Hunter, In Darkness by Dave Ahl Jr.(1999)

Rating: ***

In keeping with this webpage's singular motif of unabashed nerdiness, I'll make the following comparison:  This game is to "Hunt the Wumpus" as... as Wolfenstein 3-D is to the original Muse Castle Wolfenstein on the Apple II.  It is a game rooted in the same basic environment, with the same basic goals, but given life, given depth, given atmosphere.

Oh my, given some serious atmosphere.

You begin the game hot on the trail of your classic foe, with whom those of you with a healthy background in CS have doubtless done battle at least a handful of times before.  But it's different this time.  This is a cold, dark, breathing world you're cast into, not simply a bit or two in a programming exercise somewhere.  And the Wumpus is still out there.  But now you can feel the enormity of his presence.  Make out the subtle undertones in the callous reek wafting through the caves.  Feel the pain of your wounds, and watch the blood trickle forth therefrom.

What a delicious, brooding way to spend an hour, yes?

Characterizing this game as "fun" is quite a stretch.  The highest form of victory the player may achieve is simply a sense of relief, to be safe, to be done with the eternal struggle, if only for a moment.  And during your time in the chilling loneliness, yet alien beauty of the caves, there is no respite from the hostile, brutal world of the ageless hunter with whom you must identify.  It would take quite the mighty feat to entice a player to stay in this horrid place long enough to complete the journey.

But that's just the challenge that this game is up to.  What have I always told you people is the absolute number one key to successful text adv-  I mean, "interactive fiction"?  That's right, writing.  And this game, my friends, features some really, dead-on, effective writing.  Not voluminous, not overly poetic or perfumey, just the right words at the right time.

There is a section of this game where the player is faced with nothing more than inching his way along a tight, narrow passageway made of stone.  Indeed, the walkthrough to this section would look rather silly, if not absurd.  But the way the scene is drawn out, describing in such excruciating, exacting detail your gruesome struggle, is compelling at least, and almost unbearably visceral at best.  It's the best moment in the game, and is enough to recommend the meager download by itself.

The game before and after this scene plays out the rest of your odyssey to slay the foul beast, and it finds a perfect mix between modern IF and the nostalgia of the original Wumpus game.  There are essentially two major puzzles, one of which is a maze, which is not quite as tiresome as the name would suggest, for the more you think and act like a hunter, the better you'll fare.

The second puzzle comes along at the final showdown.  The trick itself is somewhat of a logical stretch, but allows for another stirring burst of wonderful prose, and a quick, yet strangely emotional denoument.  Victory, if you should achieve it, should not be a joyous celebration of conquest, but more a sorrowful moment of introspection on what has been gained, and what has been lost.

This is from a goddamn Wumpus game, fer chrissakes.


The Good:  Blistering writing, serious atmosphere.  Also, no wacky "xyzzy" response.
The Bad:  Again, too short!  Damn the competition!!  Also, no wacky "xyzzy" response.
The Fugly:  Game eschews compass directions in favor of "left", "right", "ahead", etc.  Either the brevity of the game lessens the pain of this, or vice versa.

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