Nothing illustrated the maturity of Adventure Game Studio better than it becoming the engine of games which were considered viable for a commercial release. Full-length games with decent production values. Even when, as in the case of, they remained graphically “old-school”. Though then, isn't half of the point & click adventure game genre appeal a longing for better times gone by anyway?
Appropriately, its plot sets the game in a time about 100 years ago. Firmly set in the real world and allegedly based on a “true story”, the protagonist is an ambitious career-type guy trying to make it in the real estate business of Florida. Which could be more interesting than it may sound at first glance. It was apparently a time of big investors developing large areas, building up whole new cities from nothing. At its heart, the ambition here is nothing less than a reflection of daring aspiration, painting a picture of contemporary society as a whole. A story spanning decades, containing a classic of rise, downfall and redemption.
To achieve this, the game splits its narrative into smaller episodes between which there are (often significant) time jumps. To illustrate: after a first introduction, the player must find a way to get hired by the local bigshot investor. Cut, three years later. The protagonist is passed over by his boss for a major promotion. Disappointed, he joins the mafia.
The implication here being, of course, that in the meantime, the protagonist worked hard, showed his worth to his boss and thinks rightfully that he's the one deserving this new position. A world falling apart from him when another guy's name is announced, perceived humiliation driving him into the arms of the mob. This, for sure, was clear in the author's mind. Just that he neglected to show or otherwise illustrate it.
To the player, all this happens back to back. And while it might be possible to follow on an intellectual level, the intended emotional gravity of it just does not come across. What certainly does not help in this respect is that the protagonist essentially takes all major decisions by himself, without giving players any choices. That is, when the formal protagonist is not upstaged by other characters anyway, which regularly occurs throughout in key scenes as well.
Similar disempowerment occurs as far as gameplay is concerned. Halfway throughout the game, the protagonist bitterly remarks that he's essentially an errand boy for the true actors in the story, further feeding the character's frustration and estrangement. Exactly this role is projected onto the player. Keeping them busy by performed what they are told to do. First, by locust capitalists of questionable morals, ruthlessly driving the competition out of business and swindling owners off their land. Later on behalf of a sweaty mafia boss, making literal death threats to old women, drugging and robbing bar patrons etc.
The game is not smart enough to reflect any of this, however. The protagonist is an errand boy, so the player is. Which does not make for very interesting gameplay. Take this item to this person. Talk to that other character until the choices are exhausted. The conversation mazes, which require the player to observe visual clues in order to find the right line of conversation to convince other characters, may be the most interesting part in this respect. Though even in failure, there are always obvious, non-imaginative fallback ways to proceed.
Likewise, the character roles and themes remain similarly bland. Throughout, you may be tempted to think: it is trying to set up a parallel between land development and the mafia. Both of them being two sides of the same coin. Both of them being somehow integral pillars of the “American Dream”. Alas, no. Such payoff never comes. What you've seen on the surface is what the game wanted to tell you. Somewhat clumsily.
It all seems, this being the authors first attempt at a full-length game, he may have bitten off more than he could chew. He avoided any roadblocks, made the game very easy as is today's zeitgeist. Though he's far from achieving the grand narrative, social commentary or character study which the material would have been good for.
As an amateur game made as a hobby,would have been good. As a commercial release, it is unspectacular, pedestrian, mediocre at best. It is unoffensive, but ultimately not sufficiently thought through in either plotting, characters or puzzles. Not every game needs to break new ground, though this one remains just unremarkable all across the board.