Review - Relentless: Twinsen's Adventure (DOS, 1995)
While there is no lack of animated graphic adventures on the market, there are none so basic as Electronic Arts and Adeline Software's Relentless: Twinsen's Adventure. Does that sound like an insult? It's not meant to. Relentless is an adventure abstracted, at least visually, to its purest form, and an elegant form it is.
The game takes place on the planet Twinsun, an astronomical oddity hovering between two stars. This planet is populated by a grab bag of intelligent races, some based on Earth animals like elephants and rabbits and some just . . . strange, but all living together in a pastoral setting. At least until Dr. Funfrock came along.
Funfrock is your basic run-of-the-mill tyrant, who just happens to bear a striking resemblance to Zippy the Pinhead. He managed to take political power on Twinsun, then move the entire population to the planet's southern hemisphere and place it under martial law. If the scenario doesn't come readily to mind for you, picture, if you will, Orwell's 1984 as depicted by Larson's The Far Side.
In order to further demoralize the inhabitants of Twinsun, Funfrock struck a deep blow at their heritage. The primary religion on the planet is the worship of the goddess Sendell, and belief in the fulfillment of the ancient Legend. One of Funfrock's first declarations outlawed even the mention of this Legend, denouncing it as superstition. The once mystical culture is being changed, bit by bit, into a technological one, and a repressive one at that. It is a time for heroes.
Enter our hero, Twinsen. He is a Quetch, an oval-headed, ponytailed magician, and he has received dreams from Sendell telling him that he is chosen to bring peace to the world and to bring the Legend to its fulfillment. If he does not undertake this noble quest, Twinsun will surely be destroyed! These dreams disturbed Twinsen, and he talked with his friends about them. Unfortunately, someone snitched, and Twinsen soon found himself in the asylum, marked as a troublemaker.
And so the game begins.
Relentless never fails to stun on first viewing. The combination of the abstract, polygon-based characters and the incredibly fluid motion makes for a completely unprecedented visual atmosphere. The designers went out of their way to avoid any clutter on the game screen. There is no icon bar or cursor.
All Twinsen's moves are keyboard based. He has four basic modes of operation: normal, athletic (for running and jumping), aggressive (for hand to hand combat) and discreet (for sneaking around and hiding). You can change modes at the touch of a function key, or call up a menu with the control key. The space bar performs any appropriate specialized function. By searching through garbage cans, dresser drawers, flowerpots or whatever's handy, you will find money, health points, magic points, and even the occasional toy penguin, useful for distracting unwanted company.
There are so many different sorts of creatures to encounter, each with their own characteristic moves and attitudes. Some are bitter, some are drunk, some are just plain stupid. But you can talk with most of them, and many of them will give you useful information on how to proceed. Of course, many of them will also get on your nerves. When this happens, switch to aggressive mode and sock 'em in the mouth! It usually has very entertaining results, and almost never adversely affects your game, unless they decide to hit back. Also keep in mind that in addition to the planet's "normal" races, Dr. Funfrock has developed cloning technology to give you enemies that look a lot like your friends, except they're the wrong color. Never trust a blue and white elephant.
When Twinsen first escapes the asylum, his only weapons are his fists. Mind you, he's pretty good with them, but they aren't much good against a rifle, or even a rifle butt. Thankfully, he only has to make his way back home to pick up his magic golden ball. While difficult to aim, this ball is the only effective weapon he has against some of the clones. As he goes through the adventure, Twinsen will increase in power, versatility and magical skill until he is finally able to face Dr. Funfrock down and restore Twinsun to its former glory.
While the "simplicity is everything" philosophy of Relentless is admirable, it does result in the occasional problem. The main trouble I had was with the autosave function, which I'm sure was added with the best of intentions. Even the instruction book says "We want you to relax and enjoy playing the game, not worry about saving games." Sweet, but misguided. I like having personal control over when I save my game, especially after finding out that when a sleeper ball from one of those elephant clones hits you, you go back to square one at the asylum. And what's more, so does your saved game. While it is possible to copy a save to another file before this unfortunate event happens, wouldn't it have just been easier to allow for manual saves in the game itself?
Oh, well. Despite this minor grumble, Relentless is a visual masterpiece and an extremely engaging game. I expect this title to set a standard that the rest of the industry will have to struggle to maintain.