(Written in 2001)
Escape from Monkey Island (Or EMI, as it will forever be known) has a lot to live up to. For starters there is the whole “Death of the Adventure Game” thing. The adventure game is not dead whilst Lucasarts still draw breath, because not only have you got jackpot when they bring a new game out but you have the entire back-catalogue too. Besides, RPG’s were deader than your average dodo a few years ago, and then Bioware’s Infinity engine became the catalyst that brought us enough games to keep RPG gamers playing for entire months, In the case of BG2 with little or no offline time! Yet still every adventure game is greeted with the death knell of it’s genre. But, in an Oliver-Twistian move, there is more. Monkey Island is the best, most famous adventure-game series ever in the history of the genre, so it has to be as good, if not better, than them. And then there is Curse of monkey island, the third game in this quartet, which was (and lets whisper it so nobody else can hear) not quite as good as the first two. It was Funny, but more sort of Corporation funny, rather than the genuine amusement of MI2, Day of the Tentacle and others…
Others, yes. Here we come to one of the reasons why this was going to be so interesting, the story is scripted by the folks behind the fantastic Sam and Max game. This in itself is cool, the only thing better than this would be if Ron Gilbert came back from whatever-he-does-now to do it, but then there is the finishing point: it’s in 3D. And here is where the vital bits come in, it’s in the same engine that Grim Fandango was written in, plus several version numbers and less several annoying bugs. Can it work? Really? Grim Fandango was Situational/Script Comedy. The humour was in the situations (Skeletons getting killed by flowers, Skeletons that were fat, Death wearing platform shoes) and the Coolness of the script. Where as the traditional MI values have been Fantastic one-liners and Character based humour, and 3D, while being advanced, isn’t advanced enough yet to render that amount of detail in the models for actual use. The nature of adventure-games means you have to see large areas of the map at one time without a loss of detail. Monkey Island 4 has to prove that Adventure gaming is still alive, that the MI Series isn’t in decline, and that 3D is better than 2D any day of the week.
Oh boy, we don’t start off with the easy parts, do we? The graphics are absolutely gorgeous, every background looks as though it has been lifted direct from the artists imagination, from the trademark swirly clouds of MI3 right down to the traditional old, decrepit maps of the islands themselves. From the dark, dingy feel of Meleé island, down to the open touristness of another island. And then… then… then they put the characters on top. The engine runs at 640\*480, same as the default res for Quake 3, and you can’t change it. But this does mean that the edges of the characters are distinctly blocky. The interaction of the 2D and the 3D inanimate objects is great, Doors swing open behind barrels, but the distinction between the smoothness of the backgrounds and the rough characters means that they sit slightly oddly on the screen. There are points where Guybrush has to climb a set of stairs, and you can see him climbing, and you can see the stairs, but they have no relation to each other, and it looks like he is gliding. Having said that, a better 3D card might fix it, and I’ll update this when I try. The graphics engine still isn’t perfect, although the transitions from scripted sequences to normal game-space are seamless, at one stage I got Guybrush poling his way across dry land, but I fixed that. I’m not quite sure what necessitated the lack of polygons on the characters, with games like Discworld Noir showing how many an adventure game can have and still be playable, it might be a part of the desire to keep it accessable to most computers.
The voices are amazing. From the charectors in MI1 & 2 that have cameo roles, right up to the new people you meet, each one is wonderfully casted. You can tell when one or more of the main cast has been used for “extra’s”, but only if you listen to it. Guybrush is much better, and Charles L. Charles’s educated tones have an air of familiarity about them. The music has been done by the same people who brought you the last lot, and whilst a riff on the main theme plays no major part in the proceedings, the familiar strains of Stans Theme, followed thoughout series, will haunt you, and there are many returning riffs you may, or may not, recognise. They still mispronounce Caribbean though.
…is fantastic. Tributing, yet not stealing from, the previous games, following old characters, introducing new ones, leading to a fantastic climax you will see coming from a whole 10 seconds away. And that is all I will say. I object to being told the plot of a game beforehand, so I won’t tell you either. Ner. It does wrap it up a bit too neatly for a MI game, and these endings are getting more and more difficult to follow on from, but apart from that it’s great. The script is fantastic, the timing is great, the jokes… occasionally fall flat… Some running gags need slightly more run-up space before they get the high-jump, and some of the parodies may get drowned out in the noise, but the inflections are wonderful and the puns terrible. I like this storyline.
Minor glitches aside, the polish on the GRIME engine shows well, Manny’s trait of looking at interesting objects has been expanded with a SCUMM-like idea (GRIME is the Grim Fandango Engine, SCUMM is the Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion, the engine on which all LucasArts adventures except that and this were created in) of putting a short description on the screen, and also if there is more than one object around to look at, they all appear and you can PG-Up and PG-Down between them. The inventory has also been expanded, Pressing I now darkens the screen and the objects you own appear in a Tomb-Raider-style circular menu, in which you can take an object into the game, or take it to use it on something else in the Inventory. This works. Although the help function mentions being able to take the first 10 objects from your inventory by pressing 1-0 on the keyboard, this doesn’t seem to work.
I like this game. The game itself is great, the puzzles hard without being impossible, the voices are almost perfect, the music is perfect. But I remain unconvinced that 3D is the best direction for this to have gone, It would have worked as well, maybe better, as a 2D game, although I think the amount of animation such a thing would require would have necessitated another CD. For what it is, it’s fantastic. I have, as of 10 minutes ago, completed the game and, since I have nothing better to do with my time, I think I’ll spend tomorrow doing the same thing for a hint-site. TTFN