Overall Score 47%
I've had enough. I give up. Cryptozookeeper is the most frustrating, unproductive and stressing six hours I've spent in front of my PC in a long while. To be fair though, my first and only exposure to text based adventure games was in the mid 80's when I played “Adventure” co-operatively with a school friend of mine on his shiny new Apple IIe. I was quite enjoying the game until we got stuck for a considerable amount of time in a dragon's cave, unarmed and blocked into a scenario whereby only one of us was getting out of the cave alive. Out of desperation we tried “kill dragon” to which the parser replied with “Kill it with what? Your bare hands?”, to which we retorted with the inevitable “yes”. “Congratulations, you have torn apart the Dragon with your bare hands!”. Wait, what? Seriously? I couldn't have been more disappointed. Needless to say, I never went back to that game.
Cryptozookeeper is a text based game that seems more along the lines of interactive fiction than a true “choose your own adventure” style of offering. The progression is linear, and the narrative blocked at certain points by puzzles that need to be solved by the player applying a logical solution and then engaging in all out warfare with a text parser straight from 1979. The often clever and entertaining writing is let down by an archaic interface that destroys the experience of the game. The Hugo interpreter that is bundled in the download will take you straight back to the days of monochrome monitors and pocket protectors. It's a an extreme niche offering for fans of this specific genre only, or for folks who simply want to play retro games for retro games' sake.
In terms of presentation, there are a number of static images that help set the mood, and some quite outstanding music tracks that are on an extremely long loop. It's a heady mix of alternative, electronica and ambient with some pretty cool trance style tracks as well. The music files seem to take up the bulk of the roughly 600 Mb download. The art style is unnerving yet somehow quite comical; gruesome and light hearted at the same time. Profanity abounds, as does imagery and quite graphical description of bodily dismemberment and extreme violence. The music and images that pop up storyboard-style do add to the aesthetic of the game as an artistic work, but I repeat at the risk of monotony, it's a horridly frustrating gameplay experience.
The story is heavily sci-fi, and the player is cast in the role of William Vest; a guy working as a courier in New Mexico, for a pretty shady client. It took me (and I'm not exaggerating) over 2 hours to get past the first room. The player is faced with a situation where they will be eaten by a dog over and over having to save reload dozens of times. I had family members try the scenario (thinking that it might have just been me being my usual obtuse self), but although all of us bar one knew exactly what it was that we wanted to do, the constraints of the text parser meant that unless you were explicit in instruction, the game would not progress. Another 90 minutes was spent sitting in a jail cell wrestling with phraseology to turn a TV on with a remote control. Now, for the last 2 hours I've been standing in a “black, featureless fog with an anthropomorphic rabbit”. I hold a jar of alien DNA. I'm stuck and I feel no drive to go on. There's a strange acceptance accompanying a sadistic glee when the giant jackalope begins after a while to devour Vest and for the 20th time I'm presented with the option to (R)ESTART, R(E)STORE, (U)NDO or (Q)UIT. It'll be Q for me this time, thanks. I doubt I'll be back.
It occurred to me that trying to play Cryptozookeeper is like being given a good book, but having my hands bound and being forced to turn the pages with my nose. I don't have the patience for it at all. It's 6 hours out of my life that I'll never get back.
Sadly, the game is extremely hard to recommend. I say sadly because I like Sherwin's style; the story seems quite entertaining, and I truly would have liked to have seen more. Sherwin is knowledgeable on all things baseball, and his truly entertaining rants that appear on his homepage make for some excellent reading. Apparently though, the game culminates in Vest splicing together DNA from various living material to create “cryptids”; cross breeds of different species of fauna. There are mechanics then that see Vest pit creatures against opponents and by winning, the cryptid's stats improved almost akin to a gruesome text based Pokemon battle or something of the sort. I'm sorry that I can't include commentary from that part of the game from the point of view of the review, but I'm not sorry and in fact extremely relieved that I won't have to wrestle with HUGO ever again. Begone from my hard drive.
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