"Literary classics brought to life in video game form. That's the concept behind Enter the Story, a series of independently produced point-and-click adventures with roots in a whole range of campaigns. A campaign against mindless violence, says its developer, Chris Tolworthy, on the official website. A campaign to make classics accessible. A campaign against greed, and a campaign for lower prices. A campaign against global poverty, even. The proceeds of Enter the Story are bei..."
Literary classics brought to life in video game form. That's the concept behind Enter the Story, a series of independently produced point-and-click adventures with roots in a whole range of campaigns. A campaign against mindless violence, says its developer, Chris Tolworthy, on the official website. A campaign to make classics accessible. A campaign against greed, and a campaign for lower prices. A campaign against global poverty, even. The proceeds of Enter the Story are being ploughed into Tolworthy's research, with an aim to eradicate such ills of the world.
You'd be hard pressed to find anyone who'd argue with a concept as admirable as that. But it's also built from a manifesto, in which Tolworthy states that he "won't worry about polish or avoiding mistakes." When you're selling a game commercially, no matter how small the low, low price (actually £14.99 for three games, not, as the website perplexingly states on one page, "cheaper than free"), that might be something he should reconsider.
The Divine Comedy is, of course, a retelling of Italian poet Dante's lauded work. Being able to interact with such a famously stunning piece of literature might sound appealing, but the game falls down in a number of ways. It's a slow, clumsy journey through the seven levels of hell, rather than the directed voyage of discovery it should be. And it drips with careless design and a lack of finesse.
It's a fiercely independent product, so some of that is to be expected. But you get the impression that developing these games, and maintaining their level of quality, might be too big a task for one person. When creating a game based on the words of a literary great, for example, it might be an idea to employ a writer. The Divine Comedy's script is so basic, so miserably contrived and alarmingly patronising, that it ends up being closer to an insult than a fitting homage.
Enter the Story takes an interesting approach when it comes to character control. At no point are you directly controlling an invididual; instead, you're an angel, sent down from heaven to guide the story's protagonists along the way. You can direct their thoughts and draw their attention to various items around the world. It's also cleverly incorporated into a hints system that, alas, turns out to be less than clever.
Pressing F1 ("think of me as 'Friend One'," says a character in heaven at the start, "or 'F1' for short.") flicks your view back up to the skies, and you'll converse with your spiritual mentor about what action to take next. It's neat, in that it's contextualised by the plot, and each hint becomes increasingly more explicit. The problem is how much it draws your attention away from the main game, creating an uncomfortable divide between Dante and Virgil's journey through hell and the heavenly goings-on above. Perhaps that's intentional, and illustrates a point. But having to skip so gracelessly between scenes, on such a regular basis, is troublesome.
That's the other thing: you'll be doing it a lot. Puzzles range from almost embarrassingly easy to ludicrously obtuse. Sometimes it's due to the visuals - which teeter uncomfortably between stylised and amateurish - being so muddy that you can't make out something important. Often, it's because of something far worse. The first scene actually requires you to go to Friend One for help: an essential character won't appear until you do. This theme reappears a few times, with vital information communicated via the help system, as opposed to the game itself. It's a horribly unintuitive way of doing things, and only leads to fist-pounding frustration when it all clunks into place.
But The Divine Comedy's biggest problem - and, by extention, something that could well hamper a number of these releases - is how poorly it translates to the format. As an adventure, it's simply too slow, as you fiddle your way from screen to screen, occasionally backtracking, until you reach your next destination. There's no elegant build-up, no powerful climax. The only thought it'll ultimately leave you with is that, were Dante writing today, he'd do best to stick to poetry rather than video games.
Freelance review by Lewis Denby (September 21, 2009)
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