|NAME: Spur||GAMEPLAY: Quirky but not frustrating|
|AUTHOR: Kent Tessman||PLOT: Unfolds nicely|
|EMAIL: email@example.com||ATMOSPHERE: Good|
|AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD||WRITING: Good|
|PUZZLES: Logical but not obvious||SUPPORTS: Hugo ports (DOS, Amiga, Linux)|
|CHARACTERS: Fairly convincing||DIFFICULTY: Medium|
Considering the potential for atmosphere and adventure puzzles with a western theme, it's something of a surprise to me that Infocom never did a game in this particular genre, not to mention the fact that there is so little I-F in general set in the Old West. Kudos are due Kent Tessman, who has found a relatively unexplored niche in the world of I-F in which to place "Spur." The game is full of atmosphere and serves as a good showcase of the Hugo language's capabilities.
Since no one has yet done a review of a Hugo game (since there are so few to begin with), I suppose I should analyze the parser and overall user- friendliness of the system before examining the game itself. Relative to the most popular development systems out there, Hugo's parser is far superior to AGT's standard, but a number of strange quirks keep it from matching Inform and TADS for ease of use. For instance, a number of common phrases aren't understood -- "OPEN DOOR WITH KEY" as opposed to "UNLOCK DOOR WITH KEY" is one that comes to mind. To ride a horse, you must first "GET ON THE HORSE" and then "RIDE" in the desired direction ("RIDE HORSE" won't get you on the horse in the first place). "KILLing" and "SHOOTing" someone are two completely different actions. Also, I found one that was quite (unintentionally) amusing:
>steal the axe
You'll have to buy the pick-axe first.
("STEAL" seems to be a synonym for "TAKE" in this case.) Much of the scenery can't be examined either. Don't get me wrong, most major objects such as a billiards table are present, but tables, chairs, and even Grady's bar aren't even recognized.
I'm not trying to be overly harsh here; I merely want to give players a basic feel for how the parser handles, and Hugo handles quite well overall, with most of the standard "ease-of-use" features ("UNDO", "OOPS", command recall, etc.) implemented. If a particular syntax doesn't work, it usually takes little experimentation to find another common one that does. Rarely is there a need to guess a particular phrase, and if the need seems to arise, it's more than likely that you're on the wrong track, so it's not too terribly frustrating. To perhaps put it more tangibly: I usually score the AGT parser around 0.7 (with a couple of exceptions), and both the TADS and Inform parsers around 1.5 or 1.6 on average. By this standard, Hugo would come in at 1.3 or so. (This is Hugo 2.0, BTW. As no games have yet been released with 2.1, I can't offer comment.)
The action begins immediately, with the player thrust into the middle of a gunfight, and doesn't let up. The outset is fast-paced, pushing the player along, but it doesn't force the sort of do-or-die time limit where you're dead if you don't do everything exactly right (such as the opening to "Demon's Tomb" or the endgame of "Christminster"). Some events are timed, but sufficient warning is provided.
"Spur" has a pleasant western atmosphere to it, with appropriate situations and puzzles, and some intentional anachronisms tacked on for humor. Those more familiar with the western genre (and I for one am not) will no doubt spot some minor cliches but I found nothing so obvious as to make me cringe.
The game is linear overall, and it's sometimes easy to overlook things. Quite a few problems rely on the other characters and can't be solved unless you gain the right information from the right person (much like "The Path to Fortune"). Reading the sample commands in the online help will give you some nudges if you're stuck in the early stages. What's interesting here is the fact that the Hugo engine prevents you from asking characters about something if you haven't actually seen it. This adds a degree of realism, but has the side effect of being a pain on subsequent playthroughs. It's a trade-off.
The characters in "Spur" are quite nicely done, many of them with reasonable mobility and most of them fairly responsive. The fact that they're observing your behavior as well lends to the realism. Grady the bartender has a superstitious streak, but you can't trick him by giving him a fake charm if you create it while he's watching you. Little Jimmy whines incessantly if you steal his taffy. Old Dan, the town drunk, wanders about on his own personal quest for liquor. Sheriff Argyle is a constant threat until you can escape town.
Your own character is not the typical John Wayne western hero. The story reveals that you're not a very good shot at all, and most other characters don't have a very high opinion of you. It's also necessary to do some rather unkind things in order to complete the story. (The scoring system reflects this by summarizing your exploits rather than using a point tally, and the effect is pleasing.)
Although "Spur" is not a long game, it's a detailed one. You're more or less free to do what you choose, with few messages to the effect that "violence isn't the answer." Killing off other characters, though fatal, is a perfectly valid move (shooting Sarah's horse was particularly fun -- gawd I'm sick!).
"Spur" is a fairly unique work of I-F, and a fine example of what the Hugo language can do. I'm looking forward to more games from Kent Tessman in the future...as well as more Hugo games.
-- C.E. Forman