The Big Red Adventure
The Big Red Adventure comes to us from Core Design, perhaps best known to adventurers for their Curse of Enchantia; and Dynabyte, who brought us Nippon Safes Inc. In fact, the three main characters from Nippon Safes are reunited, eventually, in this new game and, if you play through to the end, you will find that further adventures are promised.
I say 'if' because, personally, I found little enjoyment in playing this game. I didn't warm to the characters at all; not to the way in which they were portrayed, nor to the way they were drawn. The racial, cultural and gender stereo-types were merely offensive rather than funny, and the humour consisted of a running 'joke' about the Russians embracing capitalism, and puns of the calibre of 'Leo Tallstory wrote War and Pacemaker'. If I was prepared to be charitable I would say that maybe it lost something in the translation, Dynabyte being an Italian design team, but if I was too charitable you may get the idea that this is a good game. It isn't.
That is not to say that it didn't have potential. Some of the elements of a good adventure game surfaced all too briefly in the puzzle aspect but, for me, the negatives easily outweighed the positives. Which is a shame because I would dearly love all adventure games to be good ones.
The introduction, which was crass, out-lined the influence of the decadent west (hamburgers, video games and, of course, rock music) upon the long-suffering former Soviets, and informed us of a die-hard group of communists who had concocted a devious plan to return the country to the glory of the good old days.
Having set the scene the premise of the introduction was promptly forgotten until much, much later in the game, as you must first learn about and resolve the current predicaments of the main characters so that they will all meet up on the Orient Express. Not that you know this is what you are trying to do when the game starts out.
The first part opens with your character, Doug - a stereotypical sad computer nerd - planning to steal the gold crown of Ivan the Horrible from the Kremlin Museum. To get that far you must wander around and talk to people and solve a series of problems without really understanding why you are solving them, apart from the fact that you can, and they keep you moving along.
The second part sees you as Dino - a stereotypical slow-witted muscleman - whose ship has sailed without him. This bit seemed to have more sense to it except that most of what you could do only served to disguise the actual paucity of puzzles. If you made the right moves early enough it was over all too quickly. In fact, most of the items you could collect and actions you could perform just seemed to be red herrings. But I am prepared to stand corrected if anyone can take the time to find an alternative, more convoluted solution, and let me know about it. I tried for a long time and failed before falling back on the obvious and easy path.
The third part introduces Donna - a stereotypical sex-object with big breasts and short skirt. She doesn't need to solve anything to get on the train as a cut sequence shows her being swept off her feet by a filthy-rich sugar daddy.
Once on the train the characters team up to solve the puzzles according to their 'talents', which simply means choosing the correct character to get what you want. No prizes for guessing which one gets to use her feminine wiles. At this stage the sexism was laid on so thickly that even the writers seemed embarrassed by it all and made a joking reference to it. It didn't stop them though.
Finally, the plot gets around to tackling the story as outlined in the introduction and Donna is kidnapped to be a part of some gruesome experiment conducted by a stereotypical mad scientist, Dr Virago, in league with the communists; and Doug and Dino set off in pursuit. To be fair, I found this, and the later sequence with Donna escaping by herself, to be probably the toughest and most enjoyable part of the entire game. In particular, Donna working out how to escape was good, solid adventuring and showed how good the game might have been if this had been sustained throughout. Though, once again, it provided the opportunity for the programmers to reveal Donna's underwear. Tacky.
In addition, the game was littered with minor annoyances such as the use of the Russian Cyrillic alphabet to suggest English letters. This made some words difficult to read. Also some items, once placed in your inventory, became impossible to identify until you could find a use for them. Which meant resorting to the I-wonder-if-this-strange-object-will-work-here? approach to problem solving. One item, a thin white strip with two tiny spikes at one end, I had for an entire act without knowing what it was, where I picked it up, or what purpose it served. It evidently had no major use as I didn't need it to complete the game, but I wasted a considerable amount of time trying to find a use for it.
The interface, too, was annoying in that it was clumsy at times, or at least imprecise. Many's the time I clicked on an object in the middle of a room only to have my character turn around and walk back to a previous screen. Then, when I actually wanted to leave the current location multiple clicking was required at the edge of the screen, even with the name of the next location highlighted, just to get my character to make the transition. Those of you who have played Curse of Enchantia will be only too familiar with this particular problem.
And the inventory caused me some frustration as well. Accessing it necessitated holding down the right mouse button the whole time whilst selecting objects with the left button. If you didn't, the inventory just disappeared. To combine objects required you to firstly open your inventory and select an item, then to re-open the inventory by clicking on your character. Only then was it possible to use that item with another. Otherwise, instead of combining objects you merely replaced one object with another. This was fiddly at first, but I did eventually get used to it.
The CD ROM version I played only had speech during the introduction, which was probably just as well if the commentator's voice was anything to go by, and after a while I turned the sound off as the music was location specific and, dare I say it, annoying. I was discussing this game with Adrian Carmody, a regular contributor to these pages, and wondering how best to describe it. "It lacks class." he said, and that just about sums it up.
Copyright © Gordon Aplin 1995.
All rights reserved.
486, 4MB RAM, CD-ROM, mouse