Howard Sherman, for Malinche Entertainment. 2005. Release 8. Inform 6.
Howard Sherman, for Malinche Entertainment. 2005. Release 8. Inform 6.
Not a true walkthrough, but I have written a The First Male Hints and Playthrough that explains some puzzles and points payout. Will technically be under construction until I have for sure beaten the game, but should be fairly complete by time you read this page.
Some things to get out of the way, first. Howard Sherman, and Malinche Entertainment, are a commercial IF company. I have reviewed some of their free to download games before (Azteca and the Pentari Prequel). This is the first game that I review a title that Malinche is offering for purchase and not for free download.
This game comes with "feelies", the old Infocom habit of adding props to the game boxes. Most were minor, just fun things to have. Some, of course, actually offered strong or necessary clues. The First Mile(TFM)'s seems more in the former than the latter. I would suppose that most players could do without them. I can honestly say they are not needed to beat the game.
With these things in mind, part of my review is going to take into consideration not only the quality of the game in and of itself, but also the quality of the game as a commercial title. Is it worth the $24.95 that you will pay (currently) for it to buy it as a download game?
I have visited Dead Rock. I spent about 10 hours there. I enjoyed my stay, but it was frustrating in places. You know how it goes, sea monsters, murders, demons, curses. The whole shebang.
If you have played any Howard Sherman title then you probably know roughly what to expect from this title. If you loved the others then you will probably at least like this one. If you hated the others, then you might like this but the experience will probably be much of the same. Of course, that makes for a poor review (what if you haven't played one, mayhaps) and so I should elaborate.
The game (at least the version I played) starts with a couple of hitches. You are traveling out to Vegas when you find yourself running out of gas. Swinging into the Dead Rock exit, you come across a murder where a shot gunner kills the gast station attendent "with both barrels" and then, with a presumably magic third barrel, shoots out your windshield. You jump out, slam your door shut, and go to run after the killer only to realize that you have left your keys in the car. With a broken windshield.
At this point in time, I felt nervous. The story up to here required two shaky points. Though admittedly "with both barrels" might not have anything to do with a double-barrel shotgun, it also a modifier meaning "giving the old gasstation guy a prodigious amount of gun", and things like a car that you simply cannot re-enter is not unheard of in IF. I mean, this isn't a table top role-playing session. Why not break a store front window and take glass around as a weapon? Why not hide out in a tree for hours on end just to see what is going to happen? IF requires something of a controlled field even the biggest games have to narrow down your choices and deny you occasionally obvious things.
From this point, you journey west into Dead Rock and begin exploring. Though the original plot seems to suggest finding and getting revenge on the original gunman, the plot quick develops into a "what the hell?" followed by a "Oh...save the day!" scenario. The original gunner is never mentioned again. The story becomes about the bigger picture, which I would probably spoil if I continue talking about the plot at all..
I won't say that The First Mile is scary. It's hard for a game involving an undo command to be truly scary. But it does manager to paint a dire enough picture that you feel for the town. I did, anyhow. I could feel the issues the town had. While most horror games have a tendency of making the whole things creepy, or spooky, or grimey, a good amount of Dead Rock is pastoral. It's a quiet little town in the middle of nowhere with its class prejudices and its civil war memorial...and then bodies just happen to be laying around. Blood just happens to be dripping from some items.
A lot of Sherman's NPCs feel like they are visiting from the Top 20 Mass Market Paperback section. This is not a bad thing, per se, merely a summation of their general bravado and focus on outward details as signifiers of inward details (see my next little comment about room descriptions).
Sherman likes, or liked at the time he made this game, big old maps to play on. His maps have 100+ rooms, easily. On the flip side, most rooms have only a short paragraph of description total. This includes the objects you can see in the room and the things you can do with those objects. Some rooms are even moderate repeats of neighboring rooms. Sherman does not say "Maple Lane" and describe exits, Sherman gives five rooms ot Maple Lane, three of which are just there to get you between the other two.
When there is an object that you can interact with, almost all of their description is given outright in their initial room description. If you pick up a note, the note's contents will likely just be given in that initial action. While his quality of writing is not bad, despite being short, this game is more about quantity of short descriptions than any other model. When descriptions due amp up, it's pretty obvious you are at a plot point.
There are bugs, and a few of them. There are a lot of red herrings. There are several cases where you pretty much have to take a flying leap of faith to figure out exactly what to do. Sherman somewhat acquits himself from too much complaint in this department by allowsing several solutions to all the main puzzles. You just might not get the full point award. His worst habit shows up from time to time, bringing back memories of Brian Howarth's Mysterious Adventures: Sherman downplays SEARCH, LOOK IN, PUSHing, and MOVing in most places, despite being desperately needed in just about a single place each. This ends up requiring a lot of negative responses for one good one. This breeds frustration, and can build it up quickly. Closely related is his habit of having some commands react differently in some places.
I have said "You are probably not psychic" as a solid but not deadly critique of Sherman's games in the past, and this still holds. A couple of puzzles had very clear solutions. A couple simply do not. They are solvable, but sometimes they require a very round-about way of solving them. A couple of puzzles can only be solved in one particular way at one particular time.
With all that said, the steps required to beat the game are generally logical and require the sort of basic solutions that IF has been based on for years (for instance, there is a maze in the traditional sort, optional and not all that hard). It is some of the optional puzzles that might, and frankly most likely will, frustate you and in one of these side-puzzles' cases, solving it and using the item you get seems to lessen your overall score.
Ultimately teeth grinding was to be had in the spots (the forest, the manor, the baseball field) where the room directions don't work, leave out (hidden?) exits, or imply some seriously non-euclidean geometry. Probably the biggest offense to this is in the Johnson Manor in which the interconnections between the first floor rooms are strange. I think these issues bug me because they ARE so minor but somehow upset the very core of storytelling. It is like seeing a towel disappear in a movie. Once you are aware of it, it can actually upset your ability to watch the movie more than larger plot holes.
With the bugs, on top of some of the other issues, I am going to say that this game is only recommended to people who are big fans of the horror genre, looking for something non-Lovecraftian, or have played and enjoyed other Malinche titles. I have fun playing them and maybe you will, too, but there are stronger horror games available right now and there are stronger games designed by Howard Sherman available. If you can get into the meta-game aspects, exploring the bugs and the non-sequitors and solving the overall puzzle of how this all fits into one package, then you will increase your fun factor by three fold. I ended up having a blast with it, but it was largely in figuring out how the game was put together, not staying in character.
In some ways, best approached as a B-movie IF, and all that implies (good and bad). Recommended with reservation, especially considering the cost involved, but a game I am definitely glad I own.
(0-100, 50 = Average)
Reviewer's Tilt: 67
Final Average: 54
First time, did not get anywhere. Next time through, got further (about 400 points), but couldn't beat it. On a hunch, played it again, and got the end with about 200 points by avoiding the sequential bug. My high score is now at 475 and I have ideas of what to do to get all the points.
The two most important items are the axe and the dagger. The axe can be used to solve at least three puzzles and the dagger likewise. Most other items are used for single puzzles (or none). When in doubt, try one of these two items.
Though you normally do not get much from it, searching and looking at things will be important in a couple of areas.
On the street, one way to get information about buildings without description is to try and go toward them. In at least a few cases, the game will respond with something like "The yellow house here is obviously closed down". LOOK AT, on the other hand, might (and often will) get only a response of "There is no reason to refer to that".
Some rooms take "twisted little passages" kind of far. Some of the scenes in the woods/park, and especially the Johnson Manor scenes, might involve an improbably room connection.
The maze isn't that long but will take a few minutes to solve. Get 8 or 9 items (how many can one carry?) and then drop them as you go to help mark the rooms. Probably want to use unimportant items or you will have to go through the maze again to pick up what you left.
Written by W Doug Bolden
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