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Sun 28th Aug 2005
By David Whyld - See all my reviews
Although unlikely to win any “Best Title” awards, I felt Frustrated Interviewee was the strongest game in this year’s Spring Comp and while not as good as the author’s previous game, Veteran Knowledge, it was still the most accomplished game in the Comp.
The premise of the game is… different to say the least. You’re attending a job interview and part of the job requires teamwork. So to show what a great team player you can be, you decide to relate a few examples from real life: problems you have solved, ways in which you and your friends have put your heads together to figure things out, etc. Different but… good? Well… I liked the idea of the game itself being a series of events that the player relates to the interviewer but wasn’t too sure how well it worked in practice.
But the game itself…
It’s split into three main parts. The first part involves wandering around your living area at university and getting together the other members of your gaming group. Some of this is fairly obvious, some less so. Daniel is an easy enough person to be persuaded to help you but I ran into quite a few problems with Michael, who is asleep and seems determined to stay that way no matter what I did to him. Strangely enough, when I resorted to the hints I discovered that several of the things that should have woken him up, didn’t. The hints advised me to slap or shake him, which I did. Neither worked. The third hint told me that I should shout at him, which did work. Simply typing “wake Michael” didn’t do any good either.
All the rooms at the university contain the usual allotment of items to be examined but most of these are just scenery pieces and serve no real purpose in the game. Trying to examine most of the items in the rooms of your fellow university buddies hits you with a default message that you don’t want to be searching through [name]’s belongings, which becomes a bit trying after you’ve seen it for the tenth time.
The only bad thing about the first part of the game was the often poor dialogue. As with Veteran Knowledge, the characters’ dialogue is handled badly and they seem to have all the depth of cardboard cut outs. Admittedly, none of the characters are so wildly over the top as the Monster and his clichéd super villain rants (from Veteran Knowledge) but they all seem to act like they’re reading from prompt cards most of the time. After all, would a university student really say ‘That is not enough chocolates to tempt me to stop reading’? Kind of doubtful.
From time to time, the game is interspersed with comments from the interviewer which add an interesting flavour to the proceedings. Unfortunately, while the comments of the interviewer are in bold print, your own replies are in the same print as the normal text in the game and it’s occasionally awkward trying to tell the two apart. Maybe your own comments could be italicised to make them stand out better?
Part two of the game is quite a bit more interesting than the first. Here you are plunged into a generic fantasy game that you and your university buddies are playing: Frustrated Looters. As with all generic fantasy games, the objective is to find a mysterious treasure, battle enemies and so on and so forth. You become a warrior and your buddies all become the kind of characters that tend to populate fantasy words: a fighter, a thief and a sorcerer. There’s some amusing tongue-in-cheek dialogue with each of them that gently mocks the fantasy setting of this part of the game. Anyone who has played a generic fantasy game before (and there must be quite a lot of us) will probably smile a few times at reading this.
There are problems with the second part, though. Not least of which is that the difficulty factor has been ramped up several notches. While the first part of the game was relatively straightforward (problems with waking Michael up notwithstanding), the second part introduces a lot more variables into the equation and figuring out how you’re to proceed is confusing to say the least. Your companions, as in any fantasy game, can assist you but it took me several attempts (and more than a few peeks at the hints) before I hit upon the correct solution to the many puzzles facing me. This isn’t helped much by the fact that commands required for one specific puzzle often don’t work in any other location. Take the problem with the tree: it needs chopping down. You can’t do it yourself as you lack the necessary tools so someone else has to do it for you. But in the previous location there was also a tree and commanding this character to chop it down didn’t work there so when I came across the tree that did need chopping down, it never occurred to me to even try.
As I made my way through the second part, I found myself resorting more and more to the hints and while a few of the puzzles I’m sure I probably could have figured out for myself if I’d tried hard enough, there were a good number that I doubt I would ever have got the better of. Was I really expected to realise that I needed to pick up one end of the trunk and one of my companions the other end?
Puzzles abound in the game’s second part and most of these are difficult ones. The sun room puzzle – which involves putting four sticks in eight different slots in order to open a door – almost made me tear my hair out in frustration. This puzzle in particular is very poorly clued. I struggled with it for a while and then, weak chap that I am, went to the hints. After that, there seemed to be a puzzle in every location and it quickly reached the stage where I was beginning to suffer quite badly from puzzle overload. Now I’ve never been much of a fan of puzzles full stop. Most of the time I can’t figure them out and even the few times when I’m lucky enough to realise what needs doing, I find they tend to slow the game down so much as to make it almost unplayable. Aside from anything else, I just don’t like them period, so when a game comes along that features one in almost every location… well, it’s not a game I’m going to think of very favourably. For certain, the ones in Frustrated Interviewee were tedious enough that I would have quit if the hints hadn’t told me exactly what I needed to do to get past them. The later ones I didn’t even attempt to solve. Just banged out “hint”, saw what I needed to do and did it. Yes, it’s cheating but my patience was wearing so thing that I imagine if it had been a choice of either struggling to solve them and quitting, I’d have quit.
Into part three of the game. This was considerably shorter than the second part but, unfortunately, still had more than its fair share of frustrating puzzles. But either I’m getting better at this sort of thing or the puzzles were easier than in the second part because a couple I actually managed to solve on my own without the hints. The final set of puzzles, though, involving dealing with your treacherous former alley, Tife the Thief, really made me grind my teeth.
So what was Frustrated Interviewee like overall? On the plus side it was an original idea and it was well written. I particularly liked the comical dialogue with the other characters in the second part. The frequent comments of the interviewer were a nice touch, particularly as they seem to think you achieve things by either bribing people or threatening them with violence. On the down side… the puzzles. Ah, the puzzles. Too many, too hard, too tedious. Like I said before, I’ve never liked puzzle games overly much and the ones here are so difficult, and so poorly clued for the most part, that I imagine even people who do like puzzles will probably decide enough is enough and resort to the hints. Not to mention the fact that one puzzle after another is definitely overkill.
All in all, I’d say this was a lesser game than its predecessor but still likeable enough in its own right. More please (only not so many puzzles next time, okay?)
6 out of 10