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9 (The Last Resort)
9 (The Last Resort)
Wojciech Kotas

Published by GT Interactive

3D acceleration: No
Sound acceleration: No
Demo: No

System Requirements
* 68040/33 or PowerPC Mac
* 16 MB RAM available
* 2x CD-ROM drive
* System 7.0.1 or later
* 15 MB of free HD space
Machine Tested On:
Power Mac 7200/90
32 MB of RAM
4X CD-ROM drive

ESRB Advisory: Kids To Adults


Overview:
Remember Pee Wee's Playhouse? Ostensibly a children's program, it managed to attract a large adult 'following' because of its deliberately kitschy set design and wacky sense of humor that somehow managed to make the show's jejune antics seem teasingly mature. Imagine a more elaborate and grotesque version of Pee Wee's Playhouse, add a host of puzzles and celebrity voiceovers, and you'll begin to get the idea of what you're in for when you enter the world of "9".


Hardware Demands:
There must be many gamers out there who finally knuckled under and beefed up their RAM to, say, 16 MB, taking advantage of the recent dip in prices and hoping the augmented memory will guarantee carefree gaming for at least a while. Alas, the news isn't good: point-and-click first-person adventure/puzzle games may not be the world's most ferocious RAM-guzzlers, yet "9" asks for no fewer than 16 MBs of RAM and recommends 20MBs or more for better performance--a requirement one would sooner expect from a flight sim. The truth is that adventure games increasingly try to depart from the static 'slideshow' format of Myst, and this injection of verve demands a commensurate boost in RAM. Even if you can make 16MBs available, the game will probably not run as smoothly as it would with 20 or more. If you want to know where all that RAM goes, read "The Game" section of this review.


Background:
"9" marks a debut of Tribeca Interactive, a multimedia division of Robert De Niro's production company. And a promising debut it is, especially for Mac gamers: the game was released simultaneously for Macintosh and Wintel, but it's not a port, not a hybrid, not anything potentially 'suspect;' instead, what you get is a true-blue Macintosh release, which, I'm pretty sure, relied extensively on Mac-friendly tools during production. GT Interactive, the game's publisher, also merits some kudos here; "9" is only one of the series of Macintosh games the company either has released or is about to release. Its attention to the Mac clientele puts GT Interactive in the forefront of Macintosh game publishers.


Game Synopsis:
"9" begins with a familiar premise: upon his death, your eccentric uncle Thurston Last leaves you in his will a resort he once built (aptly named The Last Resort). For many years the resort provided burnt-out artists with a refuge where they could recharge their creative batteries thanks to a wondrous Muse Machine your uncle devised. Unfortunately, when you arrive to take possession of your inheritance, you discover that it's about to disintegrate: the Muse Machine has been ransacked by The Toxic Twins, agents of chaos and destruction, who are hell-bent on building their own malignant replica of your uncle's invention and thus wiping out the resort once and for all. You can probably guess what your mission is: explore the building, reassemble the Muse Machine by solving numerous puzzles, defeat the Twins, and return the Last Resort to its former glory--in short, save Art as we know it from the clutches of evil.


The Game:
As I have already mentioned, "9" requires a substantial dosage of RAM to run smoothly. The steep requirement is, I suspect, the consequence of the game designers' effort to overcome the general appearance of stasis and the feeling of solitude usually produced by first-person adventure games. In "9" all the locations are full of strange creatures and artifacts that move, gesture, talk to you, buzz, tweeter, hum, and make the Last Resort appear to crawl with varied life-forms. This whimsical menagerie gives the game genuine vivacity; but you need RAM to keep all the animations running without any halts or freezes. I gave my game about 25 MBs of RAM and found it thrilling to be surrounded by so many interacting (and sometimes intrusive) contraptions. Most of the animations and artwork come from Mark Ryden's paintings: deliberately garish, weird, cluttered, and unpredictable, this visual bric-a-brac will keep you mesmerized as you make your way through the demented funhouse.

Supposedly, the game was 'inspired' by the songs of Aerosmith, but, not being an expert, I could find little evidence of this, except for some mean guitar licks in the soundtrack, plenty of guitars on the walls, and, of course, the characters of the Toxic Twins, to whom Steve Tyler and Joe Perry lend their voices. There are other celebrity voiceovers, too: you will hear Cher as Isadora, the 'guardian' of the interface, Christopher Reeve as the voice of Thurston Last (recorded after the actor's accident and sounding eerie and seraphic), and, most persistently, James Belushi as Salty, a mean-faced, cigar- chewing World War II pilot who flies around the resort in a toy plane, often swinging into view and making gruff comments at you (his help also proves crucial at one point in the game). Entertaining though they are for a while, Salty's remarks soon grow repetitive, and eventually I found myself turning off the volume each time I heard the telltale sound of an airplane approaching.

Most of the puzzles in "9" are quite sensible (if a bit conventional) and not impossibly difficult. Make sure, however, that you have a pen and paper handy: the game's central puzzle involves deciphering a series of musical notations, and, since they cannot be picked up and carried around, you need to copy them as well as many other visual clues scattered throughout the resort. To spice things up, the game offers a few arcade sequences, such as the miniature stock- car race and a good old-fashioned rat-shoot (ah, what more could one want from life?), but generally the puzzles don't break any new ground. If you do decide to give "9" a try, though, you should be aware of a curious and inexplicable problem that may cause a great deal of frustration (I was not the only player who experienced this problem, and I think it's worth mentioning): throughout the first two thirds of the game, you will collect five tokens you must deposit in a fortune-teller's box in order to gain access to another location; make sure you don't deposit a single one until you have collected all five of them--if you do, you will not gain access, and the game will come to a dead end, despite the fact that, following that unfortunate 'early deposit,' you may well have solved the necessary puzzles and gathered the remaining tokens. Having come to such a dead end, I had to replay the game from the start. I'm not sure whether this crippling obstacle is intentional, but if so, then I find it unjustifiable: why punish the player for something that seems so insignificant? Couldn't a few simple modifications in the game design have prevented such a frustrating deadlock? I remain mystified by this problem and cannot help but regard it as a flaw that undermines playability. The good news is that, once you avoid this pitfall, you will reach a satisfying endgame, crowned by a musical 'finale' (with a lot more 'oomph' to it than so many anticlimactic adventure game endings).


The Interface:
The game relies on standard point-and-click navigation. When you want to open, save, or restore the game, you come face to face with Isadora, the fortune- teller, who will ask you to pick your option from her cards and talk to you while she's 'performing' the operation you have selected. You can also save from the keyboard, in which case the cursor will turn into a little embryo icon (there are dripping, oversize embryos all over the Last Resort--who knows why?), and you'll hear Isadora complaining how she always saves for you while you never call or write. These little embellishments are quite charming though also a bit more time-consuming than more 'prosaic' opening and saving procedures. There is no inventory, and you can only carry one item at a time; ordinarily, this would result in a lot of backtracking, but you can set the game to Zip mode, which allows you to jump to the places you have already visited without having to stop at intermediate locations. You can also set the game preferences in such way as to eliminate longer, animated transitions that accompany your movements.


Bug Report:
I found no bugs, but several Mac players report the occurence of a script error message (index out of range) that forces them to restart the game. Apparently, GT Interactive is researching the problem.


Conclusion:
If you enjoy games like "Shivers" (with which "9" has many affinities), you will love "9." In fact, it is a better game than "Shivers," because it features far more inventive, bizzarre graphics, a far livelier environment, and not nearly as much mind-numbing backtracking. As long as you take the necessary precautions against getting dead-ended by the problem I have mentioned, you will have a ball throughout the game, though chances are that it will not take you terribly long to finish. Still, whether you are a kid or an adult (or anywhere in between), you will probably find "9" to be a hip, exciting first offering from the people at Tribeca Interactive.



Rating (Out of 5):
Playability: 4
Interface: 5
Longevity: 4
Stability: 4.5
Hardware Demands: 3
Value: 4


Pros:
* Bizzarre, eye-catching graphics.
* Lively game environment.
* Generally sensible, entertaining puzzles.

Cons:
* Pretty high RAM requirement.
* A game-stopping quirk in design.
* Irritatingly repetitious voiceovers.



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