Codename: ICEMAN review

The Good:
  • Classic Sierra look and feel
  • Simplified text interface
  • When you first learn the submarine controls they're sort of interesting
The Bad:
  • Obscene number of ways to reach dead ends
  • Mundane puzzles
  • Half the game is in the manual
  • Non-traditional sequences are plentiful and often frustrating
Our Verdict: For submarine simulator fans and Sierra completists only.

Even the most diehard Sierra adventure game fan may never have heard of Codename: ICEMAN. Created in 1989 using the SCI-engine, it's one of the few Sierra properties not to launch a franchise (though they wanted to, and even tossed around the name Codename: PHOENIX in a few "Coming Soon" notices), despite being written and designed by Jim Walls, the author of the first three Police Quest games. The unusual nature of ICEMAN may have limited its appeal, as it's a true genre-bender, asking: "What do you get when you cross a third-person adventure with a submarine simulator?" And they say there are no stupid questions.

Although it may have an espionage-sounding name, they could've easily called this one Navy Quest. Lt. Commander Johnny B. Westland's vacation in Tahiti is cut short when the United States' Ambassador to the Middle East is kidnapped by Russian-sponsored terrorists in Tunisia, demanding 10 million dollars within 30 days. It seems Tunisia has discovered abundant oil reserves, and the Cold War superpowers are fighting for exclusive access. Westland is assigned as the Executive Officer of a submarine, the U.S.S. Blackhawk, and must assist in piloting it from Pearl Harbor to the Mediterranean. Once there, he's to launch a rescue mission with the help of a female spy who's already infiltrated the area. If they fail, it could be the start of World War III.

Not that any of the characters populating ICEMAN’s world would be missed. Westland has the personality of a magazine cut-out, barely uttering more than a few words in the entire game, while the female "secret agent" who helps him is borderline incomprehensible. The rest of the game's population are nothing more than job titles: Clerk, Agent, Captain, Radioman, Mechanic, Guard, etc. I think the mechanic's name was Willie, but don't hold me to that.

The interface is typical of Sierra adventures of this time period (King’s Quest 4, Quest For Glory 2, etc.), where movement is handled with either the mouse or the arrow keys, and everything else is done with brief text commands. However, a few moderations make interacting with ICEMAN a lot easier than you might expect. Not sure what a certain clump of oddly-colored pixels is supposed to be? No problem. Just turn yourself towards it and type LOOK, and you'll automatically get a description of whatever you're facing. Someone yelling at you over the phone, demanding to know why you're bothering them? You only need to type TALK and Westland will automatically explain himself. Finally, if an object you want to pick up or manipulate is across the room, but in your exuberance you type the command early, the game won't chastise you with a GET CLOSER TO IT, Westland will simply turn and cross the distance on his own.

One consequence of the text interface is that even the simplest task becomes a "puzzle." Whereas in a more modern point-and-click adventure, you could click the TALK icon on the woman at the bar and follow a dialogue tree, in Codename: ICEMAN, if you want to get anywhere with her you have to ASK HER TO DANCE or BUY HER A DRINK. The parser is usually pretty forgiving, but occasionally it will refuse to LOOK POCKETS, demanding you LOOK IN POCKETS instead. Many of ICEMAN's puzzles involve remembering something you were told earlier. You'll definitely need to keep a notepad nearby while you play, as there will be many, many things to write down: phone numbers, safe combinations, directions, latitudes and longitudes, code keys, secret messages, procedures, headings, distances between points, and so on. Bring an extra pen so you don't run out of ink.

But your notepad will not be enough. Attention, used game buyers -- Codename: ICEMAN cannot be completed without the manual. We're not talking a little copy protection in the first five minutes either. In fact, a more cynical person might accuse this entire game of being an elaborate form of copy protection. From the proper procedures for boarding a submarine, to the necessary code keys to get instructions from Washington, all the way to the extremely detailed and absolutely label-free submarine control panel, the manual will be your constant companion. ICEMAN also comes with a map of the world you'll refer to when it comes time to plot a course, although with a little patience (or an actual atlas) you could make do without it.

Unfortunately, ICEMAN doesn't come with a map to help you avoid the numerous dead ends. It's not unusual for an adventure game to allow you to leave an area without a vital item, but they're not usually so gleeful about it. ICEMAN finds particular delight in giving you a single opportunity to accomplish a task, many dozens of minutes before you have any idea the task is necessary. You may find yourself, as I did, wondering how you're supposed to fight a Russian Destroyer with malfunctioning torpedo tubes. If you'd taken the time to investigate the torpedo room (the entrance to which is virtually invisible) when you were called away to decode secret messages a while back, you could've fixed them, but by this point it's too late. Save early, save often, save under as many different names as you can. Besides dead ends, there's also the dreaded Sierra Sudden Death Syndrome. My first unexpected death came within five minutes when I decided to leave the beach for a quick swim. Big mistake. Another returning Sierra feature is the points system. A total of 300 points are supposedly available, but even after I finished the game and went back to experiment, checking every walkthrough I could find, I couldn't get my score higher than a lousy 257.

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