This is a strange game, one in which "hallucinogenic" (their word) imagery and outline is used to disguise the fact that it's essentially a big labyrinth in which you will die. More than that, you will often die as a result of performing actions that give absolutely no indication that they will kill you. Try the door on the left - live to see the other side. Try the door on the right - die. Pick up that object - harmless. Pick up that one - die.
Saving often will be your best friend in this game. The numerous death screens, though, are among some of the best in the game, a perhaps accidental, but nonetheless compensating factor for dying so often.
The game manual exhorts you thus:
"In the illusionary Badlands of Mirage, the real enemy is your imagination. You will envision mirages along your journey. Your strength to fight them off is dependent on your remaining human condition. Rationalise what is real and what is not in your search for clues that lead you to Jenny and the Marked One.
It's all a lot of gobbledygook really.
There is a Jenny. She is the missing wife of the also missing and wounded Lieutenant Shooter. General Grishum has sent you into the Mirage Desert to track them down and return them safely. He has also ordered that you bring back the person responsible, known as the Marked One. Dead or alive, it's up to you.
The mirages referred to are predominantly videos and animations that are primarily activated as you find notes, books and other objects. The video clips will tell the background story of what happened, the notes will give some clues about how to go about the rescue.
Needless to say, Mirage is a western tale, full of bordellos and saloons, gunmen and buxom wenches, and the usual assortment of clichéd western characters. To rescue Jenny, you will need to make your way through numerous western-type settings, the key to which provides the gaming aspect.
In an approach reminiscent of Alice and Eve, getting through the scenes is really the objective. Finding the exits from one scene can involve far more than finding the right hotspot. You might have to open, but not enter, one door to, in fact, be able to access the correct door; or perhaps manipulate various objects in certain ways. The scenes and settings also double back on themselves, as well as lead to nowhere but death, so you might well find yourself going forwards and backwards and dying and reloading.
From most places if you can't move forward you can move back, but not all. On occasion I was satisfied that there was simply no way back to where I wanted to be, so I reloaded an earlier save. Perhaps there was a way and I just missed it, but looking at a walkthrough after the event shed no light on that aspect, so I remain of the view it is possible to get stuck. Another reason to save often.
Which is fairly easy to do, a saddlebag in the lower right corner providing access to the main menu. The save button brings up a normal Windows type directory, so once you tell it which folder you want to save in (it curiously defaults to your CD drive) your capacity to save is limited only by the size of your hard drive.
The video clips need special mention. On the whole they verge on being almost bad enough to be good, B-grade in nature and poking fun at themselves. Then there are those seemingly present to get the testosterone racing. Check out the "watery" clip seen through the telescope hidden in the Badlands, and the wanted poster on the sheriff's office.
There are quite a few clips of people being shot or killed, and you can be among them. On some occasions you are able to shoot back, assuming you have found your gun and ammunition. Whilst gunfights abound, it is seemingly possible to make it through the game without actually killing anyone yourself.
Finding the path to Jenny is not easy, but the rest of the game is. There aren't really any puzzles, and the few inventory items need to be found rather than used. As far as I could tell only two had a role in the game other than needing to be found in order to move on. Some don't have to be found at all.
Which is why I said Mirage is really a labyrinth. Navigating through the game world is what provides the challenge.
Except it is not a terribly interesting or engaging challenge. I suspect there were places I didn't visit and clips I didn't see but I wasn't terribly interested in going back and looking for them. Nor was I moved to explore other paths to any extent. I simply did what was necessary to seemingly move forward.
As mentioned, there are clues in the notes you find as to where to find Jenny, and you will likely recognise these for what they are when you do find them.
Some of the settings contain interesting images and interactions, and whilst they can be reasonably detailed they are not that complex. They try on the whole to live up to the hallucinogenic label applied up-front, but I didn't think they really hit the mark.
Mirage tries hard to be more than what it is, and on the whole doesn't seem to take itself too seriously (a nice sight gag about a compass is one example). In the end, though, it proves that wrapping a maze in would-be western surrealism does not really make a game. Even with the videos.
Screenshots courtesy of Darcy (Orb) at Four Fat Chicks.
Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2003.
All rights reserved.
Windows 3.1, 486/33 or greater, 8 bit graphics card, 2x CD ROM, 8 MB RAM, 640 x 480, 256 colours, Sound card, DOS 5.0.
Macintosh LC or greater, 68030 CPU or greater, System 7.0 or greater, 2x CD ROM, 8 MB RAM, 8 bit or 16 bit colour.