The Dig  
by Fairygdmther
July 27, 2004

 

The Dig was released in 1995 by Lucas Arts, in conjunction with Stephen Spielberg, as a game since there wasn’t enough money in the budget to make this into a movie. The story begins as an asteroid approaches Earth on a collision course.  NASA has ordered a mission to divert this asteroid from its current trajectory and explore it as well, since there is some suspicion that it is not just a common asteroid.  The three astronauts who are the landing party are Commander Boston Low, Maggie Robbins, a journalist and language specialist, and Ludger Brink, an archeologist and geologist. There are two others who will remain aboard the shuttle.  Once the bombs are placed and set off, the astronauts are free to return to the asteroid and explore.  In a large shaft they find some metal plates that were obviously created by an intelligent race. Cmdr. Low radios back to the shuttle to notify NASA of that finding, via a cryptic code phrase, and the exploration now begins in earnest.  The metal plates are manipulated and placed on a dais and an engine is activated propelling them in this asteroid/spaceship to another far away world.  The remaining 90% of the game is an exploration of this new world, and a search for a way home.

The characters of the three astronauts are each the personification of ego gratification.  Each is a headstrong personality, unwilling to listen to reason, and all want to be in charge.  Instead of working as a team, they all quickly go their separate ways, remaining in contact only intermittently via the “Pen-Ultimate” – a walkie-talkie videophone device.  Maggie, hell-bent on proving her worth to the team, isolates herself in an alien library, deciphering the native written language.  Ironically, she later demonstrates the spoken language as well! Brink, after recovering from an apparently fatal landslide, runs off pursuing a mysterious quest of his own.  This leaves Cmdr. Low, with whom you spend most of the game, to do the exploring of this apparently long-dead alien world.

The interface is a point-and-click modified 3D engine where you can look in all directions, but can only move node to node.  The nodes were not always placed where you might expect them to be, but weren’t terribly difficult to navigate. Perspective is in the 3rd person. Graphics in this game were very pixellated, and not quite up to the standards of other games released in 1995.  Backgrounds were blurry and inventory items often did not stand out from the backgrounds.  Even control panels that needed to be activated were easily bypassed and seen as belonging to the rock formations.  Close-ups were quite clear and easy to manage.  The three astronauts all looked stunted, and often moved with that sidling approach we often see in older games.  In the cut scenes, none of them looked even vaguely like they did in the game graphics. Cmdr.  Low looked about 20 years younger in the cut scenes, while Maggie had a different haircut and facial features, and, in one case, different clothing.  Voice acting was superb for all parties involved – it was clear, properly inflected, and could not be improved upon in any way.  Subtitles are available, and in one spot, helped by cueing the player when to act.  Sound effects were also done exceptionally well.  They did not interfere in any way with the voices, and were totally appropriate to the surroundings.  The music was gorgeous, and what you would expect from a Stephen Spielberg movie – compelling, dramatic, moving.

Puzzles were of medium difficulty and they certainly seemed appropriate to the surroundings, but – the entry to all the doors from the nexus, the hub of the alien world, was by the same method, though not the same code, and several of the control panels worked the same way as well.  There were a few more challenging ones, such as the biphasic eclipse, and the “catch-the-rodent-who-took-the-door-panel-piece” one.  But all-in-all the puzzles weren’t terribly difficult, and none were game stoppers.  You can’t die in this game – well you can, but you get to do over what killed you.  There are no mazes or dead-ends.  You can, and must, backtrack throughout the game to bring items to a different location, though usually that meant no more than perhaps ten screens of trudging.

The storyline was very good, and compelling.  You really wanted to see what happened here, and find out more about this alien world.  The three main characters were, for me, totally unlikable.  There was none that I could identify with, or even cared about. There was an attempt made, toward the end to make Cmdr.  Low somewhat repentant for his behavior, but it felt phony.  Maggie was a strident, irritating presence, and Brink was simply an obnoxious jerk.  The exploration was fun and encompassed many areas, and types of surroundings – and if the graphics had been better, would have been a total joy.  But the best part of this game was something you don’t see often – a long and gorgeous endscene.  What a delightful reward for finishing this game!  Not only did it tie up all the loose ends, it was a spectacular scene to view.

Score 8.5/10

System Requirements: Win95 compatible, DOS 6.0

Thanks for the skillful editing by Bacardi Jim

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