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Sun 28th Aug 2005
By David Whyld - See all my reviews
In a retro mood? Suffering pangs of nostalgia for the more straightforward and simple type of text adventures of the 80’s that were more about the finding of treasure and less about exploring the vagaries of the human mind? Welcome to Escape To Freedom, a port of a game originally written in 1989 for the Commodore 64 by one Mario Moeller. No, I’d never heard of him either, and while I played a lot of text adventures back then, I’d never heard of Escape To Freedom either.
You play the part of a World War II bomber, shot down over enemy territory and forced to crash land. After that, it’s a case of trying to find your way back home before the enemy grab hold of you and subject you to whatever unpleasantness World War II bombers get subjected to when they fall into enemy hands. Nothing very nice I suspect.
Without having played the original – one of the many that passed me by in the Golden Age of Text Adventures – it’s difficult to say how accurate a port this game is. There are the obvious differences that hit you straight off – text adventures these days go for a miniscule font whereas ones back in the good ol’ days had a larger font. Why? Beats me. The game feels retro, though. Descriptions are brief without ever seeming rushed, telling you what you need to know without resorting to anything too flowery. Part of me likes this sort of thing – it brings back fond memories of text adventures as they used to be – whereas another part longs for more fleshed out descriptions. In the original game the descriptions had to be brief and to the point as the game was written with the Commodore 64, and 64KB of RAM just isn’t a huge amount for a full size game to fit into. In the modern age, with memory restrictions so huge as to be virtually non-existent, the descriptions could certainly have been fleshed out.
Unfortunately, fond as I am of the retro period, there are things about it that bug me. Precise wording for certain puzzles is required and so though you might figure out what you need to do to solve a certain puzzle, hitting the correct phrasing is often harder than the puzzle itself. I found some floorboards which I was sure I needed to lift yet couldn’t work out how to go about it. After trying several different ways without success, I weakened and went to the walkthrough. Apparently GET FLOORBOARDS WITH KNIFE is needed, not just LIFT FLOORBOARDS or LIFT FLOORBOARDS WITH KNIFE or even GET FLOORBOARDS. Typical retro period guess the verb for you there. It’s kind of annoying that this wasn’t fixed in the port, although I think the writer (porter?) was going for a true retro feel so he probably felt that leaving in the hideous guess the verb problems was appropriate.
Some of the puzzles are quite good, but poorly clued. They’re of the variety that you probably won’t get first time round but after you’ve messed them up, the solution is pretty much handed to you on a plate. Some you might even solve without realising you’ve done them. One involves creeping through a hole you’ve cut in a wire. Creep through at the wrong time of day (when it’s light) and you’ll be caught. Creep through during darkness and you’re fine. The only problem is, it’s often hard to know what time of day it is. The message telling you just flashes past on screen and probably won’t even be noticed at the time. Examining the sky or your surroundings don’t produce any clues so it’s probably down to timing more than anything else: if you happen to be at the hole in the wire during nightfall, you’ll be fine. Otherwise, you’re caught and thrown in the slammer with the game telling you that you should have tried when it was dark. Not a bad puzzle, but a difficult one to get first time round as you’ll most likely not know what time of the day it is or that it matters.
Being a retro game, Escape To Freedom is very fond of putting the player in an impossible to win situation without giving him the slightest hint that this has happened. On my first play through, I found myself in the prison camp which comprises a good portion of the game. I wandered round, solved a few minor puzzles, tried to escape, got caught… and didn’t get anywhere fast. Later, I realised that an item found right at the very start of the game was one I’d missed out on and, as a result of this, the game was impossible to finish. It was annoying knowing that everything I’d done since then was now useless as that one thing had effectively ruined the game for me. This wasn’t a terrible thing in itself, as all it required me to do was restart the game and pick up the item then make my way through the game again to the point at which I had become stuck, but as it happens so rarely in modern games (thank heavens!), it bugged me no end. In a way it’s strange in that I used to play so many games that did such things to me back in the 80’s, and never found it much of an annoyance, yet faced with it today it makes me want to throttle the writer who decided to utilise it in his game. A warning would have been nice…
Bugs the game seems just about free of. I only ran into a small problem with a pistol although as this actually helped me out, I’m not going to complain about it at length. The pistol was empty when I picked it up, and yet later I was able to shoot someone with it. Then again, a bullet I had eaten and then vomited out (don’t ask) earlier on mysteriously disappeared from my inventory around this time so maybe that’s where it went. Although if so, the game certainly never told me this.
No retro game would be complete without a maze. Well, that’s not strictly speaking true as quite a few retro games lacked a maze. But Escape To Freedom has one. It’s a forest where all the locations are the same. Now while I have great fondness for retro games in general, mazes are the one thing about them (even more so than the guess the verb issues) that I’m quite happy to go without. So when faced with this one… I cheated. Yep, opened up the walkthrough and just typed in the commands as they appeared. I probably ought to feel bad about it, but whoever came up with the idea of including mazes in so many retro games needs shooting. Preferably with a gun with bullets in.
Overall, I liked Escape To Freedom. It evoked a nice retro feel in me that kind of compensated for its other shortcomings. It probably won’t appeal to many people who lack fondness for the retro era, but for those of us who have nice memories of the likes of The Hobbit and Colossal Cave, it should be worth playing. In a way, I’m kind of curious as to why this one got the retro treatment and not one of the better known classics.
Retro rating: 6 out of 10
Non-retro rating: 3 out of 10
0 of 0 people found the following review helpful:
I played this as a kid., Fri 26th Aug 2005
By Anonymous - See all my reviews
Thanks to rotter for giving, me at least, a chance to journey back a few years; loved this game as a child. Terrific!