Amiga Power1st October 1991
Published in Amiga Power #6
Delphine's much-delayed pleasure cruise is finally about to set sail in the same waters as Lucasfilm's Monkey Island, but can playing at murder really be as much fun as simply playing for laughs?
Cruise For A Corpse
So this is the big one, huh? The big hype. US Gold's post Monkey Island blockbuster. Well, I must admit that I had my doubts. Sure, Cruise For A Corpse looked as slick as Monkey Island, but without such a strong plot and the humour, could Cruise really ever come close? In the end I decided to look at the game with fresh eyes, to play it with an open mind. And to forget about Monkey Island, for a short while at least.
In truth, despite all its finery and graphical trickery, Cruise For A Corpse is more comparable to games such as Infocom's Deadline (now re-released on budget), and the more recent Maupiti Island. You see, the task in the game isn't really to solve puzzles in order to gain access to new areas, as with most adventure games. Things are never quite that simple in Cruise. Many of the locations in the game can be visited as soon as the game commences, so that isn't the motivating force. What is though, is the gleaning of clues and the consequent confrontation with the other characters regarding these clues. Cruise For A Corpse is a devious beggar, and no mistake.
I suppose a bit of plot is in order, because with Cruise the plot is all. The story defines the characters and shapes the events, and so progress is a lot quicker if the background to events is known.
The player takes the role of Raoul Dusentier (hey, nobody's perfect), a police inspector (cue lots of Clouseau-inspired jokes about being an officer of the 'leugghhh') who just happens to get invited on a cruise, courtesy of the really very rich Niklos Karaboudjan (bless you). And what should happen, but (surprise, surprise) somebody is murdered. (Justification for the game title has to occur somewhere in there, after all). The unlucky recipient of this shortening in the life expectancy department is Mr. Karaboudjan himself. And so the fun begins.
US Gold have gone to considerable lengths to make this game a "quality" release. Even before loading there's the beefy box of goodies to wade through. In addition to five (count 'em) disks, there's a reference manual, a booklet containing character background information, and even a map of the ship (printed on suitably parchment-style paper). Head on into the game and the quality just rises and rises. If first impressions are everything, then Cruise For A Corpse has things sewn up quite neatly.
The graphics really are quite exceptional - of a quality normally seen only in American PC games - though with that bizarre French selection of colours. The screens use 32 colours, and the moving characters are polygon rather than sprite-based. This doesn't mean that they look blocky, however - in fact, the only game which compares in terms of simulating human movement is Prince Of Persia (which apparently inspired Delphine to be so ambitious with their graphics).
The beautiful graphics and game depth do tend to be offset by the frequency and length of disk access, however. Thankfully, the data has been arranged quite sensibly, to minimise actual swapping between the five disks.
The in-game music is pretty sharp too, as are the sound effects. Walking along the deck with the ship swaying and the chatter of seagulls is mighty convincing. It now feels much more like taking part in a film, befitting of the title 'Cinematique', though true to Delphine form there are a couple of arcade sequences in there (but nothing to worry about too much). A fight scene, for example, can actually be avoided if the necessary steps in the adventure are taken. A neat touch.
Cruise For A Corpse also scores highly in the user-friendly stakes, with its handy parser system. If you've played any of Delphine's Cinematique games before, forget them. The parser, like the graphics, has been given a complete overhaul. Whereas previously it seemed like a fight to achieve anything, Cruise's parser actually feels like more of a help than a hindrance.
Everything is context-sensitive, so there's no need to wade through hundreds of unusable commands. For instance, examining a piece of paper would then add 'read' to the list of possible actions to perform on the paper. Then, once the piece of paper had been read, it would be possible to go and confront one of the other characters about the information just gained. This may seem like an obvious way to treat the player, but there are plenty of games which just don't cater for him this well.
Whilst Monkey Island (whoops, I'm making that comparison again) was actually very rigid in the plot structure, Cruise For A Corpse has a more non-linear gameplay style. There's more freedom of movement to suit the mystery-solving nature of the game, though I guess that the actual route to the solution isn't as loose as it might appear.
One cute touch is that whenever progress is made a clock appears, and the minute hand moves on ten minutes. This clock acts as a mark of progress in the game, rather than a true indication of time spent playing. It's eight in the morning at the beginning, and the solution has been reached when it reaches eight in the evening. A bizarre idea, but a helpful one. Seeing that clock advance is a great incentive to keep on going.
US Gold claim that there are about 8,000 lines of text used, which for a game which doesn't even let you type anything in is pretty impressive. Much of this is used to create believable, fleshed-out characters. And while conversations are limited to simply picking a subject and pushing for a response, everything has been so carefully interwoven that there is a definite feeling of real-life interaction there. It's not perfect, but a better system would be hard to find (one that fits onto an Amiga anyway).
It's reckoned that if the solution is known then it still takes eight hours to complete the game. This may sound a touch long-winded and tedious, but the sheer joy of working step-by-step through the game really eliminates any such thoughts. It's another of those 'draws you in and doesn't let go' affairs, and this is its real strength. Like The Secret Of Monkey Island, a few minutes playing is enough to let the brilliantly devised plot take hold. Without this, Cruise For A Corpse would have been an empty experience - a pretty one admittedly, but an empty one nonetheless. As it is though, Cruise For A Corpse gives you that warm feeling inside that only a round of burger, chips, doughnut, apple pie and triple shake can usually do. Most excellent.
The Bottom Line
Uppers: A marvellously devised game plot, with many twists and turns, none of which appear contrived. The graphics too are impeccable - this is one game which doesn't take any short cuts. The Cinematique system finally comes of age, and lives up to its bold title.
Downers: A painful amount of disk access (once per location) can be off-putting, and the more freeform nature of the game will deter some adventure types.
Despite one or two irritating faults, an excellent game. I know it's a bit of a cliche, but you want a game that you'll come back to time and time again, then Cruise For A Corpse is the one to keep you going through those autumn nights.
It's that sudden realisation that you can solve another clue, and advance another step closer to your goal that will really make it all worthwhile.