Adventure Gamers Awards
Scott Adams is a name familiar to many text adventure fans. Inspired by the iconic mainframe game Adventure, he founded the company Adventure International in 1978. They're perhaps most well-known for creating Adventureland, the first ever commercial adventure game. For some, Adams’ games are remembered fondly as being technically innovative with a humorous charm, but for others, they have little worth beyond the fact that they came first. Sadly, twenty-five years later The Inheritance for the most part confirms the latter opinion: it does have one or two redeeming factors, especially in terms of puzzle ideas, but the overall package is so littered with flaws and inadequacies that the game is rendered underwhelming and, at worst, unenjoyable.
The Inheritance opens awkwardly, with the off-stage character Butler Jeeves – painfully voice-acted and achingly clichéd – welcoming you to “Scott Adams' Bible Adventure Number One”. Following this, you're given the vague outline of the story, which roughly falls into the old-school treasure hunt template. Except in this case there is only one treasure: a first edition Gutenberg Bible that a deceased man has bequeathed to us – that is, if we can find it. He has made it such that the book is extremely difficult to obtain, requiring a full comprehension of the meaning of certain biblical passages in order to finally acquire it. You control an essentially empty avatar – self-mockingly called Avie the Avatar – who is found, for reasons left unexplained, in charge of this tricky task. The use of religious themes to solve this task is where the game tries to distinguish itself, but apart from that it's just your traditional text adventure, with heavy puzzle solving and a plethora of locked doors.
If you're at all concerned that the game's religious themes are of the shove-down-your-threat variety, you needn't worry. At times I didn't even notice, or at least forgot, about the religious aspect. At one point, for example, you spend in excess of an hour unlocking yet another door, shooting at a model landscape and jumping across a chasm – all puzzles void of any religious content – then afterwards you suddenly find yourself sifting through bible passages about 'God's Plan'. Much of the game's traditional puzzle content is similarly distinct from the religious content. And when you do eventually have to read bible passages, they feel more like riddles than biblical text. Because of this, the religious element isn't there to preach so much as to facilitate many of the game's puzzles.
You go about solving these puzzles by making use of a fully implemented King James Bible. There's no getting around it, you will have to use the bible to overcome a good number of obstacles, but what you do have to read is rarely too long or preachy to impede the gameplay. However, as the bible was implemented in its entirety, I found more fun in looking up some of the infamously amusing – but wholly irrelevant – passages (the strangely lascivious Ezekiel 23:20 springs to mind). This can all be done quite conveniently with the command >rb [bible passage] – which, considering the number of passages mentioned throughout the game, is a remarkably helpful inclusion.
The Inheritance's prose is probably its weakest aspect. Integral to a text adventure is the quality of the writing, so for the game to suffer in this regard is indeed troubling. The general tone is often very simplistic and childlike, consisting of lines like “you seem to be taking one of the 10 commandments a bit lightly! I know Mr Fogborne would not have approved!” The prose usually adopts this bland yet excitable style, using a generous number of exclamation marks along the way. Ultimately, I found it extremely dull to read, and, at times, just plain annoying. On one occasion the colloquialism of the prose reaches an intolerable extreme: “Well don't give up, who knows what the future will bring? ” Adams actually included a smiley, which makes it read more like a Facebook message than a text adventure from an industry legend.
The writing is also full of various mistakes that, considering the many listed testers, really shouldn't still be there. Commas and full stops are nearly always in the right place, but it's not uncommon for capital letters to be misplaced, or for words to be misspelt, or even for tenses to be muddled. Sometimes these are so obvious (“I am havng...” “No that's not it either, Oh well you mumble...”) that it's hard to believe that the game ever got past beta testing.
Not all the prose is bad, however. Adams, like in his earlier works, has written it all in first-person, as opposed to the far more commonplace second-person. At the very least this is an interesting choice, and although it doesn't really add much, it certainly works. Also, there are many jokes scattered throughout the game – they're hit and miss, but some of them give an interesting insight into Adams' personality and are genuinely funny. Unfortunately, some of the jokes, particularly one about how Adams has failed to implement a response, get repeated word-for-word throughout the game, which wears quite quickly.
But The Inheritance's writing isn't there to tell a great story; the story is only really there to provide context to the gameplay. This isn't necessarily a problem for a game with compelling gameplay, but unfortunately the gameplay here is often far from inspired. Some of the puzzles are actually quite clever, and their inclusion means that parts of the game can be fun and rewarding. They come in all shapes and sizes, though inventory puzzles mostly dominate. Most are challenging, but by no means impossible, and when successful they do show hints at what could have been a great puzzle-fest. Sadly, however, these puzzles often fall short for a number of reasons.
One particularly frustrating solution sticks in my mind. The aim is simply to get to sleep – working out the solution itself isn't too hard, but the process of acting it out is incredibly tedious. One must quite literally type, by my count, fourteen commands. Part of the problem is that, unlike in most modern Interactive Fiction (IF), the game doesn't include many basic yet invaluable additions that improve playability. You can't type >leave motel, for example, without having to open the front door first. In most IF nowadays, when leaving a room the game will automatically understand you want to open the front door first – it's merely common sense. Any kind of container presents an even more unnecessary problem: to examine something inside. Early in the game, for instance, you encounter an umbrella within a wardrobe – you have to type the long-winded >x umbrella in the wardrobe as opposed to the succinct >x umbrella. Unfortunately, there are many more similar issues with the parser that, after a while, make playing the game fairly laborious. It is doubtless an improvement on the infamous two-word parser found in Adams’ earlier games, but it still feels less refined than even Infocom's early parser.Continued on the next page...