Hadean Lands review - page 2

The Good:
  • Superb puzzle design
  • Immense, detailed world
  • Well-written
  • Long play time
  • Intriguing story
  • Feelie map included
The Bad:
  • Desktop version could be improved
  • Minor red herrings
Our Verdict:

Andrew Plotkin’s Hadean Lands is an ambitious, text adventure puzzlefest that does nearly everything right.

I can imagine that this puzzle structure may sound overwhelming, perhaps giving the impression that Hadean Lands is an inaccessible game. It certainly can't be said that it is a “must play” for everyone – those not fond of challenging puzzlefests are probably best to look elsewhere – but every effort has been made to make the game accessible. The learning curve for the core puzzle mechanic is gradual and never unfair – plus the game includes a tutorial for those unfamiliar with IF. Before you know it, you'll be preparing an exhilarating environment and speaking the Anodyne Evocation and Chi Binding formulas to transform a beaker of saline into a potion that lets you adapt to the hostile lands outside the ship, and you'll think nothing of it – believe it or not, it will all become alarmingly intuitive.

Mistakes and experimentation are easily permitted, if not encouraged, thanks to the game's 'reset' command. As part of the narrative, the ability to reset the world feeds into the game's time-distortion elements, but as a mechanic it allows you to restart the world afresh but retaining all the knowledge of formulas, facts and rituals you have accumulated. I cannot emphasise how much frustration this saves as, unlike many similar text adventures, it ensures that you can explore and try your ideas without ever hitting a dead end.

Moreover, the need to map the game world is virtually eliminated and even the need to take notes is greatly reduced – two problems often associated with big, puzzle-heavy text adventures. All versions of the game come with a map, and the map itself mostly uses cardinal directions, thereby minimising navigation trouble. Even then, there's a >go to command implemented which lets you go to not only any room on the map, but any item on the map (provided, of course, you have visited the room or encountered the object before). Further easing play is the ability to >recall virtually anything. You can recall all the rituals you have found, all the formulas, all the doors you have yet to get through, and more. Most players will likely still have to take some notes, but in my experience at least, I had to take fewer notes for this adventure than I have for those with notably less complex puzzle structures. Certainly those who will inevitably compare this to Infocom titles will find it to be unquestionably more accessible and less frustrating, while retaining the challenge and immersiveness that made Infocom games so beloved.

The >go to command and ability to recall notes are both becoming increasingly common in major works of IF, but Hadean Lands also has some commands and parser implementations that are largely unique. Here, nearly everything need only be done once. Say you have already performed a ritual, laboriously going through each step until you've finally produced a planetary lens or whatever it may be; in the future, you need only type >perform [ritual] and all those steps will be automatically performed for you. Similarly, and more impressively, the game will automatically perform all the actions needed to get past a locked door or solve a certain puzzle provided that you have done it once before. This means that simply typing >go to [room] will automatically perform all the rituals and tasks needed to get there. And notably, it will perform all these actions exactly as you last performed them. So if in one instance you used a long quartz prism instead of a broad-quartz prism for a ritual, the game will remember this and perform the ritual accordingly. This is not only helpful but later in the game becomes integral to solving the puzzles.

Speaking more generally, the parser is as good as it gets. If you've never played IF before, then naturally there's a bit of a learning curve, but included with the game is a basic guide to playing IF and a list of all available commands. In addition, all logical interactions have been implemented; everything can be examined, everything that would be sensible to smell or taste you can indeed do that to. What's more, the parser will often guide you in the right direction if you type something that it can't execute. For example, typing >smell ginger and citronelle will fail as you can't smell two things simultaneously, but the game will helpfully respond by saying, “You can't use multiple objects that way. [Try smelling the impet of ginger oil.]”

It is also worth noting that the game comes on two different platforms: desktop and iOS. The latter is definitely more polished. Hadean Lands was originally intended to be iOS-only, so the desktop iteration was something of a last minute inclusion. The result is that the desktop version follows a format familiar to IF fans but perhaps not so accessible to those outside that group. You will need to purchase the game and then download an interpreter to play it, although this is all outlined in the instructions when you buy the game. The iOS app, on the other hand, needs no third-party utilities and has a built-in map which tracks the player's location, along with an easily accessible journal tab to view rituals, formulas, facts and even your own notes. To have similar features for the desktop version would be preferable, especially for people new to IF for whom it would make the experience even more accessible. On both platforms you're able to customise the font and colours, though the desktop version allows you to do this to a more extensive degree, if you're really particular about that sort of thing.

This game is undoubtedly one of the best works of IF in the Infocom tradition. Its puzzles are all based on a system of admirably complicated alchemy that naturally emerges from the world and its story. The result is an engrossing, fun gameplay experience that has a kind of consistency and momentum comparable to games like Portal 2 that also have a strong central puzzle mechanic. And it takes place in a world rich with detail and fascinating to explore, conveyed through distinctive writing. It all adds up to an intensely immersive experience that will easily last you 20 hours, if not significantly more. The bottom line is that Hadean Lands makes great strides towards perfecting the classic adventure game – not just the text adventure.

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Adventure games by Zarf

Hadean Lands  2014

Marooned in an alien, airless wasteland — your starship fractured — your crewmates missing.