Personal Computer News


Deadline
By Infocom
Apple II

 
Published in Personal Computer News #005

Dead Man Tell Tales

Dead Men Tell Tales

If you've ever had a yen to be Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot, this is the adventure for you. Deadline is an adventure game in the classic mould - text only, no graphic distractions - but with a difference. Rather than exploring a colossal cave or haunted mansion, you explore the means and motivations of a cast of suspicious characters, and you get to clap handcuffs on the one you decide is guilty of murder.

Objective

Wealthy industrialist Marshall Robner is found dead on the floor of his locked library, killed by an overdose of Ebullion. You are Detective Anderson of the Laveville Police Department; your brief is to investigate the murder and bring the culprit to trial.

You are free to explore the Robner mansion and its grounds, and you can question the Robner household and examine any objects you may find. Your assistant, Sergeant Duffy, will take evidence away to the police lab to be analysed.

Deadline

You may wait in a particular spot and allow time to pass until the person you wish to meet comes along, but there is one snag - you have only twelve hours (Deadline time, not real-world time) in which to solve the murder.

First Impressions

The packaging on this one is pretty slick. You get an Inspector's Casebook filled with playing instructions and a glossary of commands you can use - including the very useful SCRIPT and UNSCRIPT, which let you produce (or turn off) a printout of everything that takes place. You also get a set of interviews with the main members of the household, to get you started.

There's a photo of the chalked outline of the corpse on the library floor, a coroner's report, a report from the police lab, which has analysed the victim's teacup... and the whole lot comes in a tough brown file.

Deadline

The only thing missing is a map of the house, which would be very useful indeed! The Zork Users Group will sell you one if you wish.

In Play

This is a pretty sophisticated adventure, make no mistake. Forget those crude TAKE BOTTLE, KILL SNAKE commands that most adventures understand - with Deadline you'll find you must use commands such as MRS ROBNER, TELL ME ABOUT THE MURDER or MS DUNBAR, GIVE ME THE BOOK.

I found that a prize pain, because I don't type very fast or accurately. And all the while time was passing in Deadline's world, I was wasting it by asking questions with typing errors in them, and getting back THE WORD "TEL" ISN'T IN YOUR VOCABULARY.

Deadline

There are other complications. Your suspects have a life of their own, unlike most of the wizened dwarves and dark shrouded figures in other adventures. They move about the house as time passes, and although you may be desperate to ask Mr. Baxter a key question on which the whole case hinges, first you have to find him.

The Robner household won't necessarily behave in the same way from one game to the next, either. The first time I plated, everyone turned up for the reading of the will, which started several minutes early.

The second time, Mrs. Robner failed to show up at all, and when I tracked her down, she resolutely refused to move from where she was.

Deadline

Deadline characters will lie through their teeth at you. They will happily fail to understand commands which, according to the instructions, they are supposed to understand. In fact, I never managed to get any character to respond to HAVE YOU SEEN? or SHOW ME.

The answers they give to your questions will also depend on what leg-work you have done beforehand, so it's no use doing a bit of heavy investigation the first time you play and then trying to skip that the next time round. the only way round it is to SAVE the game when you feel like a break, and then restart it later.

Otherwise, when you ask Mr. McNabb to tell you about the rose-bed, he will stare at you blankly and make it quite clear he has no idea what you are talking about. First you have to investigate... well, try it for yourself.

Deadline

Some of your suspects are pretty nasty pieces of work. There is sullen George, the black-sheep son: "Look, man. I'm not going to live to you and tell you I loved him, right?" There is the stuffy Mr. Baxter: "I've known the boy for some time, and believe me, he's no good." Gabby Mrs. Rourke, the housekeeper: "What do you know? A murder. Here! A whole batch of suspects, this group here." Surly Mrs. Robnet: "This is surely all a terrible waste of time." And efficient Ms. Dunbar: "Mr. Baxter is, of course, an excellent executive." These all make up the Robner household, along with the occasional gardener and lawyer.

There are occasional jokes, usually on you. If you bump into George eating breakfast and ask him to show you what he's eating, you'll find that it's herrings. Red ones.

I never got as far as the trial scene. You need to have a fair bit of heavy evidence to get your case to court, since you must prove motive, means and opportunity for your chosen suspect - and in a house with a creaking staircase and a locked library door, that isn't all that straightforward.

But succeed or fail, the game ends when you take the plunge and arrest somebody. You'll either move on to the trial, and be told the outcome, or you'll be told your evidence just isn't good enough to convict. If so, then it's back to square one - so be sure to SAVE the game before you make an arrest.

Verdict

Even if you do fail once or many times, Deadline is a game you can play again and again, because there are any number of possible solutions, depending on the evidence you collect and what you do with it.

Shirley Fawcett