Adventure games are one of the genres that have fallen by the wayside in the twitchy, console-driven video game market. The cerebral, story-driven, point-and-click nature of games like Myst, Ripper and The Longest Journey means that they lack appeal to a generation of gamers raised on BIG EXPLOSIONS! and OPEN WORLD GAMEPLAY! It’s a shame, seeing as the adventure games of the nineties featured some of the best writing and storytelling in video games period.
Titanic: Adventure Out of Time is one of my favorite point-and-click adventure games, an underrated classic. While usually associated with James Cameron’s Titanic, the game has nothing to do with the movie and in fact was released a full year before. Titanic’s claim to fame was that it featured amazingly realistic recreations of the ship’s interior: the game’s graphics were so accurate that they were used in several documentaries about the doomed ocean liner.
While Titanic is a relatively easy game and lacking in puzzles, its sharp acting and well-written plot make it well worth playing.
The initial premise of Titanic is the only part where it stretches the limits of credibility. The game begins in 1942, during a German air raid on London. You play as Frank Carlson, a disgraced British secret agent fired thirty years before after screwing up a vital mission on board the Titanic. Behind on his rent and hounded by his landlady, Carlson’s building is destroyed by a Luftwaffe bomb, which miraculously sends him back in time instead of incinerating him (or maybe it’s just a Jacob’s Ladder-style hallucination).
In any event, Carlson is blasted back to April 14, 1912, the day on which the Titanic hit the iceberg that sank it, and given a chance to rewrite history. His initial mission, as given by his uptight handler Penny Pringle, is to locate a copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, which is being clandestinely traded between the sinister German agent Alfred Zeitel and a shady art dealer named Sasha Barbicon. In the process, you end up uncovering a conspiracy that will affect the outcomes of both World Wars and the Russian Revolution.
This isn’t all there is to the game: there’s a decent number of sub-plots and side quests that you’ll discover while wandering around the ship. One of the more remarkable aspects of Titanic’s story is that it neatly ties all of these side characters into the main plot. Whether you’re helping the Lady Georgia hide her diamond necklace from her manipulative husband or mediating in a dispute between steel magnate Andrew Conkling and his maid, the game rewards players who seek out every corner of the ship looking for intrigue.
Titanic is aided by its first-rate writing and actors, who do a fantastic job of easing you into the setting. While the characters you meet in the game are all fictional, the plot is steeped in historical veracity, and characters will frequently refer to real-life Titanic passengers such as the Astors and the Carters. The game’s conversational graphics are somewhat disconcerting: Titanic uses an odd form of digital puppetry that was creepy even when the game was new. Still, this shouldn’t deter most gamers.
It Was All Gavrilo Princip’s Fault
Titanic is fairly standard for adventure games of the nineties. You use the keyboard to move from point to point and the mouse to pick up and use items in the environment. While not true 3D, as you can only move between predetermined points on the ship, the game gives you a full 360 degree view of your environment. The game also gives you a map that lets you instantly travel between certain points (cutting down on pointless walking) as well as a watch to keep track of time.
That last bit is more important then you may think. Similarly to The Last Express or Blade Runner, Titanic is always running the clock down on you. The first two parts of the game use event-based time progression: if you dilly-dally too much, you’ll find that characters have moved around and items you need to progress have been taken (though the game is generous with second chances). The third part, which takes place while the Titanic is sinking, runs in real time: you have an hour and 15 minutes to complete your mission before the ship descends to a watery grave.
Aside from this, Titanic is a pretty typical adventure game: you go to places, talk to people, fill up your inventory with items and solve puzzles. The game is light on the latter, geared as it is towards the casual gamer, and much of the time you’ll be flat-out given the answers to the puzzles. One of the last puzzles in the game even has a “Give Up” button. While it doesn’t have branching plot paths, the story will unfold in slightly different ways depending on your actions. Indeed, there are a bunch of different endings depending on whether you can complete all your objectives and get off the ship before it sinks.
Draw Me Like One Of Your French Girls
There are three major areas where Titanic falters. The first is in how easy it is. Because of its lack of puzzles, a smart gamer can beat the game and get the best ending within a few hours. Secondly, Titanic has a bunch of minigames that are absolutely terrible, most notably a fencing minigame and a section where you have to defeat one of the game’s antagonists in a fistfight. I’d say the easiest way to win is to just click around the screen randomly, but you don’t even have to do that, as the game lets you proceed even if you get your ass handed to you.
Finally, Titanic has one of the dumbest disc-swapping schemes I’ve ever seen in a PC game. The game comes on two discs, and you need to insert the first one to boot the program up. After you’ve beaten the first part, you switch to disc two for the second part. The only problem is that part two comprises the bulk of the game, meaning if you save and quit, you need to reinsert disc one to start the game up again, then insert disc two when you load your savegame. Since Titanic has yet to be released on Steam or GOG.com, this is still a really annoying issue.
Even with these issues, Titanic: Adventure Out of Time is a smartly written, engrossing adventure game that is absolutely worth your time.