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Sun 28th Aug 2005
By David Whyld - See all my reviews
Veteran Knowledge is an updated and enlarged version of Veteran Experience, an entry in the second Three Hour ADRIFT Competition from 2004. While playing the original game first isn’t a necessity, it’s probably a good idea to play that one first to give you an indication of just what improvements and changes have taken place. This isn’t, as I had first thought, just a slightly bigger version of the original but a whole new game instead.
From Three Hours To Infinity
I wasn’t expecting to like this game very much. It had originally been entered as Veteran Experience in the second Three Hour ADRIFT Competition and came a respectable second and while it was a fair game in its own right (especially for one written by a newcomer to the ADRIFT scene and in three hours to boot), I wasn’t sure how it could really be expanded upon to turn it into a full size game. Add a few extra opponents to fight? Change the way some of the puzzles are handled? Make it harder?
So I was pleasantly surprised to find that the writer has taken the original idea – that of a has-been wrestler trying to win the world title fight – and fleshed it out into a full size game. The main character, the Veteran, is given a better background than in the original game and whereas Veteran Experience took place wholly in the arena where the title fight is staged, Veteran Knowledge begins outside an alley where you are now begging for a living and expands to encompass the arena later on. A flyer blows past and alerts you to the world title fight which, by the kind of remarkable coincidence that only exists within the confines of a text adventure, is due to take place very soon and is only a five minute walk from where you are. Enough of begging, you decide, it’s time you returned to your old profession.
This sounds kind of plausible but I have no doubts that a has-been wrestler who’s been living rough on the streets for the past few years and has a drinking problem on top of that, would ever be able to be considered for the world title fight. Are contenders in such short supply that drunken has-beens (and unpopular ones at that) are the only choice?
The Villain’s Point of View
There aren’t many games I’ve played where the main character is actually a bad guy. More often than not, you play some kind of hero figure either striving to save the world from darkest evil, defeating criminals or you’re on the traditional treasure quest (playing a character who strictly speaking is a murderer and a thief but who is still portrayed as a hero). So it was refreshing to play a game where you play first and foremost a villain. And a remarkably unpleasant one as well. The Veteran, your character, is a particularly nasty piece of work and no mistake. A former wrestler gone to seed, he now spends his days begging for money or, when the begging doesn’t succeed, mugging people. On top of that, he’s got a drinking problem. Hardly your typical hero figure then.
The main problem with playing the game from the viewpoint of such a thoroughly unpleasant individual is that it’s hard to find yourself rooting for him. While several of the opponents you face are equally despicable, most are closer to the traditional hero figures you’d find yourself playing in other games and it’s difficult to sympathise with your character throwing acid in someone’s face or bashing them with a crowbar while they’re otherwise distracted. Part of me would have preferred a less dubious way of handling some of the game’s puzzles, but maybe that’s just me.
Then there’s the fact that the player isn’t just horrible to his opponents but to everyone he meets. He makes his living (if you can call it that) by begging and mugging. He can steal from a shop run by an old blind guy. He even beats up a couple of kids and steals some oil from them. All in all, not a nice guy by any stretch of the imagination. And yet the feeling seems to be that the player is one of the good guys and that doing what he does is the right thing. Or maybe this is one of those cases where the player reads far more into a game than the writer ever intended.
Your character is seriously outmatched by every one of your opponents and so if you’re going to win then you have to resort to underhanded methods. Only one of the opponents do you actually fight in the wrestling ring but whereas he seems quite content to fight fair ‘n’ square, you end up going at him with a chair, a fire extinguisher and a crowbar. Why not just step into the ring with a rocket launcher and be done with it? I’m not even going to mention the rules of wrestling which I’m pretty sure prohibit such out and out cheating…
While the end of the game and its seriously over the top fight with the Star (the main enemy) was amusing, I can’t help but be disappointed that I wasn’t able to defeat even one of my enemies in a fair fight. Even if the fair fight option proved to be unsuccessful, it would have been a good idea to include it for anyone willing to give it a shot.
In The Good Corner
Aside from the refreshing change to the villain’s viewpoint, Veteran Knowledge was well written and fairly easy to make progress with. I stumbled in a few places due to non-obvious commands but most of the puzzles are simple and straightforward. On top of that, there’s an excellent hints system although you’ll kick yourself if you use it and then find that the solution was so easy you could have worked it out anyway. I resorted to hints on several occasions but all the puzzles were easily solvable even for someone who can’t get his head around half the puzzles in modern games.
The game layout was easy to get to grips with and there weren’t many times I found myself checking the map to keep track of where I was.
In The Bad Corner
Few games are perfect and Veteran Knowledge is no exception. However, the problems here are all relatively minor and don’t let the game down in any noticeable way. The only two areas that I felt needed some work on were the dialogue and the way certain puzzles are handled.
The dialogue? Okay, let’s be blunt: it’s bad. None of the characters in the game come across as real or believable and most have a tendency to sink into Evil Super Villain Rant Mode when speaking to the player. Here is what the Monster says when you first encounter him:
"How dare you touch those kids! They are my fans, carrying out my bidding. I want damage, destruction and mayhem. I don’t want to waste this bottle of acid I was saving for tonight on you, but I am going to make you wish that you had never even looked at them!"
And the Evil Twins are even worse. Seldom do any of the characters in the game give a believable bit of dialogue; at worse they sound like they’re reading their lines from a poorly written prompt card; at best they’re caricature villains lacking depth.
The dialogue situation isn’t helped much either by the fact that it seems to remain constant and unchanging throughout the entire game. Speak to the same character a dozen times and you get the same stilted dialogue on each occasion. A few variations, even the characters getting miffed at your repetition, might have been a good idea.
Certain puzzles? I struggled with parts of the game – nothing new as I generally struggle with every game at some point. But this one involved looking ‘under’ another item. I’d tried looking under items before that one and not met with any kind of success (generally receiving the exact same response as if I’d tried to examine it in the normal way) so when I came to the one item that I did need to look under, it didn’t occur to me to even try. It’s probably one of those things that doesn’t seem relevant to the author but to the poor player it makes a big difference.
Other peeves with the game were minor: you can’t enter the High Flyer’s house (typing “go house”, strangely enough, moves you one location further away from the house!) ; there are some crates later in the game that you’re told you can’t open with your bare hands yet trying with the crowbar just tells you that there’s nothing in the crates that you need – why not just tell you that first off so you don’t go hunting for something to open them with?; the Brawler’s car can’t be “smashed” but it can be “broken” (actually it can’t be “broken” either but “breaking” it returns a proper message whereas “smashing” it returns the ADRIFT default error message).
Short But Sweet
Even enlarged from its original three hour beginnings and considerably fleshed out, Veteran Knowledge is by no means what you would call a big game. Allowing for time spent struggling with puzzles, I guess I got through the entire thing in little more than an hour; replay value, something I value in games, isn’t high. This is one of those games whereby once you’ve played it, you’ve seen everything it has to offer and there is little inclination to try it again.
There are times in the game, particularly right at the start, where it might seem like there is very little to do and no actual way of making meaningful progress. Certain characters only appear and events only trigger after other events have been acted out so you might wander across, say, the north end of the park and find nothing happening there and yet return after a bit of dubious underhand action involving the Brawler to find a couple of brats messing around with an oil can. In a larger game, this sort of thing would be a major problem as you would need to continually wander around every location in the game to try and see if anything had changed, but in a game of relatively modest proportions like this one it’s not too much of a hassle. Even so, I think I entered the park a couple of times after the brats were there before noticing them because it’s not often I reread a room description every time I visit the room.
A Worthy Update?
I think the answer has to be a resounding yes. There are several aspects of the game that need working on – the dialogue being the main one and perhaps adding a bit of believability to some of the characters – but other than that this is a solid game in almost all respects. The game understands every command that you might think to try and even surprised me a few times with responses to commands I really didn’t expect the author to have covered.
7 out of 10