This week, I'm tackling Artic Computing's fourth text adventure for the UK's Sinclair Spectrum computer -- Adventure D - Espionage Island, attributed to Charles Cecil by online sources and dedicated to Liz, Kath and Tone on the title screen. It's another two-word parser adventure, but there are some notable dictionary improvements compared to adventures A, B and C.
As with the other games in this series, the startup screen lays out our objective, perhaps in a little too much detail, before launching us into the action-packed opening scenario:
It's a pleasant little spy adventure, not overly difficult, and fun to map and explore. There aren't many surprises in store, or even many puzzles, but just the same, if you plan to play this game yourself, I advise you to stop here and continue reading after you've explored Espionage Island on your own. Because, Mr. Not-James-Bond, there are...
**** SPOILERS AHEAD! ****
The Bond-esque opening sequence isn't actually very action-packed -- we start onboard a plane about to crash, but the immediate events are linear, without any real choices or puzzles. We just have to grab the parachute, pull the lever, pull the parachute's cord, and remove the parachute after we land in the jungle. It is, however, important to WEAR PARACHUTE before exiting the plane, lest we end up as A LARGE RED MESS.
The game doesn't have a lot of puzzles -- the few that exist are generally practical or tactical in nature, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Near the beginning, we can't examine a dark corner near our airplane's wreckage -- EXAMINE CORNER yields only I'VE HIT MY HEAD ON THE FUSELAGE. We can find a match to illuminate things, but LIGHT MATCH only establishes that THE WHOLE WRECKAGE HAS EXPLODED AND YOU HAVE BEEN BLOWN UP! At last, I tried FEEL CORNER, which yielded a string leading to some lucky beads.
The lucky beads serve to support an old-school adventure stereotype -- a nearby native woman will gleefully run off if we GIVE BEADS, leaving us with a handy knife. As an alternative, we can employ some adult verbiage to learn that HER HUSBAND HAS APPEARED AND YOU HAVE A SPEAR THROUGH YOUR HEAD. YOU ARE DEAD, but that's not particularly useful.
In a notable improvement over previous Artic parser dictionaries, we have to DROP BRANCH at a crevasse to make a bridge, and BOARD BOAT at the river, instead of relying on the overworked USE verb. Prepositions are still handled by a two-command sequence, a la THROW KNIFE - AT WHAT? - AT GUARD, with the second phrase sufficing as as shortcut, but at least there's more situation-specific variety this time around. As with the other Artic games, the REDESCRIBE verb is still needed to refresh the display, and LOOK works as a room-level reveal.
The game's author appears to have forgotten which grammatical person the engine uses, as there are a couple of perspective-mangling constructs like this: I AM IN A SINKING SWAMP. YOU ARE SINKING! The swamp is a maze, but as with other Artic games it need not really be mapped -- in this one, the compass permutation S-E-W-N takes us to the next interesting area.
Clues are handy and important but not particularly subtle -- some prominently mentioned graffiti scrawled on a table yields IT SAYS "RICK WAS 'ERE 27/09", apparently written in dialect, and the four digits serve as a safe combination later on.
Taking a boat downstream is straightforward, although if we don't get out at the first stop we drift into the enemy's sights and are summary dispatched by armed helicopter. We can GET ROPE here, then take a one-way tumble back to the main area of the map.
The rope is used to remove a rock from the mouth of a tunnel, but I ran into some parser challenges and had to consult a walkthrough to get back on track. TIE ROPE yields I CANT DO THAT YET in rooms where there's nothing to tie it to, so it's clear that we have to use it with the rock. But I kept trying to pick up the loose end of the rope and take it somewhere else, which is not supported; we just have to use TO ROCK and TO TRUCK in series.
There are a couple of fatal dead ends in the game, mostly when we wander into range of an enemy guard or gunsight. But there's one map location we shouldn't explore -- if we enter the rock cell, the game immediately tells us THERE ARE NO EXITS! I AM AFRAID THERE IS NO WAY OUT OF HERE, and apparently our character succumbs immediately to despair and commits suicide, ending the adventure. But there is a warning on a sign in the room above; IT SAYS "DANGER BELOW", a warning I blithely ignored while mapping out the room.
I also couldn't figure out what to do in the control room near the landing light. A fundamental adventuring rule of thumb is that any switch found must be used, but I couldn't convince the parser to PULL, USE, PUSH, PRESS or THROW SWITCH. I finally tried a construct that most old-school parsers weren't designed to handle, but in this case SWITCH SWITCH did the trick.
Switching said switch turned off the light, but I had no clue what to do next. I returned to the walkthrough to learn that we have to put plastic explosives in the landing light after turning it off and removing the bulb. Oddly, the plastic seems to undergo a bit of transformation, as afterwards we see A LANDING LIGHT WITH DYNAMITE IN IT. Switching the switch again causes an explosion with no immediate benefit, but it does distract the tank blocking a nearby path.
Walkthrough assist number three came into play when I found a hole in a panel on a metal platform, but couldn't FEEL HOLE or OPEN PANEL or LIGHT TORCH (a pen light flashlight) to examine it. I should have come up with this on my own, but SHINE TORCH - INTO WHAT? - INTO HOLE did the trick, causing a door to the south to slide open. Apparently the enemy's security system is based on Radio Shack photocell hobby kits, as opposed to anything that might actually be considered secure.
We're close to the end of the game at this point. We can surprise the enemy Colonel in his office - there's time to execute a quick SHOOT COLONEL, and HE obligingly FALLS TO THE GROUND DYING and becomes a DEAD COLONEL. We can then OPEN CUPBOARD to obtain the recently-departed officer's jacket, the mere wearing of which allows us to get past his remarkably nearsighted staff, including a guard and a flight operator. Why we're so intent on spying on this inept and poorly-defended enemy force remains a geopolitical conundrum.
Of course, if we open the safe in the aptly-titled Safe Room, using the combination casually scrawled on the table in the guard hut as mentioned earlier, we find a briefcase containing Secret Plans. We can READ PLANS to learn that THEY DESCRIBES [sic] PLANS FOR A MASSIVE INVASION, apparently rendered in the same Eliza Doolittle dialect as the graffiti.
Now we can get in a handy helicopter and PUSH LEVER to take off. We spot our own side's aircraft carrier from the air, and it's a good idea to REMOVE JACKET at this point, as our harrier pilots are just as quick as the enemy's senior staff to assume that the clothes make the man. We have to maneuver around the carrier's anti-aircraft gun, and wandering too far off course is also fatal, so this is a bit of a maze requiring lots of trial and error as we figure out how to approach the situation.
I thought I was done at this point, but the game actually has an alternate bad ending:
I thought I had done everything there was to do, but then realized that while I had found and read the enemy's Secret Plans, I didn't actually take them with me! Backtracking to a previous save and bringing them along led to happier results:
(I am assuming here that THE DECK IS COVERED WITH CHEERING SAILORS because the good news has attracted a throng of happy seafarers, and in no way refers to a clumsy landing on my part.)
If there's an in-game advertisement secreted away on Espionage Island, I didn't run across it, but the game takes advantage of this final opportunity to urge us to play the as-yet-untitled Adventure E. And we will do so in the future.