Passage: Path of Betrayal

2000 Dragon Works Interactive
Designed by Darris Hupp
Reviewed 2002 May 19

Rating -1 Linearity wide, segmented
Reasonability reasonable Connectivity high
Difficulty pedestrian Relevance strong
Interface 3rd paned menu Real-time minor

You play Riff, a teenage boy itching to see something of the world. Unfortunately, impending doom gives you your chance. The world is a magical fantasy land, consisting of many lands joined by Passages, mystical teleportation gates. Evil guys from a sealed off prison land are conspiring to invade Arkane, the good lands, and you must rush to the capital to warn the king.

You meet many characters along the way, but none are deep. Even Riff himself seems like a Mary-Sue. But the story built from these simple characters is long and twisting. You get to visit several interesting locales, which together paint a good picture of the Passage universe.

Like the characters, though, the story lacks depth, skirting around deeper issues. The biggest is the fate of innocents in the prison land. Even the fate of the guilty in that land makes the Arkane penal policy an interesting debate.

The strength of Passage is the layout of the challenges, and, to a lesser extent, their individual design. The story is divided into six chapters, so there's a strong linear flow, but individual chapters can be very non-linear. There are multiple solutions to many challenges, and some items get multiple use. There are also several triggers which make the game feel more open.

The individual challenges are mostly easy, but they are creative. Sometimes, though, Riff gets ahead of the player, having his own plan and just waiting for you to follow it. He'll give you hints when you stray. For example, he'll refuse to do something, that you'll eventually have to do, because you haven't completed something else that is needed afterwards but must be done before. This is a good way to guide the player in general, but only when the player can be reasonably expected to see the long term goal.

Death is possible, maybe even likely because of one tough real-time sequence, but there's an auto-restore.

Passage is essentially a one person game, made using a freeware graphic adventure development system, AGAST. The only significant help was the music, which was well done. The engine is very good, or at least well used here. The inventory is in a row on-screen, but leaving lots of space for the main view. Items are inspectable, constructable, and deconstructable.

The only problems are probably not a function of the AGAST engine, but of design choices. The biggest problem is that the text messages are timed. If they're too slow, you can right-click to the next, but if they're too fast for you, or you're distracted for whatever reason, you're stuck. Fortunately, they're a bit on the slow side. Also, there were only ten save slots -- way too few.

There's no voice acting, just text with music and sound effects. The text could use a good proofreading (I suspect English was a second language here), but it's perfectly understandable.

The graphics are somewhat crude, but a lot of work was spent on them. They're rich in content. The result feels more like an artistic choice of style, and sets a pleasant tone to the game -- for some inexplicable reason, I found it evocative of The Neverhood. The character closeup graphics are even cruder, but with the same consistency and clarity that makes it charming and not annoying. Every character was clearly distinct, and the image conveyed the essence of the character. The craftmanship might be lacking, but the artistry is there. There's only so much time for one guy to make all those pictures.

Passage is a good sized game, with lots of challenges and a lengthy plot. To be a great game, a few tougher challenges are needed, and some more intricate characterisation. What it is, though, is a thoroughly entertaining adventure that demonstrates a flair for adventure design.

Beware! Here are some spoiler-ridden notes on the game. They're only recommended for people who have played the game and want to see some of my rationale for my evaluations.
David Tanguay's Game Reviews
Here's a description of all the gobbledygook in these reviews. It's also a bit of an essay on the nature of adventure games.