early Sierra adventure games. On this journey you will meet all sorts of characters including talking bees and rats and crickets, all of which have a favour for you to do or a riddle to answer. And like the days of old the game is packed with puzzles, there is always something to think about and some task to perform. Rescuing a captured cricket, finding the ingredients to make a restorative potion, tricking the witch into allowing you to pass, crossing a river of acid and learning how to perform a ritual to destroy the portals.

Right from the start you will be kept well and truly busy. Perhaps a little too busy in the arcade-type-sequence near the end where I recommend that you save incrementally to avoid too much frustration. Though I should mention that the game does resurrect you if you fail so that you can quickly try again. This puzzle wasn't my favourite but there were plenty of others to compensate.

The puzzles aren't difficult but they demand imagination and a lot of careful searching. One very good tip is to study your inventory items because they might have some answers and, of course, inventory items must be combined to solve some of the problems. After a little practice the point and click interface makes it easy to do all this as selecting inventory items brings up a small menu where you can choose to inspect an item or use it in some way. Selecting something in the gameworld brings up another menu for actions. Each of these menus has a final slot that pictures whatever inventory item is highlighted at the time so that any object can be used on any other object or, indeed, on anything in the gameworld.

Sound, graphics and more
Remembering that it didn't have the backing of a commercial team of 'experts' working around the clock to get everything absolutely perfect (even the biggest companies can't do this) Passage necessarily lacks some sophistication. Firstly there are no voices for the dialogue, only text. Also the hand drawn graphics lack detail and clarity at times but they are still colourful and carry the game very well. They have a na?ve quality and they bring back so many memories with your character sprite tripping along and interacting with objects. Although if any of the characters fall over they lose a bit of bulk and turn into cardboard cutouts. But who's complaining? Not me, and I'm not complaining about the music either. This is another aspect of Passage that brings back memories, it tinkles along and sounds just like it came out of an old King's Quest.

Final words
PassageConsidering that this game represents the hard toil of so few people (and mostly one person) I was very impressed. But, unfortunately, there's still the bad news to come ... Passage has some dark spots in the form of bugs that I can't ignore. The first four chapters trot along with only a couple of minor hitches but chapter five is another matter with problems with saving and loading and a wayward inventory as well as other intermittent glitches that keep dogging your tracks. There is a patch available that sorts out many of the problems but some of them stick around till the end of the game though they don't stop you from finishing it. There are a few other minor niggles such as the movement cursor interfering with screen hotspots on a couple of occasions, and once I found myself in possession of information that I'm sure I hadn't learnt, but mostly the game logic was very good.

Passage is like a trip back to the days of innocence ... cute graphics, cute music, cute characters ... and even a scoring system to let you know when you are doing the right thing. Innocent though it is I wouldn't recommend it for computer game innocents. If you haven't played many games then it is better to start with something with fewer hitches. Even if a little primitive and rough around the edges it is an engaging game and it oozes enthusiasm. I had a lot of fun fitting it all together. I'm hoping that Darris has gained some valuable experience in making Passage and that he will give us something more in the future. Technically it can't match up to a lot of games that are coming out today but, pointedly, there are a lot of lessons here for many commercial game developers in building a story and designing puzzles that involve, challenge and entertain the player. rating:  

Copyright © Rosemary Young 2001. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Pentium 200 Mhz, Win 95/98/00, 32 MB RAM, CD ROM, mouse