Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Escape from Hell: Won! (with Final Rating)

Hopefully not for another 40-50 years.

Escape from Hell
United States
Electronic Arts (developer and publisher)
Released 1990 for DOS
Date Started: 26 March 2015
Date Ended: 30 March 2015
Total Hours: 12
Reload Count: 13
Difficulty: Moderate (3/5)
Final Rating: 43
Ranking at Time of Posting: 146/179 (82%)
Ranking at Game #431: 377/431 (87%)

Escape from Hell was so damned close to being an authentically great game. The limitations and compromises that truncated the game to three levels are so palpable, I'm surprised I didn't run into an NPC who was an EA executive, consigned to Hell for insisting that the game ship on one disk. Crooked Bee's RPG Codex Interview with Richard Seaborne, posted in January, confirms the sense that playing the game provides: Seaborne initially envisioned 9 circles of Hell, multiple endings, more concrete themes, complex chains of events, and the use of an alignment system, but one by one, these dreams fell to the budget axe.

I thought this whole plot was going to be awesome, but it went nowhere.

The plans left vestiges in the game, maddeningly hinting at cut content. You defeat Al Capone, and a note threatens revenge, only he never shows up again. Hitler is organizing a revolt against Satan, and there's a suggestion that you could join his cause or help the Devil quash it, but nothing ever really comes of it. There are lots of interesting NPCs to join the party, but no reason not to just stick with the first couple that you find. A ton of interesting sounding items--a copy of Rolling Bone magazine, various pieces of jewelry, gold ingots, a crown, various capes--have no purpose. Several skills are never employed. There's a whole sub-quest that involves getting a consultant's badge, which you need to enter a special room in Satan's Palace, which contains a computer, which...does nothing. Solving an early quest gets you "Angelic Powers," which seem to have no use later on. (You can use them as a weapon, but they almost always miss.)

An encounter in Satan's fortress that has nothing to do with anything.

Perhaps most notably, the end of the game suggests that if you reach Hell's exit and haven't been "good" during your journeys, you won't be able to leave. Well, if there's any such alternate ending, I can't find it. I reloaded and killed dozens of friendly NPCs, and it still let me out. There really isn't any other way to be "evil."

The truncated content ends up completely wasting the game's mechanics, which let you solve puzzles in multiple ways (and choose among multiple puzzles to reach the same goal), force you to pay attention to NPC dialogue to determine what inventory items they need, and allow you to freely explore the three levels. There are hardly any "walking dead" scenarios: all items that you absolutely need have infinite duplicates. The NPCs are interesting and through-provoking when they're not (occasionally) goofy.

The capitalized "CARE" was a clue to give her a "care bracelet."

At the end of the last post, I indicated I'd be starting the game over to explore more carefully. I did, but I didn't find much beyond what I'd already posted about. The only things you have to do in the game are:

  • Get from Level 1 to Level 2, which involves finding a cassette tape to trade for a parachute
  • Defeat Al Capone on Level 2 and release Alan from his mind control
  • Enter Satan's fortress on Level 3, pick up Alison, kill Satan, and make your way to the exit
  • Grind your characters enough to survive the random combats along the way

All the other side quests resulting in training, equipment, and NPCs, many of which you don't actually need.

Arriving on the third level via a phone booth. It was complicated.

In my second attempt, I did pretty much what I did the first time. The one exception was giving a care bracelet to Juliet and getting "Angelic Powers" in return--which turned out to be mostly useless. The powers show up as an inventory item and serve as a mid-range weapon that misses 80% of the time but does significant damage when it works. Not as good as most of the ranged weapons in the game, although it does have the benefit of working in locations that some other weapons don't work.

On Level 2, I conquered Capone as before and got Alan into the party. I kept Horatio until the end mostly because there wasn't any compelling reason to let him go and it was a pain to try to transfer items between characters.

On Level 3, I explored a bit and found Hitler, Göring, Mussolini, and other Axis big-wigs in a replica of Dachau. They were going on about overthrowing Satan, and this would have been a fun, if slightly disturbing, plot and role-playing choice if it led anywhere. As Crooked Bee's LP demonstrates, getting Hitler into your party has absolutely no consequences for the rest of the game. I declined to have Hitler join my party for role-playing reasons. Part of me loves this game if for no other reason than I get to write sentences like that.

Hitler's office in Hell. He warmed to me when I found a copy of Mein Kampf on a bookcase.

You'd think if any NPC deserved a custom portrait...

Heinz Guderian was imprisoned nearby and wanted to join me in a resistance against Hitler, but I lacked enough "Lockpick" skill to free him. It wouldn't have mattered anyway.

A laptop computer and a "phreaker box," used at a phone booth, zipped me to a road leading to Satan's fortress. There was a long bridge and a string of nasty enemies, but I had a ton of weapons at this point.

From the depths of Maurice Sendak's nightmares...

Satan's fortress wasn't very big and didn't exactly look like the capitol of Hell.

Satan stands in his office surrounded by...what?...refrigerators?

There were a couple of corridors that led to nothing but near-impossible combats, but there were hardly any enemies on the corridor that led to the exit, after passing by Alison's cell and Satan himself. I delayed replacing Horatio for Alison until I killed Satan.

They couldn't give my girlfriend her own portrait? Or some clothes?

Before the encounter with Satan, Alan had a little comment that suggests a meta-plot for the game: Richard and Alan are in Hell because Satan didn't want them to finish Escape from Hell.

"...we're gonna finish this game," it ends. I think Alan accidentally a word in that last sentence.

A few steps later, Satan had a little villain's speech.

I didn't want to "stop you." You would have been fine if you'd just let me walk by.

He was capable of killing party members in one round, but I had a "Holy Cross" from the beginning of the game that was capable of killing him in one round, so I used it here. From Crooked Bee's LP, it would have also been possible to kill him with anti-tank rifles or a "Book of Death," the latter of which I never found.

Satan killing me in one attack.
Me killing Satan in one attack.

There was one more corridor before the exit. As I stepped on the portal, a voice suggested role-playing possibilities that never materialized.

Whose voice is this? God?

After that, it was a message to "come back soon" and a vision of a generic city beyond the portal. No mention is made of why the trio was in Hell in the first place, or of the long-term universal ramifications of killing Satan.

Anyone recognize that skyline? I'm going with Boston. That's the Pru behind a row of brownstones.

This GIMLET is going to make me sad.

  • 7 points for the game world, perhaps the most original that we've seen so far in the chronology. Basing an RPG on Dante's Inferno was a brilliant idea, and it's too bad that the game could only sustain it for three levels. Only a lack of seriousness (and thus thematic consistency) keeps it from scoring higher.
  • 4 points for character creation and development. You can't create any of the characters--they come with fixed attributes. Leveling is a standard experience-based process that results on more hit points and changes to attributes. There's a skill system that's barely used and only supports one- or two-time increases to skills based on talking to the right NPC.

Eric the Red offers some character development. You need "Swimming" skill for like one place in the game, where you acquire it automatically anyway.

  • 6 points for a great selection of historical and literary NPCs, many of whom can join your party. If only the game had offered some dialogue options, and if only the gallery of joinable NPCs--which includes Dante, John Wilkes Booth, Mozart, "Sparticus," Blackbeard, Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde--had any effect on later gameplay.

Note Dante's dialogue. This game isn't based on Inferno so much as a sequel to it.

  • 4 points for encounters and foes. The game's menagerie of hellbeasts is mostly original, and there are enough special attacks and defenses to keep them interesting. There aren't many encounters that offer role-playing choices, however.
  • 3 points for magic and combat. The stripped-down Interplay approach to combat is okay for the length of the game; it would have gotten tedious if the game had really lasted nine levels. There's no magic system, which is too bad--the setting could have really had some fun with Latin invocations.

Some of the game's better artwork, I thought.

  • 5 points for inventory. A variety of weapons, armor, quest items, and special items keeps things interesting. The manual clearly annotates weapon and armor statistics and ratings, allowing easy comparison. Although you get some items in fixed places, a lot of the distribution is randomized. The only major problems are that a) a lot of the items have no purpose, but you end up carrying them just in case; and b) the limited inventory slots discourage swapping party members, since you almost always lose some items in the process.

Horatio's full inventory at game's end.

  • 1 point for the economy. I wasn't going to give it any, but there is kind of a barter economy where you can trade some items for other items with various NPCs. There's otherwise no money or shops.
  • 4 points for quests, which include a main quest and a handful of mostly inconsequential side quests. This could have been so much better with Seaborne's original plans.
  • 4 points for decent graphics and an unproblematic keyboard interface. It gets nothing special for sound, which is too bad. A modern take on the game would undoubtedly have atmospheric music and wails of the damned in the distance.
  • 5 points for gameplay. Somewhat non-linear, somewhat replayable, and the right difficulty. It's too short to accommodate all its ideas and thus feels a little unfinished.

The final rating of 43 puts it well into "recommended" territory (35-50) but not into "really good" territory. Based on Seaborne's descriptions of what he wanted the game to be, we would have been looking at a solid 55-60 if reality hadn't intervened. But despite its flaws, I'm grateful for a game that managed to get out of the 30s for the first time in half a year.

It's hard to find reviews of the game from 1990. It doesn't look like Computer Gaming World considered it. MobyGames cataloged two reviews that put it in the "C" range, basically calling it a minor game with interesting ideas. But the game has received more modern ink than most forgotten titles from the early 1990s, and they sound a lot like mine. Whether you read Richard Cobbett's retrospective on PC Gamer, Nick Zverloff's coverage on "Hardcore Gaming 101," or Crooked Bee's LP, you see reviewers desperately wanting to like Escape from Hell for its setting, themes, and NPCs, but ultimately forcing to conclude that it doesn't quite come together.

As quarex pointed out in a recent comment, practically every site in existence says that Escape from Hell uses the Wasteland engine. But Richard Seaborne denied this claim in his interview with Crooked Bee:

I wrote Escape from Hell entirely from the ground up, using no code or tools from Wasteland or any other game. Although there’s no shared ancestry with Wasteland, I have to say that I’ve never minded the comparison because it was a great game.

It's hard to know how to respond to that. I don't doubt that Seaborne wrote the code from the ground up, so perhaps it's disingenuous to say that it "uses the Wasteland engine." Does programming convention call it "using the same engine" if it's reconstructed rather than built off the same code? I honestly don't know.

But it's also silly to say that "there's no shared ancestry with Wasteland." A comparison of the interface, game screens, skill systems, and combat systems shows too many similarities to suggest that Seaborne developed them independently and just happened to take the game to the same publisher, and end up with the same executive producer, as Wasteland--and in the same year that EA released another game (Fountain of Dreams) also "using the Wasteland engine."

Even the screen proportions are about the same.
Whatever the case, I think that's it for Wasteland-related games until we hit Fallout in 1997.  I'm glad I played this game after Fountain of Dreams, and thus could leave with mostly positive impressions. This is a game that someone needs to remake, not games like Ultima IV or Baldur's Gate that are already fine in their original forms.

Next up, as I continue to work towards the end of Tunnels & Trolls, we'll look at 1984's Dungeons, Dragons, & Other Perils and get started perhaps on Worlds of Ultima: Savage Empire. We're down to only 5 games left in 1990!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Escape from Hell: Limbo to Treachery

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.

Well, hell.

  • 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.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Game 181: Escape from Hell (1990)

Escape from Hell isn't going to be the best game of my chronology, or even 1990, but I suspect it will be the only game on my list in which Josef Stalin joins my party and starts shooting the minions of Satan with a nailgun. If I can't have a high-quality CRPG, I'm at least grateful for one that shows me something I haven't seen before.

It's also the only game I can think of in which your PC is modeled on the game's author, Richard Seaborne. We previously saw his work on Prophecy I: The Fall of Trinadon (1988). His co-designer, Alan J. Murphy, later appears as an NPC. The setup is told in a few brief paragraphs in the opening screens: one day Richard goes over to Alan's house and finds a weird note stuck to the door with an unknown phrase on it. Alan is gone. Later, recounting the story to his girlfriend, Alison (named after Richard Seaborne's wife), Richard says the phrase and Alison disappears in a "poof!" Moments later, Richard gets a call from "the Divine Phone Company" who warns him his friends have been sent to hell because of the "powerful magic incantation."

"You must be joking," Richard protests. "I just said..." and repeats the incantation. In a split second, he finds himself in a small room in the midst of fire and brimstone. His goal, as indicated by the title, is to find his way out--ideally with Alison and Alan in tow.

This is the kind of game that could be fun and interesting or cringe-worthy and stupid depending on the quality of the narration. So far, it's doing a good job walking right on the line, but it could go anywhere.

This was reasonably funny.

The second 1990 game developed by Electronic Arts using the Wasteland engine, Escape lies somewhere between Wasteland and Fountain of Dreams in quality. The story so far is better than Fountain and the graphics are better than both preceding games, but it doesn't have the puzzle or role-playing complexity of Wasteland. As such, it's been an amusing little diversion, not unlike Seaborne's Prophecy.

The party navigates fire, brimstone, and pitchforks.
There's no character creation as such--Richard has fixed statistics for strength, intelligence, piety, agility, and stamina. Like the other games using the engine, there is a selection of passive skills (e.g., fist fighting, rifle combat, archery, acrobatics) and active skills (e.g., bluffing, lockpicking), all of which increase with use and with occasional NPC trainers. Leveling is through a standard accumulation of experience.

The main character after a few hours. He started at Level 0, so I have risen one level.
Combat uses a variant of the system developed way back in The Bard's Tale and used by almost all Interplay games to date. Each character chooses to attack, defend, hide, or run in any given round. Each weapon has an effective range, but unlike some of the other games, enemies can only attack from three (long), two (medium), or one (short) squares away. They can attack in multiple groups of multiple enemies each, and if attacking, you have to target the chosen group. The character who makes the kill gets the experience and whatever valuables the enemy was carrying.

Some of the combats are pretty hard. I doubt there's any way to resurrect dead NPCs, so I've been reloading when they die. If Richard dies, the game ends with a note that you've died. I don't know why the game didn't just have you wake up in your room in Hell again. That seems obvious.
Do I go to Hell's Hell now?

The basic gameplay experience so far has been to explore Hell and its various divisions, talk to NPCs, collect puzzle items, and fight random combats with fiends along the way. There's one large main cave (a map is helpfully provided in the manual) with entrances to smaller maps like Limbo, the City on the Edge of Eternity, and the Hell Guard Recruitment Center.

The game paraphrases quotes from real historic figures.

The game features the second use of nudity that we've seen in my list in a western RPG. I don't know if this one or Wizardry VI came first. All the female NPCs seem to look like this.
I started in small room with a chest, a sign, and a phonebooth. I don't know if the phonebooth was supposed to have come with me; that wouldn't make sense because the opening screenshots showed me at home when I got the call. Either way, the severed telephone handset was in my inventory along with a knife and a book of matches.

The opening room.
The chest held a cross, a silver flask with a healing elixir, and a pouch of fairy dust. A note warned me to save the cross and elixir for "when the powers of Hell are about to overtake you" and to use the fairy dust only in "dire need."
A skeleton blocked my way into the caverns and I wasn't strong enough to defeat him by myself, so I started by going the only direction I could, to the City on the Edge of Eternity. In this sub-map, I started meeting a bunch of random NPCs. A guy named Brad gave me a free laptop, which I honestly forgot was a thing as early as 1990. Stalin joined my cause because he believed that "capitalism is the wave of the future" and we needed to "overthrow the red devil" for "our right to vote for a free democratic Hell."

A skeleton blocks my path. I needed Josef Stalin and Genghis Khan to defeat him.
In an alley, we grabbed a couple garbage can lids to use as shields. In Hell's Waiting Room, I got a ticket that promised me an audience with Minos, the ruler of this level, on April 1, 3024 "plus or minus several decades." A receptionist attacked me when she scanned me for identification and realized that I was alive. That didn't seem to otherwise have long-term consequences.

Genghis Khan joined my party at some point, armed with a broadsword. A guy named Melrose Amber, after hearing my story, gave me a pair of shades that would protect me against psychic attacks. A clown gave me a smiley face button.

Exploring a building in Limbo. Some foresaken souls apparently get their own rooms and beds.
When I'd finished exploring, I returned to the outer area and used my two new friends to kill the skeleton and escape into the caverns of Hell. I was attacked frequently by "stench beasts," Hell privates, Neanderthals, and--oddly enough--Indians.

This was not a good year for Indians in RPGs.

The presence of Indians in Hell is probably a reflection of the game's Catholic theology. One of the sub-areas off the main cavern is Limbo, or the "Place for Virtuous Pagans," where all the decent people went before Jesus Christ redeemed mankind and opened the way to Heaven.

Pity the poor Neanderthals for existing 40,000 years before the birth of Christ.

I met Virgil, Cleopatra, Nero, Aristotle, Socrates, Tamerlaine, Helen of Troy, and some Roman soldiers there. Oddly, Benedict Arnold and Shakespeare were there as well. Shakespeare gave me Yorick's Skull. I later gave the skull to Hamlet, who joined me (I dumped Stalin 'cause he was...you know...Stalin) with a dueling sword.
I find the Prince in "the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns."
Hamlet isn't the only fictional character here: I ran into Horatio and Juliet, too (the latter in Hell for her suicide).

It was the Athenian philosopher Thucydides who gave me the rundown of the stucture of Hell. Originally one level, Satan has over the years expanded it to three. Various NPCs told me that Alan went to Level 2, which is apparently ruled by Al Capone. The hole from Level 1 to Level 2 is quite deep, and I need a parachute to descend. So far, I haven't figured out how to get one.

An NPC recognizes that I'm alive, and gives me some useful information about my friend.
A few NPCs imparted training just for talking to them, raising my skill level with the bow and rifle. The scores also go up occasionally in combat, just as in Wasteland. NPCs often give you quest items or things that might be quest items--it's hard to tell--and between that and the weapons you loot from combats, it's a constant struggle to shuffle inventory and make sure you have a few clear slots. Weapons break, so you need to carry some backups. There's no ammo--firearms and bows just run out of shots and become useless. There also appears to be no economy.

The game's approach to skill development.

As we wrap up, I'm exploring the Hell Guard Recruitment Center, hoping to find that parachute somewhere. I assume the levels get bigger and more complicated as you descend; if not, we're looking at a short game. My big question right now is whether the game is truly going to resolve its story--whether there's any interesting mystery behind the incantation that brought me here--or whether it's just an excuse for silly setpieces.

Time so far: 3 hours
Reload count: 4

Further reading: My series of posts on Wasteland, which provided Escape from Hell its engine; Fountain of Dreams also used Wasteland's engine and also came out this year. Prophecy I: The Fall of Trinadon was an earlier Seaborne RPG.