Platform: DOS, Apple II, Mac, Amiga, Atari ST, Amstrad, Commodore 64, TRS-80
Playing a tomb raider is a perfect setting for a text adventure, and there’s so many things about this game that Infocom got right. Unfortunately, I just didn’t have a lot of fun while playing.
You wake up in a abandoned encampment off the Nile River; during your expedition to uncover a pyramid and hopefully gain the fortune and glory you’ve always deserved, your paid Islamic crew has left you for dead. Why were you abandoned? Because — as the feelies and the introduction to Infidel so clearly state — you’re a racist, narcissistic jerk. Thankfully, your character’s personality doesn’t come out a lot as the game progresses, but it’s still a disconcerting character to play in the second person.
The game begins as you search for supplies your crew didn’t take off with before taking on the entire expedition yourself. Finding the pyramid is fairly simple and the rest of the game is essentially recognizing booby traps and gathering treasure. A significant portion of the puzzle-solving involves finding and deciphering ASCII hieroglyphics. While it turns out not to be a terribly complicated process, it’s an uneven design choice.
Some of the puzzles can be solved using basic deduction skills (and satisfyingly so), but if you’re able to read the glyphs the answers are given away. Never mind that it doesn’t make sense for the Egyptians to have written such helpful instructions around the pyramid (and never mind that there would be no booby traps in the first place). But if you’ve solved the language, the puzzles are then a cake walk. This would make sense if the intent was to give the player the option of solving each puzzle the way they found the most fun. But there are a couple of puzzles (including the final one) that definitely cannot be solved by deduction; thus, deciphering the hieroglyphs is required.
There is also a thirst daemon and a finite light source, but thankfully they are very lenient and more present for realism than as puzzles. There is an inventory restriction as well but it’s also quite reasonable thanks to a knapsack you carry around. Stupidly, the game requires you to take off the sack every single time you need to get something from it, which becomes quite obnoxious after the thirty-fifth time you’ve had to do it.
The writing is average quality. Some room descriptions are quite evocative and you definitely begin to feel like you’ve traveled to the past. But many object descriptions and action responses are terse and lifeless. For example, in one room you find a golden cluster, and when you try to examine it, the game responds with, “There is nothing special about the golden cluster.” Well, sure. But what is a golden cluster? As it turns out, knowing what the game thinks is a cluster is very important to a future puzzle, and only through the process of elimination was I able to figure out what clusters were for.
That being said, compared to most Infocom games Infidel is rather easy and it took me only a couple of days to beat it. I required one hint due to having difficulty conceptualizing what a specific door looked like, but otherwise I found everything else to be pretty straightforward.
My apathy towards the game is in no small part to the character I was playing. There was little joy in helping him towards his goal. Perhaps if he had done some soul-searching as the game progressed, it would have made advancing more exciting. But the ending you’re playing towards is never not obvious and always not motivating, so the game relies squarely on the puzzles to keep the player going. And the puzzles are only just okay. And so it goes with Infidel.