The Circuit's Edge / George Alec Effinger & Westwood Associates (1990)


Sabrita, the Adventure Game Graphics Bitch's Verdict: Oh. My. Gawd! The graphics are, like, so 1985! Rilly!

Rodney King's Verdict: Finally, a game that lets me blow the living hell out of cops without all that bullshit moral posturing.

My Verdict: It's dark, it's gritty, it's cyberpunk, it's definitely a video game world I don't want to be trapped in. You're not apt to find many better games done with traditional novelists.

The Review...

The Circuit's Edge is a game. About a book. About a guy. Who, through three novels, undergoes a spiritual & financial metamorphosis from common street trash to hired detective to junior crime lord. No, not Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis. Close, though.

No, it's about a guy named Marid Audran. The game takes place between the first and second book of George Alec Effinger's "Budayeen" trilogy. The trilogy is about a guy trying to make it by use of his wits and technology in a futuristic Arabic city. Although Marid had almost single-handedly solved a series of slasher serial murders, he kind of went overboard in the apprehension of the actual killer. Which is sort of like saying that JFK Jr. wasn't a great pilot.

Personally, if our boy Marid lived in Colorado instead of an alternate Arab future and slapped around the traffic cop that gave me a ticket for "tailgating" my first week out here it would have made us extremely close friends. We could have hung out in the Budayeen, (the seedy, decadent and extremely dangerous section of the city that Marid lives in) bought copious amounts of alcohol (in one of the many seedy nightclubs) and chatted up whores (that line the street in both the novels and the game). We could exchange personality and information data chips (called moddies and daddies, respectively) -- he could trade me his kick-ass tough guy mod for my k-rad haxor mod. Er, this would be presuming that I underwent the modification surgery so I could accept the chips, of course. But hell, why not? Who am I to stand in the way of progress? We could also go gambling, eat humus, pita bread and all sorts of other Arabic meals.  The thing is, I don't exist in Marid's world and America broke up into a bunch of jealous, squabbling nations in his.

Due to Marid solving the crime in "When Gravity Fails," he is despised by all his former friends and associates when we begin playing The Circuit's Edge. Westwood* could have easily solved the problem facing most text adventures (how to deal with interacting with other people) by simply having them ignore him. The NPCs all hate his guts, so there's really no reason for them to say anything to Marid. That, however, would be cheating. It would also rob the developers of their chance to implement a different style of IF interface.

The display  used is unlike all other games under the Infocom label. The upper left-hand corner has a picture of Marid's face. The player can instantly tell how beat-up Marid is at any time by checking for bruises, bleeding and general facial abuse. He also looked somewhat differently if he happens upon some of the game's illegal drugs and becomes totally stoned. A nice touch. In addition, that box shows the characters that Marid interacts with. A row depicting which chips Marid has plugged in is at the top of the screen and in the bottom right hand corner is a small map of the Budayeen when you are outside. The art is not particularly beautiful -- probably at about the level of an early EGA release (definitely below the quality of some of the Magnetic Scrolls games or anything in the Spellcasting 101 series). Rows of fat-columned text also flow by at appropriate intervals, to advance the plot and story.

Effinger's contributions definitely add to the game's atmosphere and ambiance. He is at his best describing a gruesome scene of grotesque, bloody horror. Funnily enough, there are many such locales in the game that allow him to flaunt his ability to expertly describe the after-effects of excessive violence. The writing is, however, in the second person, typical of other Infocom works which is a change from all the Budayeen books (which are in the first person with Marid as the narrator). It's not really a dramatic change if you're a fan of the books as the transition from Marid telling you what he did to you... being Marid... is natural.  Gameplay consists mainly of talking to other characters, beating the crap out of muggers, bandits and thieves and discovering which chips to use in which situations. It does allow you to impart your own personal style of playing for stretches at least -- if you'd like to bang a hooker, shoot a cop and then pop some pills you can do it (until the law inevitably catches up with you). So in many ways the game was reminiscent of visiting my college girlfriend that lived in New York City. This game is not really attempting to force you into a particular set of morals.  Unlike, say, Baldur's Gate, it's possible to survive for a little while as an outlaw -- you're not chased relentlessly by members of the "Flaming Fist." You are also inclined to kill cops because they are cops, not simply because they are called "The Flaming Fist." Unfortunately, living this way ultimately becomes boring as the game's universe is set to chiefly advance the adventure.  There really would not have been another way to generate the computer experience of being in one Effinger's novels. Marid will get mysterious phone calls from people about to become victims, gather information from his largely useless and shiftless bunch of "friends" and get the living hell spooked out of him by a killer that seems to be one step ahead of him.

The adventure is pretty gripping if you accept the fact that the police station for the Budayeen is basically corrupt and laughably incompetent at their job. Marid's benefactor -- Friedlander Bay -- lurks like a nightshade beneath the shadows and the player is always wondering how much of his actions are the simply bidding of the city's most powerful denizen. The game's music is pretty chilling (with a definite Arabic flavor), but beware -- a shrieking screech awaits you as the game attempts to confirm most save, load and quit options. Definitely a shocker when the headphones are on. That I could have done without. Especially since having to explain the hearing loss as coming from a video game rather than, say, a Megadeath concert will only cement your standing as a chillingly fruity geek to all who inquire.

Unfortunately, some structure problems rob from the game's fun factor. There is only one save slot available. As there are some puzzles that will end the game if not completed within an admittedly reasonable amount of time, it's tough to have to go back and re-start with the one lone save slot. Luckily there are no real inventory management puzzles and Marid is always free to drop off surplus items, such as chips and clues, at his apartment. Furthermore, though most conversation and plot advances take place through the provided sentences and menus, there are some commands which are not particularly intuitive that need to be implemented for successful puzzle resolution.

These problems don't stop the game from ultimately coming off as an interesting, close-up look at a hellish vision of one culture's future. Attempting to survive within all the vice and decadence is a bit of a challenge, but never boring. The game is available on Activision's Five-Pack (along with Mines of Titan, Tongue of the Fatman, Prophecy and Deathtrack) which is almost always on sale for between five and ten bucks on eBay. The Circuit's Edge does justice to Infocom's proud heritage as well as Effinger's outstanding cyberpunk stories.



* The game's development history is slightly more complicated then most IF. The books' author, George Alec Effinger, reportedly wrote the textual descriptions. The team at Westwood Associates developed the code, graphics, music, etc. It was then published under the Infocom label although it should not be thought of as, technically, a true Infocom release.

Simple Rating: 8.4 / 10

Complicated Rating:

Story: 8/10

Writing: 8.9/10

Playability: 8.6/10

Puzzle Quality: 6/10

Parser Responsiveness: N/A

Graphics: 4.5/10

Reader Remarks

Lt. Hajjar sprach the following on December 22nd, 1999:

I don't like Audran, but I owe him. He got me my promotion.

Esrom sprach the following on December 22nd, 1999:

Shame on you for spoiling the climax of the first book! Circuit's Edge, though set after the first book, 'When Gravity Fails', somehow manages to avoid spoiling it for those new to Effinger's Budayeen stories.

Esrom sprach the following on December 23d, 1999:

By the way, I'd like to add that Marid Audran was not in his right mind when he did the deed in question. The villain (whose identity you did NOT spoil, thankfully) had Marid trapped, and Marid, in desperation, used a certain module that he hoped he would NEVER have to use. Fortunately, Marid recovered from the effects of said device.

By the way, another reason Marid's friends and associates in the Budayeen were upset at him was because he 'sold out'. Marid had prided himself on his independence, and he ended up selling out to Friedlander Bey to defeat the two killers of 'When Gravity Fails'. Of course, most of the Budayeen cast works for Friedlander Bey in some capacity, no matter how minor ('Papa seems to own the Budayeen and everyone in it'), but they thought Marid was above that sort of thing; that he had principles, and he betrayed those principles. This disappointment, combined with the incident you mentioned (which is certainly enough to freak anyone out), was enough to change people's perceptions of Marid.

Robb sprach the following on January 14th, 2000:


I can't believe I did that.

I'm not kidding. Christ. I have to re-do this review and get that out. 99% of everything I write is sarcastic, immature drivel but in this statement I am sincere. I can't distance myself from the book enough to write about it and not ruin it for everyone. Argh. Thanks for bringing that to my attention.

Robb sprach the following on February 14th, 2000:

It's been fixed; it's (hopefully) impossible for me to spoil only the greatest book I have ever read.

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