The Dig

Developer/Publisher:  LucasArts
Year Released:  1995

Review by Gordon Aplin (January, 1996)
dig.jpgIf ever a game could be called "long awaited" this is it. The Dig from LucasArts has been eagerly anticipated by many adventure players since it was foreshadowed two years ago. (Only two years? It seems longer than that.)

So, has the wait been worth it? In my opinion, yes, though the game industry has seen many developments in that time and I have no doubt that some players may be disappointed, especially in the graphics. This, I think, is to completely miss the point. Most adventurers would agree that gameplay is more important than 'gee-whiz' effects and although good graphics can add to a game they cannot make up for poor gameplay.

LucasArts' previous adventure, Full Throttle, is a prime example. Whilst many players raved about the 'cool' graphics, most dedicated adventurers lamented the lack of real adventuring. The Dig, however, reverses all that.

I am not suggesting that the graphics in this game are poor or sub-standard, far from it. In fact, I was quite happy and comfortable with them. It's just that I am aware of murmurings of disquiet over this particular aspect of the game, and I wish to reassure you that, from an adventuring perspective, The Dig is very good. It also has some great music, but then I do like Wagner, and some good sound effects which add to the atmosphere.

The mission
Many of you will already be aware of the basic premise behind the story so I won't go into too much detail here. An asteroid is on a collision course with the Earth and a Space Shuttle is launched on a mission to divert it. After this is successfully completed, in a rather routine introduction that is obviously designed to move you quickly into the game, you and two crew members investigate further and find evidence of alien technology. A quick and easy puzzle-solve later and the astronauts are whisked back to the asteroid/spaceship's planet of origin and are stranded there.

This, for me, is where the adventure really begins. As you explore your new surroundings you must learn all you can about the alien civilisation and the technology they left behind if you are to have any hope of returning home. And, as Maggie Robbins (one of your companions) points out, you can't expect aliens to leave instructions in English.

The characters
The Dig is a third-person perspective adventure game and the character you control is Boston Low who is the commander of the mission and all round good guy -- if a little dull. With you is Maggie, a respected journalist, and Ludger Brink, an insufferably arrogant scientist who promptly names your new home as Cocytus. Both of your companions have a rather unsettling streak of stubborn independence and you will need their help at different times to solve some of the puzzles. Given this, it is a little disappointing that you can't switch between characters as you could in, say, Day of the Tentacle. Instead you need to talk to them and at times cajole them to gain their assistance. For much of the game, however, it is just you wandering around, exploring new locations, finding strange objects and solving some rather tricky puzzles.

The problems you must overcome have varying degrees of complexity and challenge, and even if you have worked out how to open those doors it won't do you any good until you get the power back on. In keeping with the theme of learning to understand and use alien technology without an obvious instruction manual (though the world itself provides one) you must search, observe and experiment. The clues are subtle but they do exist and Boston Low will sometimes help out by recalling and interpreting some of the strange symbols and designs he has discovered. This, of course, means that you must look at everything and search each location thoroughly, and be aware that some screens scroll to reveal new locations. Also, some objects aren't revealed until you carry out an action, or several actions, so don't think that because you have searched a screen once there is nothing left to find. Oh, and as a final hint, it will come as no surprise that in a game called 'The Dig' your shovel is a very useful item.

The interaction
One or two of the puzzles, as you might expect, rely upon a certain amount of trial and error, but this is very much how it would be on an alien world. If you are unsure what that switch does go ahead and press it and see what happens. As I mentioned earlier, a few problems require you to talk to your companions to achieve the correct outcome, but for me this wasn't totally satisfactory. On these occasions you may know what to do but the game won't allow you to do it. Instead you must tell either Brink or Robbins what you want them to do.

Talking to your companions is simply a matter of clicking on them and this causes an icon bar, similar to that used in Sam & Max, to pop up at the bottom of the screen. From there you can ask a question, say something profound or click on an icon depicting something you have seen or picked up to ask about it.

To access your inventory you can click on the little button that appears in the bottom left portion of the screen or you can click the right mouse button. Your inventory, when it pops up, is transparent and overlays much of the game screen. This too can create a minor problem in that, occasionally, I found myself clicking on a strange glowing object that had mysteriously appeared in my inventory only to find that it was part of the background.

The interface
Of more concern is the single cursor interface. The major problem for me is that I like to look at objects and get some sort of description before I pick them up or use them. Too often I would click on an item and Boston would use or operate it, sometimes in a way I had not foreseen so that the action was effectively taken out of my control. I resorted to using the magnifying glass icon from my inventory to look at everything first but this wasn't overly successful as often the descriptions were very sparse indeed. Clearly, the magnifying glass' main use is for taking a closer look at items in your inventory. In fact, you won't get far in this game without using it in this way.

As a player who likes to have more control and more options I find the single cursor interface to be too restrictive. Blasphemy or not, I would much prefer LucasArts to return to their 'old' interface where I have the choice of looking at something, or opening it, or wearing it, or whatever.

The movement
Moving your character around the screen is very easy. Point where you want him to go then left click. Unfortunately, Boston is another character who tends to trudge and I could find no way to speed him up. You can, however, skip through repeated dialogue by pressing the period key (.) and the game does allow the option of on-screen text. Similarly, by pressing the Esc key you can by pass video sequences you may have already seen.

The Dig is an excellent adventure game but in a more serious vein than previous releases from LucasArts. Those of you seeking that famous wacky humour will not find it here and, indeed, it would be inappropriate for this game. What you will find, however, is an alien world to explore, challenging puzzles and an involving storyline. This is not a game that you can walk through in a few hours, but it will keep you absorbed and you will get stuck on some of the trickier problems. rating:  

Copyright © Gordon Aplin 1996. All rights reserved.

System requirements: 486DX2/66, 8MB RAM, 2xCD-ROM, mouse.