Even if you know Long Island like the back of your hand, you're bound to miss Callahan's Crosstime Saloon, an unassuming place tucked into the woods on a quiet stretch of Route 25A. I would have missed it myself if a friend hadn't pointed it out. It's not a well-known establishment but it draws its fair share of loyal eccentrics, and Mike Callahan and his patrons wouldn't have it any other way. The first night I stepped into Callahan's, I was greeted by a regular named Jake Stonebender, a long-haired folk singer dressed in plaid flannel. He bought me a drink and invited me to stick around for what promised to be a rowdy Riddle Night. Jake, as it turned out, was on the verge of a busy night himself, and I was lucky enough to tag along for the ride.
Callahan's Crosstime Saloon, a 1997 release written by Sierra veteran Josh Mandel and developed by now-defunct Legend Entertainment, is an adaptation of Spider Robinson's science fiction stories about Jake Stonebender and his friends at Callahan's. The game opens outside our galaxy, in an It's A Wonderful Life-style conversation between two pulsing zephyrs of light. Turns out the universe is about to be shut down for lack of funding (sounds like a lot of adventure games these days!) and its creator is desperate to find something unique enough about the human race to justify keeping the project alive. This crisis takes a back seat, however, as we zoom down on Callahan's, where our hero Jake has just arrived for the evening.
Little does Jake know, he's in for a long one. His friends keep asking for favors, and Jake's too nice a guy to say no. Before the night is out, he'll take on an alien race that's sapping the world of testosterone, travel into the Brazilian jungle to save an endangered strain of orgasmic chocolate from extinction, set out for Transylvania to rescue a lovesick vampire from himself, plot to spring a four-legged friend from a remote government research facility, and zip into a not-too-distant future Manhattan to secure a much-needed medicine for a desperate friend… not to mention finding a solution for that intergalactic budget crisis looming overhead. It's a tall order for one night. Luckily, Callahan keeps the taps flowing.
Callahan's Crosstime Saloon has a hub-and-spokes construction, with Jake returning to the bar for a drink and some conversation between each of his quests. This setup gives the game a nice rhythm. Each of the six quests took me at least a couple hours to puzzle through, but since they're self-contained, I didn't run into the problem of stepping away from the game for a few days and forgetting what happened the last time I played. There's some flexibility in the order in which the quests are performed, but they must all be completed to finish the game. And once you've started a quest you have to finish it; you can't hop from one to another.
Each time Jake makes it back to Callahan's, he's greeted with toasts, puns, and banter from a group of close-knit, loyal friends. This camaraderie sets Callahan's apart from many adventure games that send the protagonist on an isolated journey through unfamiliar terrain. Although Jake is often faced with the unfamiliar, he's also given the chance to touch base and swap jokes with people he knows and likes. This strong sense of community goes a long way toward making his character believably human and Callahan's Crosstime Saloon a lot less lonely than the average adventure game experience. And these friendships don't stop in the bar. On most of Jake's quests, another patron comes along to keep him company and, when Jake asks, lend a hand… or at the very least, a well-phrased hint.
The game is in first-person perspective, with a node-based 360-degree panoramic view. When you move the cursor to the edge of the screen, it becomes an arrow to indicate there's more to see in that direction. Left-clicking pans in the direction of the arrow and right-clicking jumps 90 degrees. The graphics are detailed and somewhat realistic, with some characters and backgrounds looking almost like FMV captures, but they're also very flat, with characters standing stiffly like cardboard cutouts against static backgrounds. Most of the game's action is described through on-screen text, instead of being acted out. In fact, other than a few movies and lip-syncing on the dialogue portraits, there's not much animation at all. The world is so vividly portrayed in the text, though, I hardly missed it.
Although the game is narrated with text, the characters are all voice acted. Headshots of Jake and his companion, when he has one, are displayed at the bottom of the screen, eliminating the disembodied feeling you get with some first-person games. During conversations, a screen comes up displaying a conversation tree alongside larger pictures of Jake and whomever he's talking to (similar to how dialogue trees were handled in the first Gabriel Knight game). There's a lot of optional dialogue here, and it's often quite funny, but the multiple branches on the dialogue trees sometimes led me to miss bits of crucial information buried deep in the conversation.Continued on the next page...