Monday, 28 November 2011

Hell: A Cyberpunk Thriller (3DO)

Another game request! It's got 'Hell' written on the box, and it's for the 3DO so I can believe it, but I'm going to try to keep an open mind.

The camera flies through the 3d rendered tunnels of... well, hell I guess, with people chained up and coiled telephone cables threaded through the walls. Oh, and the occasional giant face wedged in the way.

It's fine, we can just fly through the mouth.

It turns out to be all a dream! The woman wakes up first, immediately sitting upright and chanting latin. Then the man pulls himself up as well, revealing... that he has a mullet.
Guy: "Oh my god, what a terrifying dream. You had it too?"
Woman: "Yes. The SAME ONE. The descent into HELL."
At first I thought 'how would she know?', but hey it's a cyberpunk future, maybe they have brain implants that lets them share dreams. They do have a ridiculously sci-fi looking bedroom, who knows what tech they've got in there.

BUT THEN! A hit squad bursts in and starts shooting up the place. You think they'd be quieter about it considering it's the middle of the night. And not just for their neighbours' sakes. If you're going to attack someone likely to be asleep, the smart move is to do it without waking them up.

With the grace of a possessed mannequin, our hero takes down one of the assassins with a single karate chop from behind. And then he just kind of stands there with his arm frozen like that, waiting for the scene to end. No game has ever needed motion capture more than this.

Somehow the other hero has avoided being killed too. Everything else in the room's on fire, but she hasn't got a scratch on her. She gets hold of a gun and punishes her attackers for their shitty aim with deadly lens flares.

Our protagonists are victorious! Unfortunately it seems that their wardrobe was caught in the crossfire, so they have to make their escape in their underwear.

Finally the game begins! And then crashes to a halt again as I'm immediately caught in an endless conversation with a helpful hacker friend called... Dante. Yeah.

The guy with the mullet is called Gideon ("the noble Gideon Eshanti" according to the narrator) and the woman is "the heroic Rachel Braque".

It seems Gideon and Rachel are cops of some kind, and the attempt on their life was officially sanctioned by the same theocratic tyrannical fascist government they have faithfully served for years.

Okay my first goal is apparently to go chat to their boss to find out what crime they've supposedly committed.

Or maybe I should be speaking to their friend at the Mall who is jacked in to the 'Word of god' news nets and can get hold of information before it's censored by the Decency Council.

But then Dante tells me to go speak to Aldous Xenon in Chinatown, who has links to the Front. Wait, the front of what? What does any of this mean?

This conversation goes on for almost five minutes, and I feel like I should have been making notes because my attention went wandering off four and a half minutes ago.

Fortunately I've got a replay button to look through any conversations I've had, and a map to quickly travel to anywhere I've been told to go.

I've used a DOS screenshot here because it's much clearer, but the 3DO version looks just the same.

Oh wow, I can go to the Pentagon? Well apparently not yet, because there's only two places available to visit: Their boss's kitchen, and the room I'm standing in. Damn, I was all ready to go to the Mall too.

I arrive at their boss's house to find that I've got dialogue options now! Well okay, it's only a list of questions I can ask (and probably have to), but it's a start. Maybe there's a game in here after all.

The boss explains that officially they were being executed for illegally dealing in virtual demon porn. The evil theocratic tyrannical fascist dictatorship government had arrested a crime boss called Mr Beautiful, and he claimed in his confession that they were his accomplices.

It was all an ingenious scheme to frame them, however, and Mr Beautiful was immediately released on a technicality. It seems this guy owes us some answers.

I... guess the 3d artist was really busy that day.

After 7 more minutes of dialogue I've got an even bigger list of people I should visit for reasons I've already forgotten. It doesn't matter though, the only place I can go is Mr Beautiful's speakeasy.


Oh shit, it's a robot version of Grace Jones! And she's voiced by Grace Jones!

This is apparently Solene Solux, the evil dictator who really wants our heroes dead for reasons I'm not allowed to know yet. And this cutscene is pretty much just her ranting about it. Not really an Oscar winning performance, but she seems to put as much effort into reading the lines as the game deserves.

It's seems a bit cruel somehow to criticise the 3d rendered characters in a game that came out before Toy Story, but it's like the modeller got up to texturing the lower half of the torso and just got bored with it. I'm sure they could have fixed that yellow smear across her side by dragging a couple of points or painting over a handful of pixels.

Ah, the first puzzle of the game. Don't worry, I think I can figure this one out.

I put 'sesame' into the text entry box, but the door remains firmly shut. Then on the road a manhole cover slides open. Must be one of those classy sewer speakeasys. I step inside.

Hey, it's Cynna (pronounced 'sinner'), the live action hologram duplicate of the hero's dead friend! As far as I can tell, she's the only real actor in a game full of 3d rendered humans plastic robots, and poor Gideon and Rachel really don't come off well in comparison.

Apparently the real Cynna was an explosives expert (and apparently a hologram expert) who eventually blew herself up. Fortunately her incorporeal doppelgänger has all of her skills.

I get to listen to her and Rachel argue for almost ten minutes before they finally agree to join forces. Cynna joins the team!

Now that I've got control again, I decide to chat to the next guy at the bar. Scub Stevens also joins the team! Whoever the hell that is.

Fair enough, I'll take your word for it.

Hey, haven't you been standing next to the guy for the last hour? You only just now recognised him?

After somehow managing to recruit a third team member, I leave the bar and step into Mr Beautiful's office next door. It's time to find out why he framed us.

But first, I want to take... this pool cue! The golden rule of point and click adventures is to take every single item you see, and this thing is way too obvious not to be important. Plus it's the only thing I've seen to pick up in ages and I'm bored.

HOLY SHIT! Where the hell did that guy come from? Is that an actual demon? Why are his rhymes so terrible?

He won't let me take the cue and he won't let me talk to Mr Beautiful until I can tell him the code. The text entry box pops up again and waits for me to enter something, but this time I'm clueless. I doubt 'sesame' is going to work twice, so I'm going to have to ask around in the bar for hints.

This woman refuses to give me a straight answer to anything I ask. But she does say that she might be a little more helpful if I get her a drink.

It seems that I don't have any drinks on me. In fact I don't have much of anything, though Cynna's got a surprising number of bombs in her inventory for an intangible hologram.

Explosives probably won't work here though. In fact, I actually found a drink and that didn't even work. I chatted with everyone in the bar and I still couldn't figure out this password. In the end I had to look up what the code was. Turns out that woman had actually told me what it was, I just didn't realise it... Condemnation; in that lies his essence, and his password.

The demon does a little dance, and Mr Beautiful appears!

Oh damn, it's Dennis Hopper! Well that could explain why the game looks so cheap, it might have taken a fair amount of money to hire him during the same year he was starring in 'Speed'.

Dennis Hopper explains that he's an evil demon and claims that we've been working for him the whole time. He even gives us a mission to do for him. In hell.

Rachel quite sensibly points out that this is stupid, pointless, and stupid. But Gideon's totally up for it, and drags her along.

It seems that the road to hell is actually paved with computer code. Is this a hint that 'hell' is actually a virtual reality? I wonder, is Mr Beautiful a real demon in semi-human form, or a holographic computer construct in demon form? Huh?

Nah, I'm joking, I don't actually care.

Well, this is hell then. I've totally forgotten why I came here, Dennis Hopper threw way too many sentences at me for any one of them to actually sink in.

But I see a truck full of weapons! Finally, a chance to fill my inventory with something. So far this game has been all chat, and no items, and every puzzle has involved figuring out a password. Maybe now I can use something on something to actually achieve something.

Well this side of hell is looking a lot more... traditional.

Okay, there's a demon with a gun, and there are people chained to torture racks, so I guess I'm here to do something involving them. Damn, it's no good, I honestly can't remember what I was told to do. I'm going to have to check the replay and skim through that last conversation I had.

Right, okay, I'm here to rescue three high ranking officers from another demon so that they'll owe Mr Beautiful a favour. There doesn't seem to be any way to free them from the racks though, and 'using' weapons on the demon doesn't work.

Out of desperation I decided to just go and chat to the guy. I'm pretty sure I know how this is going to end, but I don't know what else to do.

Uh... okay then. Gideon and Rachel just pull out those weapons I gave them in a cutscene and fill the demon full of all kinds of supernatural bullets until he falls into the chasm. Mission complete!

Returning from hell seems to have unlocked all those other locations people keep telling me about, so Mr Beautiful can wait. I've finally reached the proper game and I'm going exploring!

I found a woman offering me a lockpick augmentation for only $6000, but I only have $1000. Exactly. So that's going to have to wait. Plus the way she keeps waving her left arm around is really off putting.

That's a bit of a stretch I reckon. It's okay man, not every name in the game has to relate to heaven or hell in some way. No one's awarding extra points for being 'clever'.

This guy is... actually I have no idea. He offers to let us sleep at his secret base as long as we kill sinister tyrannical dictator Solene Solux first. Sounds like a fair deal to me, considering she tried to kill us first, even though it means I've got something ELSE to add to my list of things I'm supposed to be doing.

I went off to see if I could get the assassination over with quickly, but that road let straight to another text entry box asking me to type in the correct name. I think I'll leave that for now.

Why was I told to go to this comic book shop again? It doesn't really matter because every computer in the place is locked up.

Apparently a plague of virtual locusts (just like in the Bible, they helpfully point out) is sweeping across computers, shredding memory. They seem like a natural cyber-phenomenon, a microburst wind-shear creating an info-vacuum. Apparently.

From a computer console they just look like a lot of random words though. Another text entry box pops up to ask me what the answer to the riddle is.

No. Fucking. Clue.

I agreed to help one of my team mates get her daughter out of a gang earlier and it seemed like a time sensitive quest, so I figured that I should probably get that done sooner rather than later. The trouble is, to do that I have to talk to people like this.

Totally deadpan.

Make up your mind man, are you allowed to swear or not? You sounds like a damn fool when you switch mid-sentence.

All right, I think I am done with this game now.

It's just conversations leading to conversations leading to passwords, and it's fair to say that most of the voice actors I'm chatting to aren't quite at Dennis Hopper's level. Plus I'm not even doing the chatting! At best I get to go through a list of questions and then choose 'Yes/No/End conversation' when they ask me to do something. Plus the music sucks.

But there's one last thing I need to do before I turn this off...

I loaded up a earlier save and went off to chat to that demon in hell... unarmed.

It didn't end well for either of them.


Well at least someone gets a happy ending.

Next game!


  1. I always wanted to play this. Now it can wait a few more years.


Semi-Random Game Box