Failsafe / Jon Ingold (2000)

Lt. Uhura's Verdict: I am envious of the fact that the player character in this game was able to do his job in something other than a microskirt and pumps.

Robert Heinlein's Verdict: I wished that more alien life forms were buying more farms! 

My Verdict: Up for consideration for Game of the Year. Not just in terms of IF, but overall, including some of the well-fought individual "Go" matches on a goserv. 

Game Information

Game Type: Inform

Author Info: A talented IF programmer and author, his webpage can be found here

Other Games By This Author: The Mulldoon Legacy, My Angel

Download Link:


The Review...

Have you had moments, in the realm of text adventures, where you are reminded why you spend so much time carrying the torch and on a life-quest to inform as many other people as possible as to just why this hobby is so incredible? There've been a handful of games, over the years, that have reinforced just how special this sub-section of computer software is. They don't come around very often -- games that show a user prompt and really, truly mean -- "Type anything. I've got all the bases covered." Failsafe is that kind of game. 

There have been other games, over the years, that have awoke the passion for this hobby that often gets shunted into a pocket dimension of my own familiarity-derived tedium. Playing Failsafe brought me back to the first text adventure I'd ever played -- Zork I -- and just how magical the experience was. 

Aside from the fact that Failsafe, from a pure, distilled, gameplay standpoint just happens to be one of the high-water marks in IF history, it also speaks readily to my humble geek beginnings. The game starts with a crash. You quickly learn that the game takes place in the future, where space travel has been refined and where humans are at war with another race of creatures. And you're not playing the part of a captain, issuing orders to your crew -- or the charismatic leader of an away team... no, you're playing as a communications officer trying to help out a poor soul who was involved in a previous attack from cracking up and getting killed. The sense of urgency is quite real -- the person you're helping at the other end doesn't think there's much time left for survival. The narrative from your new "companion" is also disjointed and somewhat paranoid... the transmissions seem to be getting through, but with some static and the sense of atmosphere because of it is overwhelming. The sci-fi aspect of the game isn't thrown in the face of the reader, nor is it stilted together with a number of obscure references that only a geek would get. This is a very universal story. OK, maybe the spaceship thing isn't universal, but this isn't chiefly about a ragtag pack of space mutants trying to clip kruggerands off one another

Ingold is also able to play with our ideas of IF conventions: typing "I" in the game does not bring up an inventory, but instead send, as a reply-transmission, a line to the effect of  " You... you... what?" Effectively telling the player that what you're typing at the prompt is what you're saying across the communication console. A small, but nice touch, and representative of the overall quality of the work. 

If there's a knock against the game... perhaps it would be its size. That's a tough call, however -- the pacing was excellent, and it's not guaranteed that extending it would necessarily make it any better. It's still a hell of a ride for as long as it lasts, though. 

There isn't a lot of gushing like this on this website -- more than a fair share of the reviews contained are cynical, bitchy or somewhat irritatingly preachy, but Failsafe is a game that is quite stellar and recommended without reservation. Are you feeling yourself beginning to lose the faith in these games? Have you lost the faith completely? Do you want a game to open up your head again like a runaway planetarium? I didn't even know that I wanted this, myself, but as it turns out, I did. Grab the DOS version of Frotz or an equivalent color-compatible Inform interpreter. Grab a copy of Failsafe. And once again, believe. 



Simple Rating: 9.6 / 10

Complicated Rating:

Story: 9.1 / 10

Writing: 9.5 / 10 (it's as if he were there)

Playability: 10 / 10 (nigh perfect -- even when I thought it wasn't playable, I later learned it was....)

Puzzle Quality: 10 / 10 (nothing seemed forced -- how often does that happen?!?)

Parser Responsiveness: 10 / 10 (this game sums up what interactive fiction can be when it's at its best)


Reader Remarks


Roody Yogurt sprach the following on January 27th, 2001: Maybe I'm just lame, but the exclusion of "*** you have won ***"  or "*** you have lost ***" or "*** you just suck ***" irked me.  I think I had already 'won' the game a couple times, but because I didn't get any of those messages and some part of me believed that the story was not yet over, I put way too much effort into trying to figure out all of the laser controls.  Add that to a game that disables SAVE/RESTORE/UNDO, and IMO, you only have a kind of neat novelty game.

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