(A text action-adventure. Puzzle-solving while adrenalin-overdosed is not so easy.
The Duel That Spanned the Ages - Details (ifdb.org))
Solving puzzles with a gun in your hand.
IF has its fair share of unfinished trilogies and abandoned series.This can be disappointing (or, depending on the quality of the piece, a relief…). Anyhow, it 's a shame to plogger your way through such a work, getting to know the characters and learning the puzzle-saviness you need to end at a brick wall with a sign that says: “No closure to see here. Move along please.”
I have found a sure way to avoid the sense of despair that can overwhelm a player’s heart when coming across such a piece, whether they notice it during play or beforehand. The player must get into the mindset of the archeologist. They must rejoice at unearthing a rare fragment of text that has survived through the ages to at last land in their hands.
I have unearthed such a magnificent fragment with The Duel That Spanned the Ages . Others have gone before me. I knew from another review that it was an uncomplete adventure, a single chapter of a larger story. Undeterred, I pressed on and found this a true original gem.
(There is an entry in IntroComp 2010 that is set in the same storyline. Since then, all has been quiet about The Duel That Spanned the Ages as far as I know. [Edit: the author has asked for playtesters for part 2 in a post on this forum in 2010. Nothing since then…])
In keeping with the incompleteness of the work, there is a long, mysterious and seemingly disconnected introduction. The game proper puts you in the character of a mercenary on an asteroid in the ass end of space. Soon he is sent on a mission where the rest of his squad is killed and he must fend for himself.
I have never seen an IF-piece that is so chock-full of adrenalin. The player is warned in the ABOUT-text that there are some timed sequences and that it is possible to die. A grave understatement if ever there was one…
Your mercenary finds himself in fast-paced chase scenes and brutal battles. He has to explore an abandoned underground facility while under attack from all sides. If I had tried to explain the game to a friend, they would have wrongly guessed that I had played Doom or one of its offspring.
Despite all this mayhem, the game really tries to be friendly. For example, it allows multiple UNDOs (six in my experience, but the ABOUT-text says this can vary depending on the interpreter).
The puzzles, while challenging, are not of the endlessly-tinkering-and-experimenting kind. That would hinder the neck-breaking tempo. Still, it takes a good eye, some thorough exploring and some working out the physics of the situation to get at the correct solution. In fact, your mind may be biased toward the wrong kinds of solutions by the action surrounding you, making the puzzles harder.
Fittingly for a fast-paced game such as this, the action takes place on several small straightforward maps. The writing conveys the danger and tension all around. I for one was deep enough into the action that I didn’t relax in the knowledge that I had a saved game to fall back on. No, I had to get to that elevator before I ran out of bullets. I was worrying about the damage to my mercenary’s body, wondering how long the armour would hold and how long it would take to bleed out.
There are cutscenes where unknown entities talk about our mercenary, wondering if he is up to the greater task. Unfortunately, we will probably never know what task this is or who these entities are.
But do play this piece of an incomplete story. It packs an impressive punch all on its own.