Order Player: 4 out of 22
I decided a while back to quit playing Quest games on account of the fact that a) they were awful and b) they were awful. Even the ones regarded as masterpieces in the Quest community tended to be, at best, decidedly average. While I’m sure it’s possible for a decent game to be written with Quest, none of the ones written to date showed any indication of this and I’d reached the stage where I was playing new Quest games expecting them to be bad and actively sitting there waiting for some terrible bug to throw itself upon me. Hardly the state of mind you should be in when playing a new game. But…
But I gave this one a go. There were less games in this year’s comp than the previous one and as I immediately decided against playing several of them due to one reason or another, I figured I had enough time to at least give this one a shot and see if someone had finally achieved the seemingly impossible and written a Quest game that was actually worth playing.
And that was how I found myself pleasantly surprised.
While a long way from perfect, indeed it has more rough edges than you can shake a stick at, Gathered In Darkness is a solidly entertaining piece of IF. And I don’t just mean it’s a decent game by Quest standards (which, to be honest, isn’t saying much), but a decent game full stop. Turn off the side panels, enlarge the text entry line and smarten up the interface a little, and you could easily be forgiven for thinking you were playing a TADS or Inform game.
Given its numerous shortcomings, I’m still not entirely convinced that it’s possible to write a truly great game in Quest, but this one comes the closest to being truly great that I’ve played so far. At the very least it shows that, while Quest may never produce a masterpiece, it is capable of producing above average games. I’ve gone over Quest’s problems (at least as I see them) in the past so I won’t reiterate them in any great detail here, but suffice to say the Quest player leaves quite a lot to be desired. The text entry line is still miniscule and, when played on my Vista PC, the new rounded START button has a tendency to obscure some of the already-too-small text I’m typing. Unfortunately, Gargoyle doesn’t seem to work with Quest, at least as far as I could tell, so the Quest player it has to be.
The player carries with him a journal in which important bits of information are contained. In theory anyway. Only the first time I was told it had been updated, there was nothing in it when I tried to read it. Seems I’d turned off the godawful side panels that Quest favours and the relevant information was contained there. A pity no one writing games with Quest ever seems to realise that some of the people playing them might do this sort of thing. Might it not be a good idea to warn people when turning them off or to at least display the information in the game window when the side panels aren’t active?
There were a few annoyances with room descriptions. The first time I saw my room, there was a nice long description of it, afterwards there were just a few lines. LOOK did nothing more than reprint these few lines, not the full description. Several key items I had seen before were now hidden and I ended up having to scroll back up the screen in order to refresh my memory as to what they were. On a few occasions, I missed required items because of this and only discovered them after much scrolling up to reread the room descriptions.
Bug-wise, this seemed a little better than the average Quest game in that for the most part I didn’t encounter any real problems. However, in one location I tried to open a door and was told that the only doors I needed to worry about were locked ones. So I tried unlocking it and was told I couldn’t see a door here. Hmmm…
Guess the verb rears its head a time or two and is further complicated by an unhelpful parser:
I CAN’T SEE THAT HERE.
THERE ARE NO BATTERIES IN THE FLASHLIGHT AT THIS TIME.
Why did it assume I meant the flashlight? Also there are definitely batteries present.
REMOVE BATTERIES FROM RADIO
I CAN’T SEE THAT HERE.
GET BATTERIES FROM RADIO
YOU OPEN UP THE BATTERY COMPARTMENT IN THE BACK AND FIND TWO D CELL BATTERIES. THINKING THAT THEY MIGHT COME IN HANDY, YOU PUT THEM IN YOUR POCKET.
Why does GET BATTERIES FROM RADIO work yet REMOVE BATTERIES FROM RADIO doesn’t? And why does Quest not realise the radio is there when REMOVE is used, yet has no problems with the radio when GET is used? I generally don’t get too heated up over parser debates, but when one produces misleading error messages like those quoted above, it’s hard to stay cool about them.
For the most part, I liked the style of writing used here, over the top though it was. However, on a few occasions, it was so over the top in trying to convey a sense of horror, that it actually came across as quite comical:
A SCREAM RISES FROM DEEP WITHIN YOU BUT IT IS MURDERED BY YOUR FEAR AND DIES LONG BEFORE IT CAN ESCAPE YOUR LIPS
A scream being murdered by your fear…? That sort of thing reminds me of the slasher films you tend to get these days that throw buckets of blood and dismembered corpses all over the place because it’s so much easier than doing something genuinely scary.
Gathered In Darkness is a fairly sizeable game to be completed within the IFComp’s 2 hour deadline. And this is the cut down version as well, trimmed from a weighty 9 chapters to a more manageable 3. Even so, getting through it in 2 hours will be a struggle due to the sheer amount of text to wade through. If the other chapters are anything like as lengthy as this one, there’s probably a good 6 or more hours of gameplay in the full version. The puzzles are fairly easy and straightforward, though as indicated above are often complicated by guess the verb and parser problems, not to mention the constant scrolling back up to read things that are only listed once in the room description.
Starting the game seemed to take an unusual amount of time for an IF game. Whereas normally they start almost instantly, or a few seconds at the most, here I was waiting almost a minute for it starting up. Someone else mentioned in a review that loading and saving caused lengthy delays but I never experienced these myself; however he managed to get the game to start up without any noticeable delay. Whether the slowness is a computer-related problem or a problem with Quest itself I couldn’t say, but if the final version of this game is three times as large as this, I don’t much fancy the delays it is likely to bring with it.
One final point which I liked is the game’s clever way of getting around one of Quest’s worst flaws: the lack of an UNDO command in the event of player death. Here, a scripted event triggers and takes the player back one move, thus removing the need to restart the game every time you die. Nice idea. Other Quest writers should take note of it.
6 out of 10