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The Awe Chasm Reviews

Author: Tony Stiles
Date: 1991
MS-DOS


What does AIF stand for? Adult Interactive Fiction. If you likely to be offended by games with sexual content, you are advised not
to open these files.



Reviewed by Christopher E. Forman (SPAG #8 -- February 5, 1996)

Start with a rather straightforward late-1970s style dungeon quest/treasure hunt. Now add a remarkably crude and unpretentiously juvenile sense of humor. Stir in a frustrating parser and some poorly-implemented, at best semi-logical, puzzles. Blend into this a sloppy overall design, and, to give a slight flavor of anti-logic, top the whole thing off with a dash of sheer incomprehensibility. Following this recipe, the resulting mixture is a serious candidate for the very worst text adventure ever written.

In this case, author Tony Stiles has cooked up an unappetizing little dish titled "The Awe-Chasm," a.k.a "The Chasm of Awe," a.k.a. "Snatch and Crunch II." (Personally, I've never seen or heard of "Snatch and Crunch I," but it must have been good enough to justify the making of this sequel.)

Snatch and Crunch, the two main characters in this game, are, in the author's own words, a "pokey pervert" and a "monolithic mutant," respectively. For reasons unknown (good old-fashioned greed perhaps?), they're out to explore the many caverns and passageways of the Awe-Chasm in search of treasure. During the course of the game, the I-Fer can type "BECOME SNATCH" or "BECOME CRUNCH" to switch control back and forth between Snatch and Crunch, using each one in tasks for which he is specifically suited -- some puzzles can only be solved using one of our two explorers. Snatch and Crunch can also work together, with Crunch picking up the smaller Snatch and carrying him along on his shoulders.

While this may sound promising, the game doesn't really put forth the extra effort necessary to make it work. Neither Snatch nor Crunch seems to have much personality, so it's hard to figure out who can do what unless the game specifically tells you (which, in most cases, it doesn't). Perhaps the player is expected to bring this knowledge over from the first "Snatch and Crunch" game. Further, unless Snatch is being carried, the duo doesn't move around together -- the player must move Snatch and Crunch individually, and having to retrace your steps is tedious. It would have worked much better to have the pair stay together for the most part, providing a special
"SPLIT" command for the few times when they need to go their separate ways.

Complicating matters is the sloppy overall design of the game. It's very linear at the start, until the player figures out how to buy a lamp. This had me stuck until I stumbled across a walkthrough of the first few puzzles amongst the myriad seemingly useless files zipped in with the game executable. My problems were more due to parser quirks than anything else. Did I talk about the parser yet? Perhaps I should do that now.

The author wrote his own adventure design system, called the "C Adventure Toolkit" to create this game. While I must bow slightly to such an impressive feat, the sad truth of the matter is that the parser just isn't very good -- it's barely adequate for the game. There are very few synonyms for nouns -- you can't call a pond a "lake," for instance -- and some commands only work properly if prepositions are used -- "GET EMILY" fails; you must say "GET EMILY FROM POND". (Emily, in this case, happens to be a fish with whom Crunch, the "monolithic mutant," is infatuated, and...oh, just forget it.) For simple interactions (directional moves, two-word commands, etc.) the parser works okay. For longer, more complex sentences, though, it's not even up to the standards of AGT, let alone Inform and TADS. (It's dated 1989, BTW.)

But now back to the game, which becomes more frustrating once the player acquires a lamp and descends into the Awe-Chasm ("a chasm of orgasmic proportions," the game shamelessly announces). There are several levels to the chasm, some of which have openings leading to tunnels. What's particularly noteworthy here is that, when climbing between levels, there's a good chance you'll fall to the bottom of the chasm and have to climb back up several levels again. This happens far, FAR too often to even be called infuriating. After five or six times, you'll want to quit right then and there. (I didn't even get a quarter of the way through the 500-point game.) The tunnel openings themselves are equally frustrating to navigate. They are listed in room descriptions as "an opening," but no compass directions for them are given or recognized. Players must type "ENTER OPENING" to go inside, and "ENTER OPENING" again to come back. Doors must be traversed in the same manner. What's so difficult about allowing directional
commands?

"The Awe-Chasm" showcases an astoundingly juvenile sense of humor. It almost seems as though the author is attempting to imitate the style used  by Steve Meretzky in some of his racier titles. But Meretzky's writing exudes personality, and his characterization in "LGOP" and the "SpellCasting" series makes the "naughty" bits more charming than offensive. "Awe-Chasm"'s writing offers little characterization and little personality, and the overall result is decidedly distasteful.

On top of all this, the game just isn't very well planned out. The best dungeon adventures (by which I mean "Colossal Cave" and the "Zork" series) employ a degree of continuity between their locations, adding realism to the layout. In "Awe-Chasm," rooms are slapped together clumsily and objects are thrown about with no thought whatsoever. One tunnel, for instance, harbors a band of sex-starved nymphomaniacs to assault our heroes. Yet for some reason, they've never ventured into the throne room a few levels down to visit King Tony (another personal appearance by a game author degenerating into a very tired and unfunny inside joke). Other thrills and
chills awaiting you include a slew of locked doors (at least three more than ANY adventure game needs), the "magical mystery maze" (three guesses as to what this is, and the first two don't count), and the "Oh sh*t, all my treasures have been scattered" room (crusaders for fairness in I-F need not apply).

The game is not without its cult value, however. Fans of truly abysmal I-F should get plenty of howls out of the flaws inherent in "The Awe-Chasm," but everyone else is better advised to leave the "monolithic mutant" and the "pokey pervert" to fend for themselves.
 


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