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Avarice: The Final Saga- by Christopher B. Wright

Background

Go back in time with me, back when the IBM PC was still competing with the Commodore 64. DOS (and all variants of DOS) was king in the PC world. A Technological Marvel known as the Amiga had not yet hit the streets. Windows was virtually unknown. WordPerfect 5.0 was king of the application market.

Some of the best games in the world were played then.

One of the most innovative game creators of the time was a company named "Infocom." Infocom's games would probably make most of you snicker today, because they were all text-based. They refused (and refused loudly and insistently) to add graphics to their games because they felt, basically, that you could get a higher resolution picture and better color depth with your mind than with a meager VGA card.

Unfortunately, this type of game fell by the wayside, victim to flashier, less complicated games.

Then there was Myst, which brought graphics in games to an entirely new level. Myst's beautifully ray-traced scenes "upped the ante" in the gaming world, and a bunch of Myst imitators came on the scene overnight.

Stardock's latest game offering is called Avarice: The Final Saga. Designed by Continuous Software Systems and released by Stardock, it has been billed as the "Myst Killer" for OS/2.

Basically, it seems Stardock and CSS decided to "Out-Myst" Myst -- which, in my opinion, is a shame, because they've actually done something better and they're not talking about it. Resurrecting the spirit of Infocom, they've created a graphical game that plays like a well written text game: in other words, they've created a game that can do just about anything.

Installation

Avarice is played on a CD-ROM drive, and it installs simply. Unfortunately, this simplicity comes with a price; while you can choose which drive you want to install some of the game files on (Avarice installs some, but not all of the files from the CD-ROM onto your drive), you can not choose which directory you want to install them in. Avarice insists on creating its own "Avarice" directory in the root level of whatever drive you choose.

Once you've finished the installation, you can begin playing immediately, no rebooting is needed.

The Game

In Avarice, you've received a letter from a rich uncle inviting you to come to his island for the, "opportunity of a lifetime." Intrigued you travel there, only to find... nothing. Just a beautiful, expansive, mysterious house and three other visitors who received the same letter. Your uncle, strangely enough, is not there. Why are you here? What is the opportunity of a lifetime? This is the mystery you need to solve.

Solving this mystery requires that you solve a lot of smaller mysteries first. For example, you need to figure out how to get around the house (which is very, very large). You need to get into locked doors, work strange machines, and find tantalizing (and obscure) clues your eccentric uncle has left behind in unlikely places.

Complicating this effort is the presence of three other people on the island who have received the same letter. They're trying to solve the mystery as well... will they help you, or try to beat you to the punch? You don't know, and worst of all, in Avarice they move with minds of their own. They can find objects, pick them up, and walk away with them (even ones you need to solve the game). You can talk to them, perhaps even learn things from them, but can you trust them? You don't know.

They aren't the only characters you'll meet, though. You'll also find your Uncle's butler walking around. He can be very helpful at times, but can you trust him completely either? And of course, your Uncle could be hanging out somewhere, if only you could find him...

Graphics

The graphics in Avarice are beautiful. Avarice lets you choose four levels of image quality, depending on the speed and power of your computer, and the quality of your graphics card. To view the highest resolution graphics you need a card that can display 16 million colors. The graphics can be viewed at any resolution your computer can use -- from 640x480 to 1280x1024 (and possibly 1600x1200, but I wouldn't know because my monitor won't do that) with no appreciable loss in quality. There is also a setting that will allow the game to load and display lower-quality graphics first, then bring in higher quality graphics afterwards to take some of the pressure off your computer. This is probably useful for people with small amounts of RAM, or slow processors, but it was annoying on my machine so I disabled it without any problems.

The lower resolution graphics are OK, but Avarice is very easy on the eyes at the highest graphics setting. Everything in the game is incredibly detailed -- polished marble floors reflect the walls (JPG, 43K), pictures on the wall show distinct images, even in passing. The perspectives are done very well, giving it a realistic 3-D feel.

The Interface

The screen is split into three "areas": at the top is a menu bar, allowing you to tweak settings and to save the game intermittently if you wish. The second area is what you see as you travel around the game (this section can be resized depending on your preferences, but by default it takes up about 60% of the screen). The third area is, most of the time, your inventory list (it displays the objects you are carrying), but when you're looking through something (a wallet, a desk, a cabinet) it will display what you find in there.

The only thing you need to play this game is a mouse. The nice thing about using the mouse is that it can cue you as to what actions you can perform. If you see the mouse pointer turn into a pair of eyes looking down, clicking on the mouse will let you look down. If the mouse pointer is an arrow, you can move in the direction it is pointing (you can even back up). And if the mouse pointer is a target sight, whatever it's resting on is an object and you can "do stuff" with it. Pressing the secondary mouse button will cause a list of choices to pop-up on the screen, telling you what "stuff" you can "do" to the object.

Most of the time, the choices are pretty generic; you can look, examine, move up to, get, etc. However, some objects have specific things you can do to them. For example, if you are holding an orange, you can do orange-related things: you can peel the orange, break the orange apart, and eat the orange. This is one of the neatest aspects of the game, and one of the things that reminded me of the old Infocom text games. You can do just about anything with an object that you could do in real life.

As mentioned, you'll run into a few other characters (JPG, 8.6K) in the game. Talking to a non-player character (NPC) in Avarice is a lot like talking to an NPC in one of the "Ultima" games from origin: when you decide to talk to an NPC, you are given a list of things you can say. You click on one with your mouse, and the NPC's response is displayed. You continue doing this until you no longer wish to speak, or you run out of things to say.

This is not the most intricate or realistic way to simulate a conversation, but it works very well and adds spice to the game. My only complaint is that there seems to be a limited number of things you can say to an NPC before there is nothing left to talk about. I assume this changes when you find out more information that an NPC might be able to flesh out for you (but this hasn't happened for me yet).

Sounds

Although there is music in the game introduction, it goes away after that. Perhaps a musical score was excluded for performance reasons, but I was disappointed by this. I think background music adds atmosphere to a game, and I missed it.

Myst Killer?

Some have been promoting Avarice as a "Myst Killer", a game that competes with Myst on its own terms and beats it cold. I say instead that it's very different from Myst -- it's more like Zork with high-resolution graphics. Either way, it's a top-notch game and a must-have for anyone who likes adventure games.

Suggestions

Still, there are ways it could be made better. The NPC's need to be fleshed out a little bit. A lot of the game's bugs occur when trying to interact with these people; for example, when I tried to interact with an NPC immediately upon entering a room, I found that unless I waited about 10 or 15 seconds, the option to talk would not work until I turned away from, and then back to, the character. There also seems to be a problem with maintaining the size of an NPC's graphic -- at times, they looked as if they were three inches tall, standing on chairs and tables! Also, it would be nice to see an NPC in more than one position (for example, to see an NPC actually sitting in a chair), or leaning against a wall. This would take more time, but would make the NPCs look more lifelike.

I would also like a musical score to be added to the game. The lack of music is somewhat disconcerting, and a spooky, dark background score would add to the atmosphere tremendously.

Recommendation

Avarice is an absorbing, intriguing game. It seems well designed, despite a few quirks, but if you expect a fast-paced game you may find it frustrating. There is some lag time when you move, in order to update the graphics (this can be combatted with the "background image loading mentioned above), and although most of the time it is just the tiniest hint of a delay, it can be annoying. You probably want a pentium processor to play the game at a reasonable pace; 486 machines will probably be bogged down by the more CPU intensive stuff.

Avarice is a neat, spooky, high-quality game. I strongly recommend it.

Test Machine:

P120
32 M Ram
Creative Labs 32 PNP Sound Blaster
Warp Connect Blue, FP 22
Goldstar 6x CD-ROM
Matrix Millennium 4mb WRAM PCI card, 1280x1024 w/ 16M


 * Avarice: The Final Saga
Published by Stardock Systems
MSRP: US$69.95
Christopher B. Wright is a technical writer in the Northern Virginia/D.C. area, and has been using OS/2 Warp since January 95. He is also a member of Team OS/2.

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