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Dead Reckoning Reviews
Author: David Whyld
Date: 2003

Reviewed by Eric Mayer

A glance at any list of recent If awards shows there's a school of thought that the highest purpose of interactive fiction is to stretch the limits of the genre, turn it on it's head, confound players' expectations. That's not the school I graduated from. I generally prefer If that's about something other than If. Games that tell stories rather than propound literary theories. 

David Whyld's Dead Reckoning tells a darn good story. That's about it...and that's plenty. 

In brief, you have traveled to a village to help a friend whose communications have led you to believe he is in some sort of distress.Night is coming on. The place seems eerily deserted. Gradually you learn "The Horrible Truth." I like stories in which there's a Horrible Truth to uncover, especially when there's some originality to the final revelation. 

David's a good storyteller. His style is efficient. The words are the sort that don't call attention to themselves, they just go quietly about their job, in this case creating a consistently spooky atmosphere. In If, where a character often spends much time alone, communing only with the surroundings, the setting is often the most important character. This game dripped with darkness and foreboding. 

There are enough puzzles to give the story a game feeling, and to involve the player, but they are generally easy and entirely natural. You need only to do what you would likely do under the circumstances. This helps to keep the plot moving. In addition, Davidw employs cut scenes brilliantly to keep shoving the player forward. For me the game had almost perfect pacing. Something very difficult to achieve. Consider this more a recommendation than a review. Dead Reckoning is a terrific addition to the fairly small list of nicely realized If horror stories. I'm always ready for one of those.

Reviewed by Mel S

Horror Done Right 

Davidw manages to release more games than anyone else in a year, and almost all of the games are epic length and extremely high in quality. Dead Reckoning is no exception, although it is a bit shorter than some of his previous games. 

The game's storyline is it's best feature, so I don't want to give too much away. If I had to compare it to anything, I'd say it was like a combination of a Stephen King novel and the game Silent Hill. There's plenty of twists and turns in there, and suspense is usually kept pretty high. 

Puzzles in the game are well done, with more of an emphasis on realism than other games. It's good to see a game that doesn't rely on the 'use item on item' kind of puzzle. 

The conversation system is probably one of the best I've seen in an Adrift game so far, with a combination of the classic 'ask person about subject' and the conversation tree. With both in place, there's a lot less guess-the-verb in asking questions. 

So in the end, Dead Reckoning is highly recommended. It's got an excellent storyline, solid puzzles, and even replay value. If you're looking for another solid horror game after The Woods are Dark, look no further. 


Reviewed by Michael Bechard

Originally in SPAG#38 http://sparkynet.com/spag/backissues/SPAG38

It's pretty tough to write a horror game effectively. More than any other emotion, it is hard to strike true fear into a person sitting at a computer comfortably playing a game. One has to really put the player IN the game, make them develop an affinity for the characters involved, and get them out of the mindset of a typical gamer (piddling around with every little option, restoring saved games at their leisure, etc.) Dead Reckoning comes close to doing just this, but not close enough. 

The game is set in the town of Morrow and leaves you, Duffy, to unravel the horrors that have come to roost there. You slowly uncover the reason why all the town's inhabitants are missing or dead while trying to rescue your friend Edwin from some unknown danger. The author describes this game as "more of a story-driven game than a puzzlefest," but I would categorize it somewhere in-between. 

As far as putting the player in the game, I believe Dead Reckoning succeeds, albeit marginally. A thorough implementation of all the objects mentioned in the game's text contributes heavily to the immersion factor. I found I could listen to and smell various things, even examine things that were mentioned as not being there (described, of course, as absent). Very nice. The evocative descriptions were well done too, for the most part. A nice example is: 

"Well, well, one of the living," says the corpse, its voice a choking rasp. As it speaks, bits of rotten skin flake off from the side of its face and drift in lazy spirals down to the dusty floor. "We don't get many living ones here anymore, do we, my brethren?" 

Sometimes, however, I got the feeling that the author was trying a little too hard, as in the following exchange between the player and an NPC: 

"I was the priest here in Morrow until... the bad things happened." "The bad things?" "Lots of bad things. An ancient evil returned to haunt us, to exact revenge for what we did." He shakes his head sadly. 

Quite a few things are described as "eerie" or "unsettling," when these kinds of feelings should be evoked from the player, not spelled out for them. I never really felt unsettled or afraid while playing because of my lack of affinity for the characters. I never cared about Duffy or Edwin at all during the game. Why? Because I didn't know them as characters, as "real live" people. Dead Reckoning tries a bit in this regard, unfolding bits and pieces of Duffy and Edwin's past as children in the course of play, but it left me wanting more. If I'm running for my life from some zombies, I want a reason why I should even care. On the other hand, some of the characterizations were done very well; I just wanted a little more meat to them, I suppose. 

As for getting the player out of the mindset of a gamer, the game succeeds. While the plot is a little linear and progress is sometimes blocked by puzzles, the puzzles aren't too hard (or numerous), and multiple endings/deaths are available. When a potential death is near, the game gives you fair warning about it. While some players may be put off by messages like, "You have a bad feeling about doing that," I appreciated the effort from the author to steer me towards the right path. Once a player dies and has to restart or restore, there's a huge break in mimesis. The previous message, while still breaking mimesis, only does so a little, and not nearly as much as restoring your game. In a horror game where the player's situation is deadly, this is even more important. I suppose one could argue that the player should never be in danger of dying in the first place, but that's another topic of discussion... 

Some other nitpicks I had with the game were a fair amount of typos and some small incongruencies/bugs, but they weren't that noticeable. The typos were, though. 

Overall, I would compare Dead Reckoning to one of the old EC horror comics; there are some real detailed, spooky descriptions and a nice zombified plot, but it leaves you painfully aware that you're "just reading a comic." However, this isn't really bad at all; I love EC horror comics, and I love horrific art in general, even if it doesn't scare me. Ergo, I liked this game. If it's not a truly chilling, engrossing piece of IF, it is a very solid, entertaining romp through a wonderfully realized, classic horror setting. 

Final score - 6 of 10 

Reviewed by TDS

Your old friend Edwin has called you up and speaks of an ancient evil that has plagued the town of Morrow. Being the good person that you are, you decide to go check things out. Big mistake. 

This game is pretty fun, even if it's not the least bit unsettling. You snoop around the now abandoned town of Morrow to find out what has happened, and how to get everything back to normal. The writing is great throughout the entire game and the room descriptions are too. The atmosphere is written so that you can almost feel the darkness of the town. 

At the start of the game I noticed the map was disabled. Ouch. When I'm going to play a game with a large setting I get discouraged when I see map disabled because I'm "directionally challenged". I can get over that though because the town isn't large and some areas are blocked off during the game. Early on I realize they're are little warnings in the game that prevent you from getting killed, and when you do get killed you can type undo to go back to your previous state. This is much better than have to restart/restore as you'd have to do with the normal ADRIFT death handling. Warnings are in the game but in one particular room a dead man pops out of nowhere and kills you. The description of it coming from somewhere isn't mentioned, it just flat-out kills you. 

The game is linear for the most part, but has multiple endings. At some points you are locked out of a location and if you're a mimesis fan that may annoy you but it didn't bother me. Throughout the game you talk to npcs using a conversation tree and I like this. The characters in the game have been given a personality unlike the cardboard cut-outs in many other games, and some are memorable. 

Small glitches and oversights are littered throughout the game, from guess-the-noun to missing items. They are small but when you notice them it takes away from the atmosphere that has been built. 

I thought I was doing well in the game until the end when I die and undo a couple hundred times to realize I messed up somewhere earlier in the game. Going to a walkthrough I found out I've missed a lot of things. I thought I was pretty thorough but apparently I wasn't. My problem is that I missed some things because I typed the wrong noun. I could've been closer to winning the game on first play through if it weren't for that. The ending wasn't really satisfying to me either. Things are tied up but I wish it could've been a little more dramatic. 

Bottom line is this game isn't really scary, thought-provoking, revolutionary, or flawless. But it is a fun romp through a cursed town and it's worth your time, even if you're picky like me. 

Bugs set this one back a point. 7/10 

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