It’s a hell of a coincidence that, a few short days after a discussion in the comments about how older games with unique concepts should be revisited, I’m reviewing a game that does exactly that. And I’m not ignorant of the irony that I’m not the biggest fan of the result, either – but with Quest for Infamy, a lot of that comes down to execution rather than the idea.
Quest for Infamy is, for all intents and purposes, another Quest for Glory game. Quest for Glory is an old Sierra On-Line franchise which, through some insane injustice, isn’t as well-known as Leisure Suit Larry or King’s Quest. The series merged – with some success – the typical Sierra adventure style with a fantasy RPG, offering you not only puzzles to solve but battles to fight, stats to raise, and multiple classes, each of whom had their own unique ways of solving puzzles. A Fighter was skilled at hitting things; a Thief could employ stealth, lockpicking, and acrobatics; a Magic User had a plethora of spells at their disposal.
The first game in the series was not exactly amazing, mostly acting as a proof-of-concept that didn’t really do much with the brave mechanics. The second expanded on this vastly, actually crafting a worthwhile game (and being one of the first games, to my knowledge, which let you import your character from the previous title without being a hardcore RPG). The third… well, the third was awful, and we will say no more about that. Ever. The fourth was a buggy masterpiece, offering a faux-Eastern European culture, a darker atmosphere, and a fantastic marriage of plot and mechanics. And then the fifth went all 3D and a bit bleh, closing the series with more of a “huh?” than a BANG.
Despite wanting to forever remove one of the games from my memory, and the first and last games being rather rough, it’s a series I hold dear to my heart. It does something unique and clever, and – despite doing it with mixed success – when it does things well, it does them really well. I like alternate solutions in point-and-click adventures. I like RPG elements. I like clever writing, genuinely funny dialogue, and a nice compromise between tension and humour.
Quest for Infamy follows along the same lines. You’re Roehm, a roguish type on the run from a baron after being – quite literally – caught with your pants down in his daughter’s bed. You’re forced to stop in the Valley of Krasna due to the nearby bridge being out, and from there you’re thrust headlong into a variety of local plots that will shape the future of the valley.
Most of its inspiration appears to be taken from the first Quest for Glory – you’re in a sealed-off valley primarily composed of woodlands; you’ll have to deal with bandits and the local government; there’s more going on than first meets the eye. None of this is bad, but Quest for Infamy also inherits most of that game’s problems – like not actually living up to the potential inherent in the system.
Initially, it’s as much of a joy as the first steps into Quest for Glory‘s valley of Spielburg. You’ve got a wide-open area to explore, and a town full of characters to meet and items to buy. You’ve got three classes to choose from and level up – each with mildly diverging paths – and multiple solutions to most of the problems presented. You can battle monsters with your sword and your wits. You can, in short, RPG at the same time as you adventure.
It also looks utterly gorgeous, to the extent that it evokes Sierra’s early-90s glory days. There are hand-drawn portraits for each character to whom you can speak, and all of these little pictures are spectacular. The backgrounds and sprites are beautiful and unique, and when a lot of the screens can be aptly described as “another bit of forest”, calling them unique is something I mean as genuinely high praise. It looks like a lost Sierra game, and – once again – that’s not something I say lightly.
Before we get onto where it all goes a bit wrong, I’ll state for the record that I played through as the Sorcerer. If the other paths are more interesting, then… well, I can only review my own experience. I am going to try playing as a Rogue, though, just to see if there’s any reference to the old Quest for Glory thing of attempting to pick your own nose.
Problem the first: the sound quality is a bit iffy. Not a deal-breaker, but the voice acting varies from “really rather good” to “hired your brother-in-law.” Roehm himself is well-voiced, which is a good thing considering you’re perpetually in his company, but a lot of the rest are a mixed bag to the extent that one character actually says the word “sigh” rather than sighing. The narrator wanders drunkenly back-and-forth across the fine line between being funny and being immensely irritating (although I’m impressed at how many different lines were written for examining trees). Some of the voices have a slightly weird echo, as if they were recorded somewhere other than a studio. Not a big thing, but noticeable.
Problem the second: the combat is really rather boring. When you’re rumbling in the jungle (well, forest) with a bandit or a snake or a giant spider (of course), you take it in sort-of turns to pick an attack type out of three, or block. Different attacks work well on different types of enemies; monsters, for instance, tend to really dislike Slashing attacks. I found that Stabbing worked better on humans, and Hacking was great for the undead.
As a Sorcerer, of course, I also had magic at the ready. That meant a fire spell that worked on everything but undead, an ice spell that only worked on undead, a death spell that did utterly negligible damage over time to everything, and a healing spell. You can’t continually hurl bolts of superheated magma at your foes, though, because your ability to cast is tied to a little bar that charges up.
Unfortunately, combat is an absolute pushover and strategising is almost entirely pointless. As a Sorcerer, I would discern which of my physical attacks would do the most damage, and then alternate between using that attack and casting my healing spell, usually while turning around to watch something on TV. After randomly clicking between those two buttons for a minute or so, I’d turn back around, victorious. It may be that Brigands or Rogues (the other two classes) have more interesting mechanics, but considering the low price of healing potions, I suspect that fighting as either of those will play out much the same way – only replace “healing spell” with “healing potion.” There’s never any excitement in beating a new enemy, because they’re just like the old ones only with more health.
Problem the third: the puzzles are really rather boring. This is an odd case, in that most of what you do is entirely logical. The problem is that it’s nearly always unbelievably obvious; if you get stuck, the correct solution will usually result in a sigh rather than a flash of excitement, and more often than not one logical solution you’ll have thought of simply won’t work.
For instance, I was stuck on trying to kill a huge aquatic beastie that a sorceress had geased me into fighting (much like Baba Yaga, in fact). Walking near to it resulted in an instant-death cutscene. Using items on it resulted in “You need to get closer.” So I tried just about everything – I tried blinding it from a distance by hurling pebbles, and casting a fear spell in the hopes it might cringe for long enough that I could get close, or… no. No, the solution was simple. I just didn’t have the item I needed, which suddenly caused the instant-death scene to have a pause which let me use that item on it. And the item in question was very, very obviously the solution to the problem. Sigh.
Another puzzle had me trying to get an item out of a drunk. He kept talking about how he wanted whisky, so I spent awhile pondering just what to do. My Take Inanimate Objects spell didn’t work to steal the item, so maybe I had to bottle up some of the swamp water in the hopes he’d mistake it for whisky and be sick, or show him another item so he’d understand why I needed it, or actually buy him whisky (which I couldn’t do, because Roehm would drink it rather than putting it in his inventory; this is one of many occasions where seemingly appropriate solutions apparently weren’t thought of), or… oh. No, I just had to cast a fear spell so he’d pass out in terror. Sigh.
It’s rare for me to wish that a game’s puzzles were more elaborate, but there’s a lot of potential here and you’ve normally got a massive inventory, so it’s a shame that most of the solutions come down to using one very obvious item.
Problem the fourth: it has multiple mazes, which is an immediate black mark against any adventure game that doesn’t treat them as cleverly as, say, Photopia. In the game’s defense, one of them contains its own map and the other one can only be entered when you already know the path through (which makes it sort of pointless, come to think of it) but even so, mazes are rubbish.
Problem the fifth: it’s as buggy as the swamp you end up exploring. I spent an hour wandering cluelessly simply because a conversation I needed to advance hadn’t triggered (but a conversation supposed to take place after that had, to my continued confusion). I found myself completely unable to re-enter one room because I’d quick-travelled out of there, and so the door was perpetually stuck open and I couldn’t “use” it to get back in. I fleeced what was apparently the world’s richest hermit by repeatedly challenging him to archery competitions in which he’d seemingly forget what score he’d got, because he’d crown me the winner after he scored 425 and I scored 300. That’s actually quite a useful bug considering how much money you need, but still.
None of these are game-breakers, and I rush to add that Quest for Infamy is never an outright bad game. It’s just one that evokes a sigh rather than anything else. There are some a few solid set-pieces and a few decent characters, the main questline has some decent moments, and there are even one or two good puzzles. As a Sorcerer, a lot of the early game requires getting reagents so that you can learn different spells, and the resulting cryptic scavenger hunt is clever and interesting.
Alas, these bits are the exception rather than the rule: for the most part, Quest for Infamy just feels uninspired and a bit tedious. It’s rarely a bad time, but it’s equally rare for it to trigger anything in me other than a vaguely satisfied “eh.” It’s worth a play if you’re after another Quest for Glory, but it unfortunately apes the lows of that series rather than the highs. Or, to put it another way: if this is Quest for Glory 1, then let’s hope that the next one will be Quest for Glory 2.