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IF COMP 2004 - The Orion Agenda

Game #1: The Orion Agenda, by Ryan Weisenberger
Played On: 10/02/04 (10:30 AM to 11:30 AM, and 3:30 PM to 4:45 PM)
Unofficial Score: 9.0 (8.5 base with +0.5 skew)

     All in all, this was a pretty tightly constructed game. Not many ways to go wrong, although there were some sudden death situations and some things I might have tried but didn't for fear of putting the game in an unwinnable state. I'll discuss these later, although there may be mild spoilers. A couple times I did anyway, with "undo" in my arsenal.

     The introduction caught my interest. I played through about a minute of every competition game (well, most of them, anyway), and this was the one I was most interested in playing first, just based on the beginning. Several of the competition games seemed to be set in a futuristic Startrek-ish alien society, on a ship or a space station, and having played this game first and written this review before diving into the other games, I have to say I enjoyed this one, where I got a sense of cheesiness, a rush of campy sci-fi deja-vu, in some of the others I began.

     This is the story of a man on a mission, the woman who helps him, and a brewing war that isn't what you expect. The writing was very good, very enjoyable. The author was able to paint a vivid picture without excess text, and that's something I find enviable. As with any game, there were a few unimplemented bits of scenery ("x plants" and "x animals" in the garden, for instance, or "x architecture" in a spot or two). For the most part, the descriptions were brief enough that this wasn't a problem. I liked the story, and I did find several (if not all) of the ways to reach the "good" ending mentioned in the hints -- but I think my attempts to kiss her early on may have caused a starting deficit that I never overcame. I do plan to play through again, for that ending, because the story is entertaining enough to make it worthwhile.

     If I were casting a vote, I'd have gone over by about 15 minutes, hitting the two-hour mark close to the end, during the Orion outpost section. In retrospect, it doesn't seem like it was a difficult game, but I got caught up in three key spots that required checking about half the built-in hints for the appropriate topic. The hint system, by the way, was well done and a good idea. I had planned something similar (but with numeric codes to minimize the risk of spoilers even in the hint descriptions themselves) for my game, and just didn't have time to do it. At any rate, I was stuck in one spot because I didn't pay enough attention to the old man's table, a second time in regards to the map (I saw what I needed to see, but assumed it was simply an "x-marks-the-spot" for later), and finally, because I have a poor memory. Although I can't blame these snags on the author, it would have been nice to get some kind of in-story hint for at least the last one, and maybe the prior. Unless I missed it somehow, I had no way to review what I saw on the prayer cards, and I simply could not remember what I needed to know. But, that only meant I had to go through the entire hint chain. I'd have still used the clue on what to do upon arriving at the meeting. I know the glowing of the cube was a clue -- but I thought I needed to interact with the cube. I suspect other players may resort to the hints at the same point. But, that's end-game. It's the culmination of what you've learned. Although I don't think I'd have figured out the map no matter how long I gave thought to the problem (simply because I had been there and gone, without any indication that I might need to go back), I would probably have figured out the endgame puzzle after a while longer. I might have reloaded a save for another peek at the prayer cards, though.

     My only real complaint is in regards to the sudden death situations. I counted three, but I may simply have been on-track enough to avoid any others. I was ready to explore the Orion countryside, having failed to RTFM, and (unless I missed it), walking along with a partner who was likewise clueless about the risks. Still, "Undo" is my friend. The second time, I answered "yes" where I should have answered "no." It was no mistake -- I simply wanted to test the result, knowing already that I would be able to back up. I wasted the explosives, and was pleased to find it re-spawned where I found it. I didn't try, but I wonder if the same would have happened from my "no refunds" purchase if I had bought the wrong thing? My only other snag was in regards to the war card. I saw it, I read it, I just didn't know what it meant. I suspected time travel, not having any real insight into what was going on. Still, I vanished the Knowledge stone without even realizing it, and I simply didn't put enough significance on it at the end.

     Having played through only once (I'll go for the better ending after I make the rounds with the other entries), there seemed to be only minor plot holes. It was good to have a reference to McEllis earlier in the game. It prevented what might have seemed a tacked- on twist, at least to me. However, if contamination was underway, why would the armed natives have reacted poorly to the sight of us? Also, in the end, I'm told that McEllis disabled the network sats during the siege -- yet prior to "joining" the rally (presumably after the siege), I used it in my quarters. At least, I think I did.

     I've skewed this +0.5 for an even 9.0, because I love sci-fi, and the Star Trek feel works for me. If it had earned a half or even a full point less, I would probably still skew it to a 9, because it succeeds well in its genre and, well... I liked this game! This turned into a pretty lengthy review, so here's to hoping I have the stamina to do the same for the remainder of the entries. It's going to be a long six weeks!

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