“Pantomime” by Robb Sherwin
This was the third of Robb Sherwin’s Hugo games that I’ve played but the first that I actually managed to finish (albeit with a little help). The previous two I didn’t give up with because of their difficulty but because the subject matter didn’t really interest me. Pantomime I decided I’d stick with through thick and thin because it was one of only two new games in the Spring Thing 2006 (one of the others was mine and another I had helped test) so I figured getting through two games prior to the Comp deadline wouldn’t be too much of a struggle.
Pantomime is a strange game, made stranger by the gameplay device of not showing the whole story from start to finish but often dropping lengthy cut scenes in which serve to explain little but confuse even more. The main character is called Raif, a resident of the Martian moon, Phobos, who has a companion called Chmod with him for part of the game. Chmod is a robot who resembles a shop vac. The setting is the future, yet it’s the kind of Blade Runner style future where most of the world seems to have changed little from the modern day (aside from it being set on one of Mars’ moons, of course). Old time humans are cloned and referred to as ‘mimes’, some suffering apparent brain damage from the cloning process and needing help in adjusting to modern society. One popular pastime is throwing rocks at the mimes of politicians who were probably dead before you even were born. Oh yes, a strange game indeed.
Pantomime frequently did a great job of annoying me. Hiding exits from rooms is never a good idea, nor is events not running until something else, seemingly unrelated, has occurred first. A few times I seemed to be revisiting earlier parts of the game for no other reason than to try and find the trigger needed to progress the game to the next stage.
There were no real bugs that I encountered in the early part of the game (a few missing item descriptions but nothing terrible and an exit moving itself) but a couple of oddities later on. One involved meeting Cinnamon at a restaurant, experiencing a cut scene outside, being dumped outside the bar… and then having the cut scene run again. Another time, my robotic companion Chmod disappeared from a room with only one exit, then when I left the room myself and returned, I found him there waiting for me. At first I assumed he was still there and just missing from the room description, but as attempts to speak with him didn’t work I guess he was gone after all. There was also an amusing moment towards the end of the game when the room description first of all told me that Chmod was giggling to himself and then that he was knocked out. Clever things these robotic sidekicks.
An interesting twist at the end indicates the player has a mime himself which explained a few of the more confusing pieces that had occurred before, but still left a number of holes in the main plot of the game. The motivations for the villain seemed strange - acquiring body parts for no other reason than to have them? The fact that such a person could hardly pass in public looking like that was never raised. Or was he simply so deranged that he had never stopped to wonder about that?
I was left with mixed feelings at the end of the game over whether I actually liked it or not. What I did like was the writing (very accomplished and showing a lot of polish. Even when the game was at its most confusing, the writing was enough to gloss over the rough edges). What I didn’t like was… quite a few different things actually. The fact that I couldn’t really get my head around the storyline didn’t help. Then, too, there’s the fact that a good name for the main villain of the piece is not Mr Kangaroo. It’s kind of hard to take a character seriously when he carries a name like that.
5 out of 10