Source:A Runcible Cargo review
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Eamon Deluxe 5.0 file EDX\C\EAMONDX\E024\EDX024RV.TXT
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Eamon Deluxe version: 5.0
Playing time: 6-8 hours!
Reviewer rating: 9.5 out of 10 Average rating: 9.5/1
Admittedly, you don't know how you got here, but a relaxing, if uncanny, sunset greets your gaze.
But you have unexpected company, in the form of an incredibly large rabbit. Being a seasoned Eamonaut, a rabbit of this stature should seem pedestrian. You, after all, have battled wizards with rocket launchers and engaged in space opera with broadswords...
...so why does this rabbit unnerve you so?
Comment: Above is the entire intro text, which, when paired with the author warning me ahead of time that he had little programming experience and had never written an Eamon before, led me to believe I was in for a mildly entertaining, Alice in Wonderland type hack'n'slash fest. But looks can be deceiving and A Runcible (look it up) Cargo is a good example of that. Weighing in at 102 rooms, 141 artifacts, 39 monsters and 162 effects, this nearly 17,000 word Eamon Deluxe original is best described as an interactive novel with a real sense of urgent adventure and rich with the flavor of Classic Eamon Lore. Indeed there are so many references to the Main Hall regulars and various classic adventures across the board that I was left dazed in a fantastic sort of way.
I initially sat down with my girlfriend at 1 a.m. one night, expecting to play through this adventure in an hour or less, make a few notes about bugs and typos and whip out a quick review. Three hours later I looked over to see her literally shudder while reading a description of a creepy figure outside a hotel window and felt a slight chill wash over myself as well. It had somehow become 4 a.m. and neither of us had noticed, being completely entranced in Mr. Ferguson's well crafted little world. I had to force myself to save the game and go to sleep, doing a quick "seen flag" count told me that, after three hours of game play, we had only been to less than half of the rooms in this adventure.
It took several days for me to set aside enough time to continue the adventure properly. I was playing it alone this time, picking up right where we had left off and it still took me another three hours to complete it. Six hours total game play and I know Eamon Deluxe inside and out! Plus I was cheating slightly by already having a map and adding some code to list all the embedded artifacts in each room so I didn't have to waste time examining every item in the rich and verbose room descriptions. In fact there are very few descriptions in the entire adventure that are under 200 characters long or that are repetitious of each other. Indeed even the average empty N/S corridor-type rooms are treated to their own rich and very individual descriptions.
I can't praise the author's excellent writing style enough. As I mentioned, I felt completely drawn into his creation. He has a definite mastery over words and you can feel how much fun he is having with them as he builds his interesting images around you. Verbose to the point of almost being ridiculous at times, clever puns and inside Eamon references everywhere, and somehow managing to be light-hearted and often funny while still portraying a strong sense of mood and urgency. I have played over 200 Eamon adventures, some of them having been very good, and still I have never been as entertained or taken as many notes as I did wile playing A Runcible Cargo.
While the initial rooms have sort of a dreamy (for a good reason) feel to them, and match up well with the simple intro text, you soon move into another area and the action starts immediately. I had to laugh at myself as I noticed I was gripping my chair and my heart was racing at one point, something that doesn't normally happen to me from any form of media. As you progress through the adventure the mood shifts perfectly to match the various settings and it is obvious that the author took great care to even the smallest details which make it much more realistic than the average Eamon. As I mentioned, there is an area of intense action near the start. Things slow down a bit afterwards and you are left to wander the large map at your leisure, however the sense of urgency never really goes away and the author takes great care to let you have your freedom but never really lets you stray too far from his preferred path.
In fact you can mostly ignore the usual hints, heal spell and frequent saving that accompanies most complex adventures. The author is very fair to the player and seems more interested in entertaining you than killing you off, which is refreshing in an Eamon adventure. He also offers multiple ways for you to finish the game with varying consequences which further adds to the realism and leaves the player well satisfied as they exit the adventure.
The various well done moods in a myriad of interesting settings and all the references to Eamon Lore that are thrown in make it a real treat to play for both experienced Eamon gamers and those new to the system. If you know your Eamon history and have played most of the adventures, you will be amazed at the amount of "throwbacks" that the author has made. The most obvious of all possibly being a wagon you come across near the start which contains a ray gun and a sword; this is no accident or random artifact placement but rather a well done symbol of the diversity and strangeness of Eamon. The adventure itself could be described as one big tribute to/celebration of Eamon. He even went as far as to incorporate one of the worst Eamons ever made, The Eamon Railroad, which is placed perfectly amidst this masterpiece of interactive fiction and I enjoyed quite a bit.
From the dreamy light-hearted starting point, to the absolute chaos that follows, to the distinct feeling of abandonment and entropy in the Eamon Rail yard (which is perfect for an adventure nobody has wanted to play for over 20 years), to the spine tingling creepiness in the town of Dodge, to the local inn which made me laugh out loud to myself as I explored and discovered that a bunch of jerks had ransacked it, locked the owner in his own appliance and invaded his quarters for a sleazy poker game. I particularly enjoyed the dispatching of those jerks and then laughed again for letting myself get so involved in the story.
Nearly every area of Eamon is touched upon, including the obligatory sailing where you just walk between watery rooms in a perhaps imaginary boat, to the Eamon sewers... Even the rarely spoken of House of Ill Repute gets a quick and hilarious visit. In short, this is an adventure which the author took care to craft slowly, trying to cover every detail along the way and all of his hard work shows.
A Runcible Cargo has all of the traits of a great adventure. A steady pace; rich and realistic, yet fun, descriptions; a clear quest; lots of specials and action to keep the interest up; plenty of laughs and often amusing companions who seem to display real personality traits. The adventure seems to never be afraid to break the 4th wall, but yet remained, in many ways, the most realistic Eamon adventure I have played to date. Halfway through the game I was sure I was going to give it a perfect 10 rating, something I don't believe any adventure has ever gotten in the history of Eamon.
Why did I lower the rating to 9.5 then? Well there were a few things, mostly towards the end, that didn't sit well with me personally.
First off, most of the monsters are cardboard cutout "bandits". While this goes with the clear storyline and quest, it also gets rather tedious. At first I was impressed with the author's ability to write rich entertaining descriptions for each one of these cutouts, but by the end I was less amused and somewhat bored with each new way to verbosely say "You see a bandit." I found myself just skimming the bandit descriptions and blankly looking around my house as I repeatedly tapped the Enter key until they were dead and I could move on with my explorations.
The order in which I chose to pursue the map most likely worked against my rating as well because apparently I came across the most boring and somewhat unfinished feeling section of the game at the end of my explorations which left me with a anti-climactic feeling lingering after all of the interesting places I had visited previously. I found myself in a nearly empty college campus with a bunch of doors that were practically left wide open (I am guessing the author had some programming problems and gave up on trying to get them to work right at some point).
On that subject, there were way too many doors in this adventure in general, especially given the fact that few of them seemed to actually work right. Locked door puzzles can get old fast if not done right and that, combined with the cardboard cutout bad guys, brought the excellent material in the rest of the game down with it a little.
Once I acquired the Runcible Cargo there were some good special effects which brought the tension and interest back up again. I expected more of these effects as I journeyed on with it, but nothing else happened which was another small let down. The end of the game routines also seemed a bit rushed to me and not nearly as smoothly done as the beginning. Keep in mind that these are all just my personal opinions and others may rate this adventure higher or lower than I did as well.
With the few gripes I just listed cast aside, A Runcible Cargo is nothing short of a complete masterpiece of interactive fiction and definitely one of the top five best Eamons ever written. It's well crafted, well written, detailed and also a perfect example of the powerful capabilities Eamon Deluxe has over Classic Eamon systems in the hands of the right author. An excellent yet somehow precisely humble entry for a first time author and I hope Mr. Ferguson sticks around for a long time and decides to write more adventures in the future.
Overall, I give it a difficulty rating of around 5 and part of that reflects the amount of time one needs to set aside just to play through and see everything rather than dangers of character death. I highly recommend this adventure to everyone. It is certainly Eamon flavored interactive fiction at its best.