|I think the fellows that made this game were schooled in classical literature.|
Within the confines of its own whimsical attitude, Escape from Hell is a decent game. It might grate on me if it seemed destined to last a long time--if nothing else, the combat would become repetitive--but in general it does well with its theme. If the game had just been about the protagonist slicing through a variety of monsters that vary only slightly from orcs and trolls until he finds an exit, it would have been lame but inoffensive. Instead, Seaborne has used the Hell setting to introduce creamy lashings of history, theology, and philosophy into the game.
|It isn't always a comedy.|
In the first post, I said that the game was based on catholic theology. This is only indirectly true. It's more direct source is Dante's Inferno--enough so that I suspect Escape started as a literal adaptation of Dante but was shortened and changed in the development process. There are a ton of references I didn't pick up in the first post. For instance, Virgil shows up as a helpful NPC; there's a bank called the "Bank of Avernus," named after the lake in Italy where Dante entered the underworld; and the first level of Hell is ruled by Minos, who judges each soul. A lot of the people in Dante's Limbo show up in the game's first level.
|Since all the important messages take place on separate dialogue screens, there's hardly ever a reason to show the game's main interface. Here, my party explores Hell's cafeteria.|
Seaborne's Hell also continues broader themes from Inferno. For instance, Dante introduced the idea of poetic justice for sinners. Those who committed suicide have to endure eternity as plants, since they willingly gave up their bodies. Alexander the Great, whose armies killed millions, must continually drown in a river of blood. In Seaborne's Hell, Bonnie and Clyde serve as bank tellers and are eternally robbed for pints of their own blood. Hitler's house is a gas chamber. Televangelists have to exist with their mouths permanently zipped and padlocked.
|Does he work for the "Idiot Broadcasting Corporation"?|
An interesting element to Escape from Hell is something I can't tie to Dante or any particular source. The player occasionally finds excerpts from a document titled The Divine Debate, a series of dialogues between God and the Devil that explore a number of theological questions. The themes of these debates are found in numerous sources, but I can't find a single source for the specific text. Consider this:
Devil: You have so long believed blindly in your creation of Man. I keep telling you that he is inherently evil, and cannot comprehend the very concept of goodness. But you refused to acknowledge my words, and cast me into Hell where I would rule as I saw fit. I would rather rule in Hell than serve in Heaven!
God: I did not cast you down to Hell, but rather created a world for you, so that you might be happy.
Devil: No, you made me warden to your prison of condemned souls, for yourself!
God: It is good our desires can work together. You wished to inflict justice, so I have granted your wish.
Devil: I WILL have justice! All of humanity will be mine, in time!
This feels like a distillation of text in Milton's Paradise Lost (the "rather rule in Hell" part is a direct paraphrase), but not quite.
|Another bit of dialogue that I can't directly source.|
For all its thematic invention, Escape from Hell is a frustrating game in several ways. First, certain weapons don't work in certain locations. This doesn't happen in any logical way; you're just suddenly told that only "simple weapons" work in this section, or you notice that guns abruptly stop working in another area. This forces you to carry a bunch of backup weapons for such occasions (melee weapons with no moving parts seem to work everywhere).
But this leads to the second problem: each character has only 10 inventory slots. Between weapons, armor, and quest items, these slots fill up fast, and literally every 5 minutes, I have to go through an agonizing process of determining what to keep and what to discard. You don't know when a seemingly-useless item will turn out to be the solution to a puzzle later.
|There's nothing in here I feel comfortable discarding.|
The inventory problem also discourages you from changing party members. A lot of interesting NPCs have offered to join the group--Wild Bill Hickok, Spartacus, an arch-demon named Billy Bob--but there's no way to transfer items from the departing party member to the new one, and I usually don't have enough free slots among the other two characters. When I finally recovered my friend Alan, I had to watch a bunch of valuable items disappear with Genghis Khan.
Finally, there's the saving and reloading issue. Reloading and moving between areas immediately restocks the level with enemies. Because of this, you paradoxically don't want to save the game when things are at their most dire, as dying and reloading will put you in the same area, with your weapons and health depleted and all enemies restored.
There's a place on the second level in which about a thousand minor demons swarm you every time you visit. It's right outside a key area called "Gangster's Guillotine," and every time you enter or leave, you have to fight the same swarm again, wasting ammo that you need in other places. I learned the hard way to switch to melee weapons for these battles.
|I have to go through this every time I exit a particular building on Level 2.|
In broad strokes, since the last post, I finished exploring the first level, parachuted down to the second level, defeated Al Capone and restored rule of the level to Caesar.
|Al Capone has invested in some plastic surgery since his Chicago days.|
This freed Alan from Al Capone's mind control, and I was able to get him into my party (replacing Genghis Khan).
|Notes: 1) Alan doesn't get a customized NPC portrait; 2) Alan has nothing to say about why there was a note taped to his door with an incantation that sent us to Hell.|
Caesar gave me a mission to go back up to Level 1 with a new database program to help move things along more smoothly in Minos's court. Apparently, I would get a "consultant badge" there that would be important on Level 3.
|If this game was more famous, we'd be quoting it constantly.|
Killing Capone made me something of a hero on the level, and some of the NPC comments suggested that the NPCs think I'm leading a revolt against Satan rather than just trying to get out. This is an interesting plot direction.
|Thank you, nude woman.|
I'm declining to offer other details because I'm going to be playing it again. I made a mistake in the conservation of weapons, and I've put myself in a situation where I'm unable to progress back to the teleporter to Level 1 because the enemies are too tough and I'm trying to fight them with hand weapons. Regular guns don't work there; only "dark pistols" and "dark rifles," which I'll cover later, but suffice to say I don't have any.
I might be able to fight my way out of my current situation, but I'm inclined to start the game over for other reasons. I feel like I missed a lot of puzzle solutions and, more important, historical and literary allusions on the first level. When I started playing, I had it in mind that it was a short, negligible game like Fountain of Dreams. Now that I'm enjoying it more, I want to start anew, explore it more carefully, and take more time to appreciate Seaborne's incorporation of sources.
A couple of notes on mechanics and content before I go:
- There are several items of armor to find and equip, including masks, helmets, shields, and body armor. Each item comes with a rating, but its effectiveness slowly degrades as it takes damage. Fortunately, on Level 2, there's a place where Dracula will give you a new bulletproof suit (the game's best armor) in exchange for pints of blood, obtained freely from Bonnie and Clyde's bank.
- Guns don't technically have ammo; they just have a limited number of uses. When it hits 0, the entire weapon breaks and disappears. There's a place on Level 2 where you can exchange some depleted weapons for new versions, so it pays to monitor the number of shots remaining and make sure you swap out the good guns before you shoot the last bullet.
- Using the "Fairy Dust" that you get in the opening is supposed to whisk you to safety. Instead, both times I've used it, it whisks me to a black screen from which I can't escape.
- I guess skills don't increase by using them. Instead, they go up a lot by running into the right NPC and getting some training.
|Solving this quest got me a suit of armor and some training in "Bluffing."|
- Although the combat mechanic is basically the same as Wasteland, there is one oddity by which in order to change weapons or move closer to an enemy, you first have to (R)un from the combat, giving every enemy a chance at a free shot. You then have a split second to move or open the inventory screen before the enemy re-engages you. It's kind of annoying that there's no in-combat interface for these things. Oddly, while in combat, you can look at the surrounding terrain and position of enemies with the "T" key, but you can't move; I suspect that the original intention was to allow movement on this screen like you can in Wasteland.
- The manual encourages you to just weigh down the space bar to pass time and restore health.
|Wouldn't a "rest" option have been better, then?|
- The game's sound is nothing special. There's a piercing, unmemorable introductory tune, quick pulses in combat, and an occasional bloop when something interesting happens.
- The game has moments where it treads the boundaries of sensitivity--never quite going completely over, but still. Last time, we saw Indians consigned to Hell. The copy protection sheet shows a variety of fake NPCs, including "Ann Orexia," who's in Hell for "self-denial" and whose favorite punishment is "starvation." Sitting Bull is on here, with a favorite punishment of "eating Custard." I'm not sure that it's a great idea to put a replication of Auschwitz in a game even if it's trying to make a point, and swastikas appear randomly in places not associated with Hitler or Nazis. When you add that the female NPCs are almost all nude, you end up with a game that isn't exactly offensive, but that probably wouldn't be made the same way today.
|This is Julius Caesar's palace, so I don't know what all the Nazi flags are doing here.|
Anyway, let's take it from the top and give Escape from Hell the attention it deserves instead of trying to rush through it to get to the end of 1990. Next time, I'll report on anything I missed from Level 1 and a more thorough description of Level 2.
Time so far: 6 hours
Reload count: 9
Further reading: The full text of Dante's Divine Comedy.