King's Quest: Mask of Eternity
The pattern emerging from Sierra Studios is 3D, 3D, 3D (which should make the next Leisure Suit Larry game interesting, to say the least). The latest King's Quest game follows suit with a brand new first - or third-person perspective engine telling its traditional story of twee.
Roberta Williams is back in the land of Daventry for this eighth title, telling the story of Connor MacLyrr and his battle to save his world from a magical blight the likes of which haven't been seen for... ooh, at least a week. You have to work your way through seven distinct lands, from swamps to mountains to a spiritual plane, home to the deadly but stupidly named Vicious Beast (and the lesser evil of the Slightly Ticked Off Beast).
Sarcasm aside, Mask Of Eternity promises to be a challenging and lasting adventure game, with an engine that should win back fans to the genre.
Ladies and gentlemen, pray silence and welcome to the next generation of adventure games. After all the build up, all the hype and promises, all the broken hearts, the outraged Internet die-hards and the column inches pressing for caution, the 3D adventure game has finally arrived. King's Quest VIII has opened the door and now there's no turning back.
Fortunately, we may not want to turn back. Despite all the optimism being shown by The Industry, I'll admit to having been sceptical. I feared we'd end up seeing nothing but Tomb Raider wannabes with a few mouse-clicks thrown in for good measure. But having spent sleepless nights with Mask Of Eternity, my cautious fears seem unfounded. If this is anything to go by, roll on the future.
Cautious Fear 1
One worry was that the storyline - an adventure game's most important aspect - would somehow be lost, smothered by the graphics. For all the large breasts and playability, Tomb Raider could hardly be said to have the most gripping plot in the world (not that this is stopping Hollywood morons from making it into a film).
MOE manages to deliver a tale of traditional Roberta Williams fantasy hokum with plenty of style and panache, and with seemingly minimum effort More importantly, it gets you hooked and keeps you wanting to come back until your monitor's low-level radiation has burnt through your retinas.
It's the traditional fantasy tale of good and evil. A darkness has spread across the land of Daventry, turning the populace into stone. Only you have survived, having found a piece of the titular mask moments before it struck. Now you have to search the land for the other pieces, return them to their sacred resting place and bring light and (I quote) "sweetness" back to the land.
While the story is actually quite good, the script is less impressive. The lead character has a tendency to say "Zounds!" and "Lo!" far too frequently for a heterosexual male of his calibre, and the accent is the typical plummy, Michael York-style English that every American west of New York seems to think we speak with. That would be only a minor point in most games, but because he won't stop talking like a mincing luwie throughout, it does start to irritate before long. A sense of humour would also have helped. Roberta Williams has always been the queen of the •family' game, and the King's Quest series has never been known for its dark, penetrating assessments of the human psyche, but there are times when this is a very dark game - and not just in lighting terms. At times it's heavy on the blood, and the characters all seem to take things terribly seriously. A few light touches to relieve the pace wouldn't have gone amiss.
Cautious Fear 2
Another worry was that the gameplay would be nothing but running, jumping and fighting - Tomb Raider with knobs on. Once again, MOEallays those fears pretty well. There is a lot of combat, and at times a bit too much. It never quite reaches the Lara Croft or Quake level of wanton carnage, but when an adventure game has you panting gratefully when a new weapon presents itself, you know something's wrong.
Fortunately, there's still a good balance of puzzles to offset the violence, and for the most part Sierra have done a good job of keeping them intrinsic to the storyline, even if there are a few too many instances of the old 'bring me object A and I'll give you object B' scenario.
The character interaction is also lacking a little. Most of the NPCs you encounter are there to be killed. The townsfolk-as-statues storyline is a good way to get past the problem of having independent characters strolling around, but you can't help wishing there were more than just a few single-location good guys to interact with.
Cautious Fear 3
The only other concern about this new genre was that the controls would be horrible. Point and click was simple: you point, you click. Job's a good 'un. Now we were going to have to master all sorts of confusing key commands to get our character to go where we wanted and do what we commanded.
Luckily, this has proved to be fairly painless, too. MOE works by having you run around in third-person using the cursor keys (or remapped equivalents), and moving the camera with the mouse. It's confusing at first, but before long it becomes second nature. You still point and click with the mouse cursor, but now you feel as though there's a greater freedom. This is perhaps the most important feature, separating it from games like Tomb Raider. The movement is similar, but the mouse cursor enables a much greater level of interaction with the environment.
There are a few slight graphical problems: there's a modicum of polygon clipping in evidence (limbs passing through walls when you get close and so on), and the camera is annoyingly tricky to manoeuvre when you're inside smallish rooms, but you can live with it.
The one thing that is most apparent while playing MoE is just how good these 30 adventure games are going to be once the designers have had a chance to stretch their legs a little. MOE is a good game - let's be clear about that - but there are times when you can see the limitations the designers have imposed upon themselves. It's very much akin to the Quake/Unreal situation: Quake was a great game; Unreal took it all a step further and showed what could really be done with the technology. Half-Life (reviewed on page 88) takes it further still. And games like Gabriel Knight III, Simon The Sorcerer 3D (previewed on page 60) will probably do exactly the same.
For what it's worth, recommendations for the future are these: more characters to interact with; less gratuitous fighting (and more intense, more dramatic combat when it does happen - this is a storytelling medium after all); more experimentation with puzzles (ie less of the object carrying and more of the lateral thinking/deduction - Discworld Noir promises to be like this); and sort out the camera when moving in enclosed areas.
For the moment, however, King's Quest: Mask Of Eternity fits the bill. It is good. It's a very playable game, it has a very engaging story, and it's a great advert for the future. Change is good, after all.
Download King's Quest: Mask of Eternity
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features: Single game mode
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2018-12-20 King's Quest: Mask of Eternity game added.