The Elysium Enigma by Eric Eve (TADS)
There was clearly a lot more going on with “The Elysium Enigma” than I discovered on my first play through, considering my score at the end was an unimpressive 3 out of 30. The game even went on to wryly inform me *** YOU HAVEN’T ACHIEVED MUCH *** and I think this must be the first game I’ve played that I managed to finish with a score as low as 10%. Admittedly I was playing the game in a jokey manner for most of the time – when a half-naked woman asked me for food, I refused her a couple of times then wandered off and left her to starve – so really it’s my own fault that I finished with such a dismal score.
You’re playing the part of a space age ambassador-type who has to visit the planet of Enigma and convince them that the Federation does care about them and does listen to them. To do this, you need to hoist a flag on the roof of the main building in Enigma’s main city and then sweet talk the populace, who are pretty much of the opinion that the Federations doesn’t care about them and doesn’t listen to them.
“The Elysium Enigma” was the 20th game in the Comp I played, about halfway through, and the most polished of the entries I’d come across so far. There’s a nice back story to the game, enough information to set the scene without overloading the player. I played a previous IFComp entry by the same author a couple of years back and liked it a lot to begin with, but felt it lost its way somewhere as soon as the introductory scene and the background was out of the way. Thankfully, “The Elysium Enigma” remained entertaining throughout.
The difficulty level was set just right (for me anyway) and I managed to progress at quite a nice pace. The first puzzle that I ran into any problems with – dealing with a dog who resisted my best efforts to strangle/kill/kick/choke – was solved when I stopped to more carefully examine what I had with me and found a very useful item amongst my possessions. Yes, this is a game where it’s necessary to pay very close attention to things. There was one slightly unfair part around that time, with EXAMINE and SEARCH meaning different things when finding an item needed elsewhere (never a favourite of mine as it’s twice as much work for no real gain), but I don’t think this was along the critical path to finish the game and is one of the IF scenes more common problems.
The actual game itself is a simple enough one to finish, but there’s a lot more to figure out to reach the true ending. Most of the puzzles seem to be fairly simple and straightforward, with the required items to solve them lying around and it’s just left to you to locate them. Normally I’m not a huge fan of this kind of thing as it always seems kind of unrealistic that the items needed to solve the puzzles in a game would be lying around in such a convenient way, but here it’s handled a lot better. Yes, the items are just lying around, but their location seems perfectly logical; i.e. they’re where they are because it’s where you’d expect to find them in real life, not because they’re required to solve the puzzles.
Conversation is handled in the ASK PERSON ABOUT SUBJECT and TELL PERSON ABOUT SUBJECT ways which don’t usually score points with me as I spend most of the time desperately trying to figure out just what it is I need to be asking NPCs about or telling them. But here, as soon as you speak to an NPC, a list of possible conversation topics pops up afterwards so you can see at a glance what you might want to ask them. Nice. I suppose you could argue that it takes a good deal of the challenge out of the conversations by listing the topics this way, but it’s certainly a huge improvement on keying in ASK PERSON ABOUT ??? over and over again until you manage to find a subject the NPC responds to.
Minor quibbles aside, this was my favourite game of the IFComp 2006.
8 out of 10