[Mr Creosote] Elwood and I are going to discuss another game today:. This experiment differs slightly from the previous discussion reviews, though: We actually played the game together, i.e. on one computer.
[Elwood] The line-up was as follows: Mr Creosote was in charge of handling the game while I was commenting from the couch.
[Mr Creosote] So it was typical load sharing: All the work for me, all the fun for him. Galaxis Futura is a promotial game for the political party PDS (today, they're called 'Die Linke') from the year 1998. In that year, there was a general election...
[Elwood] Meaning that this game could be confusing to some people unless they have a good grasp of the German political situation of the time.
[Mr Creosote] To sum it up briefly: Helmut Kohl had been chancellor for the last 16 years and he was running once again for the CDU. In the rival party, the SPD, two guys shared the power: Oskar Lafontaine (chairman of the party) and Gerhard Schröder (candidate to become chancellor).
[Elwood] Our current chancellor, Angela Merkel, hadn't yet reached the front row then, but Joschka Fischer and Klaus Kinkel were still the heads of their respective parties.
[Mr Creosote] We all know what happened, of course: Kohl and his CDU suffered a bitter defeat and the social democrats and the Greens formed a coalition. The PDS, as expected, stayed in opposition.
[Elwood] The actual political events aren't that important for the game, though. Concrete references are rather vague... when they're there at all. Real persons' characteristics are - to put it lightly - strongly exaggerated in a satirical way.
[Mr Creosote] That's where we come to the game itself: Captain Gysi had taken over control of Spaceship Bonn and saved it from its course towards a black hole. For that insolence, he's thrown out of the ship and now he's stranded on a remote planet.
[Elwood] Gregor won't just stand for that, of course. He wants to get back on board! This is basically what can be surmised from the intro. The game's box tells a bit more already... namely the following stages. Mr Creosote, do you want to let our readers in on this?
[Mr Creosote] Very briefly: Gysi returns to Spaceship Bonn, flies it to the space graveyard and takes control of Starship Berlin instead which he guides towards Galaxis Futura. This story is outlined pretty much completely on the box, but not within the game itself.
[Elwood] Interestingly enough, those steps are completely unreproducible. Without the box, the steps after reaching the spaceship aren't apparante anymore. Well... even with the box, it's not at all simple... but more about that later.
The Captain has been stranded on an alien, barren planet and he immediately bumps into the first stranger. This called for the first big laugh and I actually had confidence that the game could reach higher rating levels...
[Mr Creosote] ...it's the 'twin head', one body with the heads of Lafontaine and Schröder whose unity is pretty brittle - they start squabbling at the first opportunity.
[Elwood] That's especially ironic, because back then, nobody expected Lafontaine to become Gysi's colleague later on. Anyway, there was already something to criticise here: Not a lot of effort has been put into the voice imitations. Schröder should have been one of the easier ones, but his characteristic tones have been met only very badly. A little more effort could have done wonders.
Anyway, Gysi meets more well-known faces on the planet and he's supposed to solve the first 'puzzles'.
[Mr Creosote] The 'twin head' is really only one of many acquaintance you meet on the way. For example, there is 'Zwerg Hierse' (Wolfgang Thierse) who is looking for his red beard, 'Hermann-Otto' (Solms) who works as a bartender in an extremely capitalist bar or the civil servant 'Kante' (Manfred Kanther) who is responsible for issuing identity cards.
[Elwood] Talking about Kante, I've got some criticism again: I'm anything but a fan of that politician, but the voice imitiation (which is technically done well in this case) is quite unsavoury. Since 2007, it's ok again to make fun of Hitler, but Hitler comparisons are still a big no-no - but this is exactly how Kante's voice sounds. This goes too far and it's not necessary for the game at all - it's also not excusable due to the inherent silliness.
[Mr Creosote] The satire is a big mixed bag anyway. The twin head is a good idea and so is Hintze as Kohl's pet dog. On the other hand, some characterisations are downright absurd (Merkel as a stoner) or even embarassing (Claudia Nolte as a naive Lara Croft).
[Elwood] Also, the 'Kinkelstein' is a mystery to me. This seems to be nothing more than a play on words... Though we always have to keep in mind that this isn't a game made by amateurs in their bedroom, but it has actually been made as an official assignment from the PDS and - as the box proudly claims - the real Gysi even lends his voice to his character!
Now, Gregor Gysi isn't exactly known as the most statesman-like person out there - but these kicks in the nuts are sometimes so plentiful that it's getting embarassing. Even for the actual Gysi (who must have known about the concept of the game).
[Mr Creosote] True. Even disregarding any political differences, publishing something like this, it's no wonder that no party wanted to work with the PDS...
[Elwood] To sum it up: Strong humour is quite alright - formats like Hurra Deutschland or the British Spitting Image show that - but instead, this game gives us cheap slapstick.
But there's no way around it, we've got a goal: We'll finish this game!
[Mr Creosote] The audio-visual presentation didn't really help that goal in my opinion. The graphics are a fairly tacky mixture of amateurishly drawn sprites and sloppily rendered backdrops which sometimes even look ugly.
[Elwood] It would have been better to decide on one style and use that one consistently. The comicbook style which Captain Gysi himself is drawn in could be better, sure, but it would have been good enough. The mix is distracting, though...
[Mr Creosote] If those were the two options, I would have prefered the drawn style, too. It's ironic, though, that the high resolution graphics of this game look worse than the ones of the predecessor (made in classic VGA resolution) which is only a year older.
[Elwood] It simply looks amateurishly, but that's still alright, considering the game is free. We mustn't forget that!
[Mr Creosote] Concerning the sound, the music is very dull. The voices are of very different quality, as discussed before. Gysi himself is still alright (although in some scenes, it becomes quite obvious that he's just reading lines without context).
[Elwood] Alright... I though the music was still bearable. I've heard way worse. It just seemed to be there, without any link to the location, though.
Now we're only criticising already. What about positive things?
[Mr Creosote] The caricatures of the politicians are well recognisable - the typical characteristics have been worked out well.
[Elwood] What about the game's interface? I didn't hear you swearing a lot...
[Mr Creosote] It was alright. The right mouse button is for examining, the left one for taking. To use something, you have to drag the object on the other one which you want to use it with. The only thing which caused problems about that was the game's reactions (or the lack thereof) when I tried something which didn't work. Sometimes, there was no feedback at all whether something had worked or not. That didn't exactly raise the motivation for experimenting.
[Elwood] How do you like such a simple interface? I mean, it leaves hardly any room for more subtle actions... all you can do is a universal 'use ... with ...'.
[Mr Creosote] I don't like these 'one click' interfaces, because they basically encourage trying every possible combination of objects and hoping that the game will 'just know' what to do. This was common at the time, though, so it's hard to complain about it.
Technically, the interace worked well, though. The cursor visibly reacts if it touches relevant objects, their names are clearly spelt out on the screen, the inventory screen has a clear structure and easily handled and even the dialogues work thanks to multiple choice.
[Elwood] It wasn't always clear to me what could be done with which object in what situation, but you surely know better.
Furthermore, you mention one of the major problems of the game... 'trying everything out'. This seems to be the solution for most of the puzzles. Apart from those which Gysi (or another character) just gives away. Can you think of any good puzzles in the game?
[Mr Creosote] 'Good' is maybe overstating it. There were a few which were alright. The business with the dowser wasn't given away, but it also wasn't impossible. Not too original, but alright. On the whole, I have to agree, though: They never got the amount of hinting right. If the solution of a puzzle is given away just by examining an object, I feel like the game takes me for a fool. The further the game progressed, the opposite effect got more dominant, though: completely absurd actions had to be committed.
[Elwood] In most cases, the logic of such actions at least becomes apparant in retrospect. In this game, even this isn't the case. It was my impression that this got worse in the course of the game. The beginning still seemed logical enough, the ending was just 'brute forcing'. We have to mention that the game also had a few bugs. Some puzzles didn't even have to be solved at all - though it seemed that the way we progressed wasn't intended.
[Mr Creosote] Yes, the internal game logic sometimes seemed to expect different actions or at least actions in a different order than we did them. The way it was, we sometimes solved puzzles 'by accident', although these puzzles hadn't even been motivated yet. Yet the game technically already allowed them to be solved. One 'subplot' (the beard...) went nowhere at all, when we solved that one, it didn't seem to be necessary anymore - we had actually already progressed way beyond that point. On the other hand, many actions which seemed to make sense couldn't be done, because some trigger without any apparant link hadn't fired yet.
[Elwood] Also, I have to mention here that it was a common pattern just to do things more than once - though without any indication that this would be a good idea.
[Mr Creosote] This effect even spread into the dialogues. We just had to try everything out, sometimes even repeat the same thing over and over, until something new happened. The worst occurence of this 'puzzle' was a scene in which we had three 'no' options. The word 'no' could be selected three ways, without any visible difference. One of these options turned out to be he 'solution'...
[Elwood] That's not completely true. We had to select the 'right no' twice! That's a huge difference!
[Mr Creosote] But not for the better. Unfortunately, my overall impression of the game's puzzles is that this is a prime example of the bad things in Adventure games: The most mundane everyday tasks become fussy for the game to be 'hard'. The 'logic' is roughly equivalent to that of early Sierra Adventures.
[Elwood] That's not true. In Sierra's games, you simply died at every opportunity. This won't happen here. Also, there don't seem to be any dead ends. This is definitely something positive about the game.
[Mr Creosote] That's right, these are good sides. I still maintain though that many puzzles simply can't be solved. There were actions which could only be solved by trying everything out and didn't even make sense in retrospect (think about the mummy)! And to try everything out, we carried too many items around with us and there were too many locations to keep it bearable.
[Elwood] I agree with you there. I still found the game to be relatively entertaining, though. This could have been, because we played it together, of course. This way, we could make fun of the game.
[Mr Creosote] If it had been just me, I probably wouldn't have finished the game. After the graveyard, it was just enough, but the whole Starship Berlin episode was still coming... the game is simply too long for its mediocre quality!
[Elwood] Definitely. Many parts could have been shortened. The ending is even - without trying to spoil things - an offense. Even Captain Gysi himself becomes pissed off about being forced to do 'yet another task' at some point.
[Mr Creosote] Even the puzzles repeat themselves: The 'multiplication' of the protagonist happens twice in different situations and it has to be done in different ways each time. Without any explanation why another method is necessary the second time.
[Elwood] Well, the second incarnation is weak anyway... but we're getting too deep into the details.
I think the game is only just playable. Though even that only if the player is inclined to find something funny about the political situation of 1998. Playing it with a friend is certainly preferable. Alcohol could help as well - though we 'enjoyed' it completely sober.
[Mr Creosote] Yes, there is a certain 'party appeal' to the game at least. It was a fortunate decision to play the game together, because otherwise, it would have been much harder to stand. Though the special circumstances make it harder to rate the game...
[Elwood] As we already discussed yesterday, I'd give it a '2'. It's still playable, but not really good. Some effort has been put into the game at least.
[Mr Creosote] I think I can agree with that - though it is a 'weak 2'. Many things are wrong in Galaxis Futura. This is especially tragic keeping in mind that I still consider the first Captain Gysi game to be one of the best promotional adventure games of all times. Still, it is a free game, so I can live with 'in dubio pro reo'.