[Edit from the future: Don't read this. Read instead my updated look at the game from 2017: Post 1 and Post 2.]
Normally, I like to save Barton for the end of a game, but I had to take a break from actually trying to play Alien Fires to see what he thought about this completely WTF game. I am gratified to see the word "bizarre" in the first sentence. He mentions the free-form dialog but also a number of features that I don't have, probably because they weren't included in the DOS port: a cool soundtrack, and a beating-heart effect that tells you when you're about to die. I wonder what year we have to get into before the DOS/PC version isn't the worst version of every game.
He goes on to say, "Alien Fires is an extremely difficult game...I certainly wouldn't recommend it to everyone, but I've never played another game that had the same otherworldly ambiance." See, Barton has a way with words. He says "otherworldly ambiance." I say, "WTF?"
It's going to be a long six hours.
Since yesterday, I managed to find the pocket watch--the huge pocket watch--sought by our rabbit-horse friend, Mangle Tangle.
In return for the watch, I got an "octo knife." It was nice to finally have a weapon because I kept running into Octo agents in the hallways and getting killed. Let's talk about combat for a second. Barton calls it a "furious affair." He's right. Once you engage in it, you have to keep mashing the "attack" key (in my case, the spacebar), hoping to score more hits than your opponent within the roughly 2.3 seconds that combat lasts. I have yet to win.
While I was happy to get the knife, it introduced a new problem: Mangle Tangle the rabbit-horse decided he didn't like me. I might have accidentally hit the space bar (attack) while standing in front of him. Whatever the cause, he kept showing up, blocking the hallways, and killing me. I was unable to use his own knife against him to any effect.
When you get killed the Time Lords resurrect you and send you on back to the beginning. There's some more WTF stuff going on in that screen shot. Do they have my soul in a test tube or something? Unfortunately, this doesn't make Mangle Tangle any less hostile, and I kept dying over and over. If there's a way to turn a character un-hostile after he attacks you, or skirt around him, I haven't found it. Ultimately, I had to re-start with a new character.
The next time around, I realized that I'd been neglecting the "examine" key, which tells you a little about the people in front of you.
I also found another clue about the evil Octo corporation from a hand on a ship that the company had confiscated.
After retrieving Mangle Tangle's pocket watch for the second time and getting his knife again, I found the elevator to the second level, where Alien Fires made a reasonably funny joke:
Ominously, the game congratulated me for this achievement and warned me that the rest of the game wouldn't be as easy as Level 1. Oh, goodie.
You might note that there isn't a single screenshot that doesn't have some glaring grammar or syntax problem. I know I make my share, too, but when I see them, I do recognize them as errors. No one on Jagware's staff could do that, apparently.
Aside from the grating text, the main problem at this point is that I just can't stop dying. Even with my knife, I've yet to win a single battle. I'm not even sure I've scored a hit.
Barton, I see you lurking over there in my "Followers" list. Given that I don't get to experience the sound effects, music, and atmosphere that you described in your book, is it worth continuing with this one? I ask because I haven't really enjoyed a game--really experienced that classic "addict" sensation where you want to stay up until 03:00 to play, and you even sneak in an hour or two at work, if the afternoon is quiet--since Starflight, and part of me wants to keep pushing through these interesting-but-dated titles until I get to something I know will satisfy this jones, like Phantasie III or Pool of Radiance.
No hurry. I probably have three more hours at least to satisfy my rules.