Apr 06

Game Review- Infested

Icom’s “MacVenture” series is a classic set of four point-and-click adventures that, in a lot of ways, predicted and influenced where the genre would go. Among other innovations, they were the first games to represent your inventory in pictures, and gave you a specific set of commands to use (“Look”, “Use”, “Open”, etc.). This was a welcome respite from the previous norm, where you would have to play “Guess the exact syntax the game wants you to use to advance” (Which Homestar Runner and later TV Tropes would call “You Can’t Get Ye Flask“).

Three of the four games in the MacVenture series, Shadowgate, Deja Vu, and Uninvited, would later see NES ports (The fourth, Deja Vu II, would be released on the Game Boy Color as part of a Deja Vu I & II collection about a decade later). These changed the UI somewhat, replacing the pictorial inventory with a text list, but would become iconic in their own right–they were later re-ported to PCs as a collection called 8-Bit Anthology Volume 1, complete with their infamous Nintendo of America censorship.

It’s these NES ports that inspired GrahfMetal’s Infested, a point-and-click adventure with an interface very similar to the NES ports, but just different enough to be legally distinct. The UI has a futuristic shine to it, which is fitting for the setting of the game.

You play as a resident of a space ship. You wake up out of stasis thanks to screams coming from elsewhere on your ship, followed by an eerie silence, all of which may or may not have been a dream. Fortunately, you know who you are, which puts you ahead of 90% of video game protagonists who wake up at the start of their adventures. Unfortunately you quickly realize that the screams and subsequent silence were real. It’s up to you to figure out what happened and stay alive.

Infested sneaks in a number of references to those old MacVentures, especially Shadowgate. If you’ve never played one, though, don’t worry–they’re just easter eggs, and you don’t need to pick up on them in order to complete the game. As one example, your mission briefing, where you learn about “Commander Lakmir”, is an homage to Shadowgate, which had a similar intro with a wizard named Lakmir.

Point-and-click adventures, especially old-school ones in the style of early Sierra Online games (Even Sierra toned down the sadism in their later adventure games), get their difficulty from two main factors. The first is “Ways to die”. Infested is packed pretty tightly with these. Death looms on almost every screen, especially early on. I wrote a Twitter thread not long after I first played it; within that thread, I highlight four of those ways to die. And the first time death catches you, you’ll wish it hadn’t–the image is comparable to the corresponding image in Shadowgate or Uninvited.

Fortunately, the game mitigates the frequency of your demise in a couple different ways. The first is allowing you to save wherever you want. The second is the penalty for a death. Said penalty is essentially non-existent; dying kicks you back into the room before the one where you met your end. You even get to keep the item you used to kill yourself, if doing so is what caused you to die!

The second main factor in a point-and-click adventure’s difficulty is whether or not the puzzles are logical, and whether it’s easy to find the items needed to solve said puzzles. Infested is pretty forgiving here, to the point you can intuit what you need to do in a few puzzles without ever finding the in-game hint for them. This was actually my main irritant with the game–in the puzzle I missed the hint on, examining the elements of the puzzle will cause the game to imply you’re closer to the solution than you actually are, confusing you when you try to do what the game says to do next and nothing happens. Regarding the “moon-logic” nature of adventure-game puzzles, Infested is pretty fair. I’m not a point-and-click afficionado, and except for one puzzle in particular where the intended solution was probably not what I would have done with the combination of items in question, everything either made enough logical sense that I didn’t question it, or the game gave more obvious hints toward the solution.

You may hear Infested described as “A ‘short’ tribute to MacVentures”. Honestly, its length is roughly in line with the games it pays tribute to, especially once you know how to get through them. The game contains, by my count, 31 rooms to explore. That’s slightly smaller than Shadowgate (Which had roughly 40 rooms from a quick search), though not by enough to be called “short” by comparison. The sequence to complete the game requires you to go back and forth between rooms, but you can use knowledge from previous playthroughs to get through subsequent ones faster if you’re the speedrunning type.

In all, the 3-person team behind Infested did an excellent job creating a game in the spirit of the MacVentures. The music definitely helps in bringing that “ICom feel” back, particularly the harsh theme that plays when you die. And since I was extremely young when those games were first released, this was really my first game I played through in this style totally “on my own”, and it didn’t frustrate me enough to want to throw my laptop through a window (This is a good thing).

-EE

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