Games I Like – Quest For Infamy
QUEST FOR INFAMY
Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bum
Quest for Infamy is, above all else, a true labor of love and the brainchild of two individuals: Shawn Mills and Steven Alexander, the founders of the amateur game studio Infamous Adventures. Adventure game aficionados are probably familiar with Infamous Adventures trough their two excellent remakes of Space Quest II and King’s Quest III, but their latest offering is their first commercial endeavor. Contrary to my opening bit, the name of the studio has now changed to Infamous Quests.
Before I move on to my review of Quest for Infamy, I must briefly touch on the tradition upon which the game builds.
In the 80s, Sierra On-Line was one of the leading companies in the industry with a strong market force thanks to its recognizable adventure games spanning everything from fantasy kingdoms, science fiction and police procedurals. In 1989, husband and wife team Corey and Lori Cole, working for Sierra, developed a game that was very different from the formula of your standard adventure game. Indeed, the Quest for Glory series (originally titled Hero’s Quest) defined the genre of the adventure-role-playing hybrid, became a pentalogy that ended ten years later on a high point, and created legions of devoted fans all over the world.
The first game- subtitled “So You Want To A Hero?”, put you in the inexperienced boots of a young but idealistic hero arriving at a crisis-infested valley in the nick of time. Every time you beat a game in the series, you were allowed to save your character so that you may import him into the next sequel and thus maintain a sense of progression. The series spans five lands inspired by German, Arabian, African, Romanian and Greek mythologies and your character evolves from a greenhorn to a mighty hero in.
Few game series of the time had the good fortune to end on a strong note- the usual trend sadly evident in Ultima VIII and IX as were developed under Electronic Arts, but Quest for Glory managed to avoid such a bitter end. One of the great features of the series was that each character class could approach puzzle solutions from different angles, adding a great deal to replay value.
The entire pentalogy can be bought at Good old Games, and it remains just as entertaining and interesting as it did when it was released.
It should, then, be no surprise that Quest for Infamy is very much a palpable homage to Quest for Glory as much as it is its own game.
So You Want To Be Infamous?
You are cast in the role of Mister Roehm, a bona-fide letch, rogue and scoundrel who must make a hasty retreat after being caught canoodling with a Baron’s daughter. A weeks-long hay cart ride (and presumably a repertoire of road songs) later, Roehm finds himself unable to continue his journey due to an inconveniently-collapsed major bridge. Soon, and very much against his will, he becomes embroiled in the troubles and tribulations of the valley inhabitants and pulled deeper and deeper into a sinister plot that is tied to a tragedy and a cursed family whose mansion ruins loom menacingly in the Northern Woods.
Right from the start, you get a good impression of who the leading man is– he is not so much a villain as he is a self-absorbed reprobate of the hedonistic variety with a tinge of malice. He is not a villain but rather more of a lazy Han Solo figure.
The colorful cast of characters in the valley is well-written and memorable- from the bickering-yet-disturbingly besotted greengrocers to the Dr. Strange-like magician, Prospero. There’s a good deal of personality invested in them, and while there is a fair amount of gentle pokes at genre tropes, the humor never really transgresses to the point of turning the game into a farce. Yes, there is a curse, a cult (two, actually!) shadowy figures vying for power, an object of great portent, conspiracies– and yet, it works. The world that Infamous Quests has created feels alive, with its own lore and history and in no way feels like it is there only to serve up the humor.
In some ways, it feels very familiar- this is the kind of detailed world we’ve seen in the Quest for Glory series- made of part myth and folklore and part high fantasy, with a streak of subversive humor as its ground. Yet, Quest for Infamy does not come across as merely aping the series- it is a world of its own.
And what a lovely world it is- the pixel art is simply beautiful, each region being unique and full of detail: the forests feel suitably overgrown and foreboding, the grasslands are oceans of grass and sky- Volksville is your typical Germanic mountain village while the port of Tyr is gleaning white stone and pseudo-Mediterranean splendor. To this add dungeons, swamps, waterfalls and many other locales to make up a world that truly feels large and inhabited.
Like in Quest for Glory, the player has the option to specialize and choose one of three classes- Sorcerer, Brigand and Rogue, which are the equivalents of Mage, Fighter and Thief. The game’s re-playability is quite impressive, as each class has specific locales and characters exclusive to them, as well as their own style of solving puzzles in accordance with their skill sets. While the overall story is the same, the journey to the final destination varies, and its conclusion is both satisfactory as well as in-character for the protagonist.
In the aspect of sound and music, the game delivers a surprisingly solid soundtrack and sound effects. By the time you’re done with the game, you will most likely want to purchase the soundtrack (which is available from the game’s website.)
Quest for Infamy does have its rough edges: while a good amount of the voice-over work is fantastic, some of it is on the erratic side. While the narrator, for example, provides a consistent and amusing performance that oozes contempt, some of the minor roles suffer from a stilted delivery and occasional dip in sound quality. However, this does not prove to be too distracting, and you can always turn off the voices if you prefer to go old school and just play the game with text.
What can be an issue is the occasional bugs. During my run-through, I experienced only one major bug which stalled the game twice, but upon reloading from a saved game from a few seconds earlier, the bug didn’t repeat itself again. Another bug kept me from collecting an optional item for the endgame, but fortunately it was optional and did not affect my ability to finish the game. The developers are very quick to respond to bug reports and are already working on an update that, aside from hammering out known bugs, will also include some extra content for the game.
Since this is an adventure-RPG hybrid, stats and combat are a significant portion of the game.
The best way to describe combat in Quest for Infamy is to say that it is a variant of the Active Time Battle System school of combat- where the player has a series of actions available to them, and which they must select within a specific time frame (in this case, three seconds), or otherwise their turn will be skipped. Aside from the basic attacks, the player has the option of using his character’s specific skill set in combat– at first, Roehm is weak and several encounters may feel too close a call for comfort, but as your stats grow through practice and you acquire new skills, soon you will find the best strategies to keep yourself victorious. For further help, there is a seasoned explorer at the Inn whom you can always consult if you wish to know what kinds of attacks are best against specific kinds of enemies, and the game does convey your progress quite well, since at the higher levels you can easily trounce enemies who had you fearing for your life early on.
That being said, only a few fights are truly obligatory- those that are related to the main storyline- with most other combat being easily avoided… however, I would recommend against skipping combat, as practice makes perfect and it is also a great way of acquiring money and useful items such as healing potions.
The puzzles, such as they are in this game, are on the whole logical and lack the esoteric nature of most old-school adventure games. I did roll my eyes at the presence of one particular puzzle- the classic triangle peg puzzle- which felt out of place and which was a mild annoyance. Nevertheless, though, I never felt myself at total loss. There are, however, some missed opportunities for skills throughout the game: although the Sorcerer, for example, possesses a levitation and an unlocking spell, those spells are only implemented very specifically— there are areas where using the cloud levitation spell would be common sense, but it wasn’t implemented and so the game tells you you have nowhere you want to go. Similarly, trying to unlock doors that the designers didn’t mean for you to open can often leave you with the puzzling message that the door is locked– I know! that’s why I casted Unlock Door!
Something along the lines of mentioning that the door, for example, seems to be barred as well as locked would make more sense, since the spell only deals with locks. There is one house near the bank that responds to the Unlock spell- and so every time you cast the spell in that screen, you will enter that particular house. This is so that the Sorcerer can never rob the bank, even if he is casting the spell while standing right next to the bank doors– again, these are minor quibbles, but they do put a few wrinkles in what is otherwise a nicely-implemented experience.
Now, one objection was raised by Rock Paper Shotgun reviewer Richard Cobbett concerning characterization in Quest for Infamy. I quote:
“The overall feel is that having decided to make a game called Quest for Infamy, the team suddenly realised that cartoon villainy is usually a pretty useless way to get things done, and so dialled down first from villain to inadvertent hero to just plain antihero, to reluctant hero, and from that down to Roehm, a scoundrel so flat that his special thief ability should be sliding right under locked doors. He’s a man with no drive, no passion. He certainly wouldn’t say no to a roll in the hay with a pretty girl or the promise of treasure, but he doesn’t give the impression of a man who wants anything, except to be left alone to stooge around the world until the game of his life becomes “Bum Quest”.”
It is true that Roehm does want to be left alone- yet that is not in and of itself a bad character motivation. Especially when the story is plotted around thwarting that want. The majority of Roehm’s actions in the game are informed by this desire– and it becomes apparent to him that the only way that he will get his wish is if he eventually solves the incoming crisis. And even then, there are moments where he considers bailing, only to be stopped by the realization that those behind the conspiracy would likely come after him. Ultimately, Roehm wishes to continue his life of wanderlust and hedonism, looking out only for himself- but it is the circumstances in which he finds himself that make it unavoidable for him to take care of business– accidentally becoming a hero. But in this, he really is not very different from other adventure characters: Roger Wilco in the Space Quest series was a lazy janitor who did not so much act as his own motivator as he had circumstance upon circumstance piled upon him and who stumbled upon and from one crisis to another. He does not really become a self-motivated character until the fourth game in the series. Space Quest was a humorous game, and Quest for Infamy definitely has a humorous side to it- so it is fitting that its protagonist, instead of being a self-motivated go-getter be more against type.
Overall, Quest for Infamy is an excellent game- it can be addictive, and in many ways it feels like a continuation of the style of storytelling that the Quest for Glory franchise began- only, of course, with the ability to expand into a length that wasn’t possible twenty years ago due to technical limitations.
Would I recommend this game? Definitely, it has solid writing and good fun, memorable characters, gorgeous locations and it certainly begs for a sequel. I know, at least, that I wanted to see more of this world by the time the curtain came down… and that’s all you can ever ask from a game.