"The Silver Lining: What Is Decreed Must Be is aimed squarely at hardcore King's Quest lovers who want to see the series given a proper send-off. As a loving fan service, there's quite a bit to like, but as a game, it stumbles rather badly."
King's Quest. It stands as one of the most influential video games of all time, a genre-defining release that put Sierra Online on the path to becoming the dominant game company of its era and made its creator, Roberta Williams, a legend in the industry. Based on that famous series of adventures, The Silver Lining (and, specifically, its first chapter, What Is Decreed Must Be) is very much a love-letter to Williams and her creation: heartfelt, sincere and, like many declarations of undying romance, very, very awkward.
That The Silver Lining is a fan-made game is clearly reflected in the rough edges and lack of polish that simply wouldn't pass muster in a studio release. It's more technologically advanced than any of the original King's Quest games (which should be no surprise, given that the series ended in 1998) but actually comes off feeling rather more primitive. Visually, the game is very sparse and while the soundtrack is impressive, the voice acting is noticeably uneven: Azure, King of the Winged Ones, appears to be having a blast chewing the virtual scenery but the voice of Oberon sounds more like a first reading of the script recorded through a dollar-store microphone.
The game is technically solid but, like everything else in the game, a little rough-hewn. It runs flawlessly but the loading times between screens seem a bit lengthy given their relative dearth of content and occasional bits of syntactical wonkiness pop up here and there in the writing. Navigating corners can be problematic; King Graham, the central character, has an annoying habit of getting hung up if he's not carefully maneuvered around them at a safe distance, although I suppose that for true fans of old-time adventures that might actually be part of the charm.
The Silver Lining certainly plays like a King's Quest game, which is to say it plays like a standard point-and-click adventure. The right mouse button cycles the cursor through all the standard adventure commands, like move, examine, get and so forth, while the left button activates the selected function. The same commands are available from a drop-down menu, as is a fairly standard inventory screen that offers easy access to all your stored items for examination or use. Camera controls are entirely automatic and although odd angles can occasionally make movement a bit trickier than it should be, the non-action nature of the game means that such shortcomings generally don't cause any serious problems.
What is a problem, however, is the lack of actual gameplay. What Is Decreed Must Be is less a game than a cutscene that requires you to click every now and then in order to progress it. The adventure opens with a slow, overlong video of the wedding between Rosella and Edgar on the Green Isles; once that goes awry, players in the guise of King Graham will wander around the castle a bit, speak to a few guards, walk to a deserted town and then, with nothing else to do, charter a boat to travel among the Green Isles in search of the Oracle of the Isle of the Sacred Mountain. Once the boat ride begins, meaningful interactivity ends; Graham will meet with the King and Queen of the Winged Ones and, when that's wrapped up, take his boat to a different island for an equally expositional encounter with the Druids, but for all intents and purposes the "game" is out of the player's hands.
To be fair, this is only the first of five planned chapters. A certain amount of setup is to be expected, yet very little useful "pre-game action" actually takes place. What Is Decreed Must Be assumes that players are already so familiar with the King's Quest setting that there's no need to explain what's going on or why players should care. Consider Graham himself: before leaving the castle, he changes from his Kingly garb into the classic red tunic and blue cap, remarking in an aside that people always mistake him for a commoner when he's wearing his adventuring clothes.
So why, you might wonder, does he insist on wearing them? Why not just go out dressed as the King? Fans will surely appreciate the moment, but players who aren't familiar with the series will probably just find it confusing. Other questions likewise go unanswered. Why is the castle guarded by talking dogs? Why are the Winged Ones such jerks? Why won't those two weirdos come out of the rain? And who are all these strange wedding guests, anyway? I was a pretty solid King's Quest fan back in the day but I quit after KQ4 and that was 1988, kids. Unless you're a serious aficionado, be prepared to make the occasional trip to Google if you want to stay fully up to speed on what's happening.
What Is Decreed Must Be is also liberally salted with cutesy remarks and asides that break the fourth wall. When examining a bonsai tree, for instance, the narrator says they come from Japan and then tries to explain it to Graham as the place that makes all of the "great video games and anime." Other comments include remarks about containers being empty due to some "grand, cosmic game design" and even a "shameless plug" for the narrator's own personal website. How well this works is largely a matter of personal taste and, like everything else, it may appeal to fans, but I found it distracting and counter-immersive.
The bottom line is that The Silver Lining: What Is Decreed Must Be is aimed squarely at hardcore King's Quest lovers who want to see the series given a proper send-off. As a loving fan service, there's quite a bit here to like. References to past games abound and seeing Graham don the old red-and-blue and hit the trail once more has an undeniably romantic appeal. But on its own merits as a game, it stumbles rather badly. There's little to see and less to do. To be perfectly frank, I expected a more polished experience from a game that spent a decade in development. I'm hopeful that future chapters will have more to offer, and since it's free there's no reason not to give this one a go if you're curious. But players expecting a rebirth of the great King's Quest series will probably be disappointed. As a paean to Roberta Williams it's admirable, but as a game it just doesn't live up to its billing.
Freelance review by Andy Chalk (July 11, 2010)
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