Quest For Infamy Review
On his first Quest for Infamy our anti-hero, Mister Roehm, fresh from a scandalous relationship that turned sour after a baron found him in bed with his daughter, arrived at the opening village gates searching for a new beginning. Yet, drawing on his new found freedom and lust for adventure, he eschews the glaring pointers that drag him in the intended direction and instead wanders off into the nearby forest. Promptly he gets lost in among a maze of tangled screens that haphazardly connect like a broken jigsaw puzzle. Screaming in circles for a few minutes our hero gives in, hits the restart button and begins again.
On his second Quest for Infamy, Mister Roehm enters the primitive village and strikes up a conversation with some of the locals. It seems that a miscreant is to be sentenced to death by the guillotine at sundown. Getting lost again in a jumble of static screens, he finally finds himself at the site of the execution. Joining the crowds to watch as the prisoner spurts out his last words, followed summarily by spurts of blood that shower the floor in pixelated glory, he begins to wonder what is happening here. Reeling from this gruesome demise our hero staggers off to the pub, promptly getting into a strange drinking mini-game with the local bruiser. Unbeknownst to Mister Roehm this is the beginning of his Quest for Infamy apparently (as the screen helpfully informs him) following the Path of the Brigand.
Enough of the stories. Quest for Infamy is a debut fantasy adventure game from the team at Infamous Quests that attempts to dabble in role-playing and exploration in a way that few games of this genre have managed before. Instead of a strict narrative and structure that generally fits the text-heavy adventure game concept, Quest for Infamy has several paths open and leaves it to the player to explore, often with multiple solutions to certain problems. The result is a rather hit-and-miss experience beginning with frustration but then swelling into a rather accomplished journey as it reaches its conclusion.
Yet it would be so easy to fail to even get that far. There’s virtually no introduction or explanation to the game’s controls, with just a basic help screen hidden in the unintuitive user interface system. New players, particularly those unaccustomed to the adventure genre (or even those simply unaware of the engine it is built in: Adventure Game Studio), will be perplexed on how to perform primitive actions or even move to new areas since there are no flags or hotspots to highlight where those tangled webs of static screens link together. Frankly, it’s a mess. And even when a player finally gets to grips with the basic controls and discovers how to converse they are met by one of the most horrible displays of voice acting to grace the gaming world. It is embarrassing. A testament to why developers and their friends should never do the work themselves. Along with the nauseatingly repetitive background music, it’s a ‘reach for the mute button’ situation.
If Quest for Infamy sounds bleak at this point it is because the first hour or two simply is. The battle to overcome the controls, the sound design, navigating the messy labyrinth of the world to hunt down a pixel that solves a painful problem all simply becomes too much. Yet, as if by magic, gradually light begins to shine through the cracks and reveal a rather enchanting creation beneath. Once the player gets their head around the controls, hands flicking across the various keyboard shortcuts, and is handed a map which opens up fast travel, removing the incessant and pointless clicking across empty screens, the game becomes markedly more enjoyable.
As the game gets into full flow so many avenues open up, each with new areas to explore and puzzles to solve. If a certain direction proves to be fruitless there is usually another route to follow and often, given enough time and space, the solution to each problem falls into place. The surprisingly well-written tapestry of characters, stories and history begins to unfold and the game really draws the player into its cleverly-crafted and beautifully drawn pixel world. Soon you are itching to explore that myriad of interconnected screens that once proved to be a confounding maze but now seem like familiar territory, hoping to discover new items to aid you in solving each puzzle and progressing the compelling narrative.
But even as it begins to grasp you fully in its bosom, at the same time so much of the design lets it slip away into meaningless mediocrity. Attempts at humour in the text far too often stray. For a fantasy game, comments about the band Mars Volta, or statements about the dubiously bestial sexual habits of the Welsh or an epidemic of other such out-of-context jokes constantly miss the mark and the whole game feels juvenile as a result (but thankfully never quite reaches the painful depths of the Deponia series). While it is common for adventure games to stretch the boundaries of their fiction or break the fourth wall (the Monkey Island series, with its goofy pirate setting, is a well-known proponent of this style) in Quest for Infamy the haphazard writing only tends to break a smile when the comedy remains in character.
The freedom of choice in the game is welcome and often there are real decisions that mean life or death for various characters. Later other conversations mention the hero’s choices and to a degree it feels like you have effected the world, perhaps not on a Mass Effect scale, but at least to a satisfying extent. There’s even an infamy score at the end that dictates your notoriety, though it is dubious whether a high or low score is good. Yet even with this freedom of choice Quest for Infamy does not help itself or the player in gathering together the various paths open at any time. There is no quest log for example, or even any form of hint system informing you of what is to be done. Perhaps worse, often the characters that are providing the quests for our hero will only mention their requirements once and then that avenue for discussion disappears, like it’s a sensitive subject that they do not want to talk about it any more. Mister Roehm will often just bark out some useless statement like ‘I must go get what he wants’. Often the solution is to reload previous saves and write physical notes during conversations… which is getting rather ridiculous.
Then there are the fighting mini-games which have not as yet been mentioned, mainly because they are almost completely irrelevant. In Quest for Infamy there is a very rudimentary statistical character sheet, which slowly levels up as you progress through the game. Mister Roehm can improve his climbing, stealth as well as a host of fighting skills, and while it seems like a neat addition to an adventure game, it turns out to be rather unnecessary, perhaps only inserted as a mockery of more hardcore RPGs. Fights happen regularly throughout the game and often at random, which changes the screen to a side on view with the combatants taking turns to smack each other. The player can choose between an array of moves, or block, by clicking on an icon and then watch to see what happens. And the result seems to be almost completely random. Attacks miss more often than they make contact and then the process repeats until one is out of health. It’s drudgingly dull (even worse than the fights in it’s AGS compatriot Gemini Rue), particularly later on when you can afford as many health potions as you will ever need, and serves only to frustrate the player.
And yet. And yet… despite every mistake that Quest for Infamy makes somehow the overall impression, particularly by the end, is rather positive. Perhaps it is because it tries so much, failing seems less of an issue. Yes, the user interface is a incomprehensible, the web of screens to traverse is unnavigable, the sound design is unlistenable and the fighting mini-games are uninteresting, but if one struggles to get beyond all this there is an adventure game worth exploring. The puzzles are solid, often intuitive without being too simplistic. The text and story line is well written, when not trying too hard to be funny, and the real sense of freedom to explore and solve multiple problems at once is a breath of fresh air to the genre as well as adding to its replayability. Quest for Infamy is an extremely rough diamond, buried under one too many layers of mess. If one can dig it out they will find a real gem, and it shows promise for future offerings from this team.