Mission Critical

Developer/Publisher:  Legend
Year Released:  1994

Review by Gordon Aplin (November, 1995)
mcrit.jpgMission Critical from Legend opens with an impressive ten minute long video introduction featuring Michael Dorn (Worf, from Star Trek: The Next Generation) and Patricia Charbonneau (Robocop II). This perfectly sets the scene for a complex and engrossing science fiction story and explains how you come to be the only person left aboard the crippled USS Lexington. The game comes on three CDs and as with all Legend titles it is a first person perspective adventure.

Briefly, the story unfolds against a background of bitter conflict between the United Nations which, in the year 2134, is the world government and an alliance of several nation states and space colonies. The war is caused by the UN attempting to halt the march of technological progress by suppressing the development of sentient machines. At a crucial phase in the war the Alliance ship Lexington is on a secret mission (appropriately code named "Pandora") to the planet Persephone to investigate reports of the discovery of an alien, but technologically advanced installation. Before the landing party can descend to the surface, however, the Lexington and its accompanying science ship, Jericho, are attacked by UN forces and the Lexington is crippled. In a desperate attempt to salvage the mission the Lexington's captain conceives of a bold plan which involves sacrificing the entire crews of both ships so that one person can be left alive to carry on.

A rude awakening
This is where you come in. As the unnamed survivor you have been rendered unconscious by the captain as part of the plan. You awake with only a brief note of explanation and several crises vying for your immediate attention. The Lexington's hull has been breached on deck two where you find yourself when you come round. The cooling system to the nuclear reactor has failed and meltdown is imminent and the main computer is off-line. And these are just the start of your problems. Later you will need to re-establish communications with the Alliance, work out the nature of your mission, overcome attempted sabotage and fight a couple of space battles before you can even begin your descent to the planet where further puzzles await.

The problems set before you are intelligent, sophisticated and logically solvable by gathering information and items to assist you along the way. The absorbing storyline incorporates utopian science fiction and envisages an 'ideal' future embracing an evolutionary form of sentient technology. This plot is revealed as you learn more about your mission and pursue it to through to its satisfying, if singular, conclusion.

The combat
Adventurers who may not be happy at the thought of space combat sequences need not worry as this feature is not an arcade-style shoot-em-up. It is more a tactical/strategy simulation which, if successful, is rewarded with a short animation of the actual combat. Furthermore, the designers have wisely allowed the player to set the degree of difficulty to satisfy all tastes so that, if you wish, you can select the easiest setting and the computer will fight the battles for you.

I must admit to being dubious at first about the inclusion of combat scenarios in an adventure game, but after a bit of practice I found it wasn't too difficult to master at the lower end of the difficulty settings. Though I am certainly no expert, nor can I claim to be even competent with this sort of strategy/tactical problem, eventually, I looked upon it as a re-playable challenge and soon resented losing even one of my drones.

Missed opportunity
I do, however, have a couple of minor criticisms about this otherwise excellent game. Firstly, I thought the designers missed the opportunity to allow for a male or female character. Your character is deliberately unnamed and doesn't appear on the ship's crew list, being a late inclusion for this mission. This seemed ideal for allowing a male or female scenario, but your character's voice is clearly male when talking to the computer. This was a little disappointing given that the crew of the Lexington has a good mix of males and females in senior positions, although I do understand the constrictions of costs and disk space in recording two voices to allow for a choice.

Secondly, the interface, though an intuitive point and click one, had a limited choice of verb commands which I thought tended to simplify some of the puzzles and make them a little easier than they could have been. Similarly, the main computer, once it was up and running, occasionally gave a bit too much help and advice. Though, to be fair, I suppose this allows the game to cater for all players including those new to adventuring. Fortunately, there is still enough here to keep even the most experienced adventurer thinking and exploring.

Of more concern, perhaps, is the reduction in problems to solve towards the end of the game when the long explanatory sequences cut in and the full story is revealed, and you must make choices that that will affect the final outcome. Of course, if you have been following the story only one choice is possible to achieve the intended ending. However, up to that point the problems are, for the most part, varied, challenging and ultimately satisfying.

Technical jargon
At first glance this game seems aimed very firmly at those adventurers who prefer to play a more hard-edged science fiction scenario, and so it is, but other adventurers need not be put off by this. Much of the technical jargon spouted by the computer can be safely ignored and the problems -- which are a lot of fun -- can be solved by concentrating on the essentials. Thus you may need part EC2010 to fix a mechanism, but all you need do is find it and find out which slot to put it in. You don't need to understand how it works or even what it does.

There is no doubt that Mission Critical has excellent production values with SVGA graphics -- though the game will run in VGA mode -- great music and sound effects which all add to the atmosphere, and quality acting in the video sequences. The voices are clear and understandable and the video is remarkably well lip-synchronised. But for me, the real strength of this game, as with many other Legend products, is in the text-based structure which underpins the gameplay and allows for subtlety and complexity in the nature of the problems and the storyline. It's good that there is still a software company around that is not afraid of words and written descriptions and, more importantly, trusts us, the game players, to be intelligent enough to read and think.

Though not incredibly difficult, I found this game most enjoyable and would recommend it for all adventurers, and especially science fiction fans. rating:  

Copyright © Gordon Aplin 1995. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
486/33 or higher, 4MB RAM (8MB recommended), CD-ROM, SVGA (VESA compatible) DOS 5.0 or Win 95, mouse