The Dig

Review by noun
May 2002

Back before they decided to focus all their efforts on churning out one mediocre Star Wars game after another, LucasArts produced some of the best adventure games ever made. It's a pretty impressive portfolio: Day of the Tentacle, Loom, Full Throttle, Grim Fandango, and of course, the whole Monkey Island series. While all of these were good, The Dig stands out as one of LucasArts's most high-profile and memorable achievements.

The Dig was originally planned as a motion picture, but that idea was scrapped due to its estimated cost at the time. Steven Spielberg thought of the original concept, which was fleshed out into novel form by prolific author Alan Dean Foster, who also contributed to the game's dialogue. The voice talent was excellent but low-budget, with the notable exception being Robert Patrick, most recently of X-Files fame.

The Dig's opening could work just as well in a movie theater, which is no surprise given the level of talent involved in this title. The game opens with a monitoring station discovering a huge asteroid on a collision course with Earth. Cut to a press conference, where the game's heroes are introduced to explain their upcoming journey to the asteroid and their mission to destroy it. Boston Low, veteran shuttle pilot and leader of the expedition, Maggie Robbins, a well-known journalist, and Ludger Brink, a respected archaeologist, are soon dispatched to investigate the situation.

The game begins at this point with a few simple puzzles to get you warmed up, culminating in your discovery that the asteroid is an artificial transport ship. After accidentally activating it, Boston, Maggie and Brink are whisked away from their shipmates and end up landing on another world. Your new mission? Figure out where they are and how to get back home. Shortly after your arrival, an event causes your party to split up, leaving Boston Low in your control. You'll soon find evidence that the deserted planet you're exploring was once home to a thriving civilization, and the bulk of the game comes from your unraveling its mysteries, namely, where did everyone go?

At its core, The Dig is just another 2D point-and-click adventure game, with 100 different areas to explore and the usual amount of obstacles in your path. However, the storyline is truly excellent and professionally developed. You get the sense that you really are on an alien world and, thanks to the excellent writing, come to view the characters as people and not just pixelated obstacles preventing your progress. The endings are ultimately satisfying (there are two different endings depending on your actions at one point in the game) and leave just enough of a plot opening to allow for a sequel.

I'm pretty picky when it comes to my adventure games in that I insist that the puzzles be logical in the context of the adventure rather than random puzzles, and The Dig doesn't disappoint. Nearly all of the puzzles have logical solutions that can be discovered with a little thought rather than random inventory manipulation, such as restoring power to an errant door with the tools at hand or searching the environment for a clue to a locked door's combination. The majority of the puzzles range from easy to moderate, with one particular head-scratcher in the extremely difficult category, which makes this an excellent title for first-time adventure gamers.

Unlike other adventure games from their competitors (cough, Sierra, cough), LucasArts's adventures were designed to not punish the player for making a mistake. No matter what you did, you would never die or be forced to reload a previous save because you missed a vital clue.

Taking this user-friendly approach one step further, The Dig was the first adventure to feature the single-click interface. Typically, adventure games required you to click on an interface tool of some sort and select an appropriate function (talk, use, look, etc.), then click the item or person with which you wanted to interact. In The Dig, you simply click the item, person or location on the screen and attempt to use it. The same principle applies to your inventory items. Opening your inventory, selecting an item, then clicking the hot spot on the screen is enough to determine a response. Granted, this functionality is taken for granted in today's adventure games, but it was LucasArts that pioneered the easy-to-use interface.

As for the graphics, well, let's be honest. The Dig was released in 1995, written for MS-DOS, and it simply cannot compare with today's 3D graphics-enhanced genocide simulators. The Dig's graphics are 640x480, SVGA and very pixelated, though they were considered state-of-the-art at the time. Still, don't let this discourage you. Making the most of what they had, the artists did a fantastic job creating an alien world in 256 colors. Each screen is beautifully composed, and any relevant hot spots are easy to find and use. The cut scenes are animated and even today can easily compete with most cartoons on TV.

The Dig's music and sound, however, are still aural treats even by today's standards. The Dig's music consists of heavily synthesized elements of Wagner opera compositions, creating an eerie, ambient landscape. Given that the game is from LucasArts, it should be no surprise that the sound effects are top-notch. The voiceovers are excellent as well, especially Robert Patrick's (Boston) work, though Steven Blum's (Brink) delivery can be a bit grating at times.

I discovered one other benefit during my Wayback Machine trip: The Dig runs perfectly on today's powerhouse machines. On my Pentium 3, The Dig ran just fine in a Windows 98 DOS window, at normal speed, without a single crash. This is because The Dig runs entirely from the CD drive and only accesses your hard drive for game saves. Simply pop in the CD, choose either the 8 MB or 16 MB executable file (remember when 16 MB of RAM was a big deal?) and you're off and running. Excellent news for those of us who find today's high-budget games unsatisfying, like a $5 cup of Starbucks coffee that leaves you with a sour stomach.

What else can I say? As far as 2D point-and-click adventure games go, The Dig is definitely at the top of the list as one of the finest games ever made. Any adventure gamer who doesn't already own a copy should take the time to locate one and experience The Dig for himself. You won't be disappointed, and you may find yourself looking at today's games in a new light. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: LucasArts
Publisher: LucasArts
Release Date: Summer 1995

Available for: DOS Windows

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System Requirements

486 DX2 66 MHz
VGA card
Soundblaster compatible

Where to Find It

 
   
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