by Bacardi Jim
November 20, 2004


Did you enjoy The Journeyman Project 2 but wish that the play window had been half the size and that the interface had been even more complicated?  Do you love Full Motion Video games but find the acting insufficiently cheesy and wish someone could make the graphics themselves even blurrier and more pixellated?  Does your idea of supreme adventure game design include constant danger from unexpected death and not having the reason for that death explained until after your demise… if at all?  Is your favorite music CD your bootleg copy of Kraftwerk, Nine Inch Nails and Eminem getting together to strangle cats for a couple of hours?

If you answered “yes” to all of these questions, then Club Dead just may be the game for you.  Then again, if you answered “yes” to all of those questions, you are probably sitting in the corner of a padded cell drooling happily while someone reads this to you.

Club Dead’s story is set in a nightmarish cyberpunk future.  You play Sam Frost, a felon who has been sprung from prison by the bigwigs of the corporation that owns the prison in order to work as a “cyberplumber” in their fancy resort hotel, the Alexandria .  The Alexandria caters to politicians (including the 16-year-old President Debbie) and celebrities who are rich enough to afford its Virtual Reality entertainment.  Sam is, essentially, a maintenance man.  In the game’s opening video, we see Sam awakening from a night of debauchery, hung over and laying next to the bloody corpse of a dead girl.  It quickly develops that he is merely hallucinating the bloody corpse and that the mysterious Corporation Bigwigs have planted Sam in the hotel for nefarious purposes that said Bigwigs assume that Sam knows.  Sam, unfortunately, seems to have some cerebral fragmentation brought on by his former Vee (Virtual Reality) addiction and has forgotten his instructions, his contact, indeed his whole purpose in life.  After that, the story begins to make even less sense.  

If exposure to VR can do that to my brain, I’m ordering a set of goggles tomorrow.  Maybe they’ll help wipe Club Dead from my memory.  

I have to make special mention of the game’s interface, which may be the worst I have ever encountered.  I knew I was in trouble before I even installed the game (not that you really install it; it plays directly from the CD and only in DOS).  The game manual includes 25 pages of instructions specifically for navigating the mess of controls.  Unfortunately, this section of the manual failed to mention the most important button on the interface: the one that lets you into the game options so you can turn off the music.  Fortunately, I found it eventually on my own and saved myself a brain embolism.  Besides the Options button, there are five other buttons you use to access various functions, as well as the elevator button which allows you to move around the hotel and any clickable sub-locations in the game window itself.  The gameplay involves going to a location and then watching the resulting video clip.  Once your eyes stop bleeding, you then have several actions that you must perform after watching each clip.  First, you have to check your inventory.  If you received an item during the clip, it will be sitting in your “inbox.”  You have to manually move the new item into the main part of the inventory or else it will vanish the next time you encounter a new item and it will be gone for good… which will result in your eventual death.  Next, you must check your PDA and “download” a brief synopsis of what you just saw.  These PDA bits often contain a clue as to the meaning of the clip you just witnessed.  If you leave the room without downloading the clip to your PDA, it vanishes forever… which may result in your eventual death.  You may also get e-mail messages or find chips with recordings from other cyberplumbers which you had better listen to right away or else… well, you get the idea.  

To further complicate matters, not only do you have to make sure to move every item into your inventory the moment you get it, you also discover that your inventory won’t hold every item you get, so you must dispose of some of them through your outbox.  Since there is no logic whatsoever as to what you will or won’t need, this is mostly a matter of pure guesswork.  And then there is the Ready-To-Use portion of your inventory interface.  This is where you must place an item that you psychically have decided you want to have in your hand before you enter a room.  Failure to have the correct item in your hand when you walk into a room can lead to et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.  

I eventually came to the conclusion that Club Dead took its name from the many ways you can die in the game.  In structure, it plays a little bit like the wonderful The Last Express.  There are many events occurring around the hotel, and you must be in the right place at the right time in order to trigger the correct ones.  Missing even one of them means failure and death.  Since there is not much leeway in the timeline for exploration, it is essential to stick to a tight schedule.  However, there is frequently no logic as to why you would want or need to visit a particular location at a particular time, or why you would want to walk into that place with a particular item readied.  And unlike The Last Express, you can’t rewind your clock to back up if you think you may have missed something.  Your only choice is to restore a saved game.  The wise player will save his game after every single action, each save in a different slot, as there will often be no way of knowing exactly where he went wrong.  

On second thought, the wise player will avoid Club Dead like the bubonic plague and find a much more pleasurable way of destroying his sight, hearing and brain cells.  Try Mardi Gras instead.

Score: 3 (out of 10)

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