Gadget: Past as Future

Developer:  Synergy Inc
Publisher:  Cryo Interactive
Year Released:  1997

Review by Steve Ramsey (May, 2001)
GadgetEver on the lookout for something a bit different, I decided to try Gadget, not really a game but rather a bit of pop-art interactive media. I had done some "research" and thought I had a reasonable idea of what to expect - rigid game progression, little to no puzzles, a music score but little other sound - but I was nevertheless disappointed.

Perhaps if I had played it several years and many games ago I would have been more taken by it. And I really wanted to like it a lot. But I didn't.

The upside
I did like it a little, and it certainly had its moments. There are some surreal images and sequences that I enjoyed, as well as some quite cryptic and at times bizarre dialogue that I found interesting. The opening sequence grabbed me, because it indicated that what was to come would be truly different, and the final sequence was almost worth playing the rest of the game for.

But that is not a lot to go on, even in something that only took between 3 and 4 hours to complete. Which was itself an upside; not because it was over quicker, but because it was apparent at an early stage that it wasn't overly long, which is what encouraged me to complete it. Had it run to double figures, I suspect I would have given up.

The inside
A comet is going to hit a futuristic Earth, or so at least one faction would have you believe. Perhaps it's true, perhaps it's a plot aided and abetted by a mind control machine.

You are directed by the mysterious Theodore Slowslop to contact a scientist named Horselover Frost, who is leading a small team of scientists and conducting certain experiments. Is he saviour, or revolutionary? Does he want to save or enslave?

You first meet Slowslop in a hotel lobby, and he tells you to go to the Museum of Science. Periodically he contacts you to update your instructions. You reach the Museum by train, and much of your time will be spent in trains, and train stations. You will meet and talk to a range of other characters. Many will tell you not to trust others, some will demand that you tell them what you know, others will simply babble inanely - or is there a hidden message?

GadgetOccasionally you will be given objects, and at times will have to use them. The game does this for you. A suitcase pops up, indicating to use something in it. There is never any more than about 5 items, so choice is not huge, and the game won't let you even attempt to use the wrong one.

The interface is simple. The only cursor you have is for direction of movement. Movement is either the familiar "slide show" effect, or results in a cinematic scene where you are whisked from one spot to another, sometimes with grand swooping circles of your origin and destination (some of the better scenes), sometimes frenetically by the most direct route, and sometimes by just instantaneously being there. (For example: Slowslop says to go to the East End train station, you hang up the phone, and you instantly find yourself in the East End train station).

Everything else you just click on with an ordinary arrow cursor. There are no hot spots. Initially this results in lots of clicking, but the plot progression is so well sign posted that after a while its fairly easy to know what is the next thing to do.

Often that will be talking to another character, although there is no "talking" as you don't get to say anything. Except when Horselover rings you on a phone, all dialogue is subtitled only, and it's all one way. Your character "says" nothing. You are only told things. Even when you are told to tell a character all you know, you can't do it.

The characters (bar one) do not move. They are virtually static, perhaps turning to face you when you talk. There is no facial movement either when they talk. The one that does move is the most interesting. A small boy appears, and he floats, and spins, and does other more intriguing things. Interacting with him usually triggers the more surreal and enigmatic sequences of the game.

The only real "gaming" you get to do is negotiate a maze right near the end. Its only small, and in the context of the game makes some sense, but its an odd choice for the only puzzle in the game.

Most sound is via an eclectic musical score.

The downside
I think the biggest failing is that visually, despite some brief moments, this is not very interesting to watch. And given that you don't do much, have limited interaction, and make very few real choices, in the end what you are doing is progressing a visual experience. As such, without all those other things, the visual experience needs to be engrossing, and it wasn't. Often it wasn't even very interesting. Sometimes it was almost tedious - I got tired of watching the train I was on leave the station, or enter a station, but you can't skip the cinematic scenes.

Maybe if the only game I had played was (say) Myst, then from a visual perspective this might have been far more interesting. Certainly much more happens, in the sense that there is a lot more motion on the screen. If my impression of games was that they were "still" experiences, the movement here might have seemed far more impressive than it ultimately was.

Perhaps I just didn't get it. Perhaps if I was a bigger fan of performance art, it might have engaged me more. I am a fan of being different though, but in the end that wasn't enough. rating:  

Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2001. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Windows 95, Pentium 133, 16 MB RAM, 4x CD Rom, SVGA Graphics card, 2 MB video RAM

MacOS 7.5, Power PC 7500 (not compatible with PowerMac 8100) 16 MB RAM (24 MB recommended) 4x CD ROM