Normality

Review by Jen

Having seen this game regaled as a minor classic in the adventure games Usenet group, I thought I would give it a try. I managed to hunt down a copy of it and popped it right in my CD drive.

You play as a "dude" named Kent, who lives in the city of Neutropolis, which is populated by psychotically normal people. The game opens with Kent being chucked in the slammer because he was caught whistling a happy tune as he strolled down the avenue, and it is not normal to be so cheerful. While in the pokey, an anonymous prisoner passes Kent a note telling him about some kind of insurrection movement that he might want to join. Then, after a week in the cooler, Kent is confined to his apartment and told to leave the TV on all the time or it will be back off to prison with him. His TV, however, happens to be on the fritz, so the first task in the game is to get it to stay on. You figure out how to escape from your apartment and go to seek employment at the Plush Rest furniture factory. From there, you set off on your quest to free the city from the evils of normality. The plot in this game, while pretty silly, is quite good and with no loose ends.

Using a combination of the keyboard and mouse, you inspect the various locales, picking up some things and investigating others. Perspective is through Kent's eyes in the active portions of the game and third-person in the cut scenes. You navigate using the arrow keys, and you can look up or down with the Page Up or Page Down keys; views are 360 degrees in the horizontal plane and maybe about 15 degrees up or down. You use the mouse to inspect objects—right-clicking brings up a voodoo doll model of Kent, and clicking on various body parts completes whatever action is suggested by said body part (and it's only from the waist up, so get your mind out of the gutter!). Inventory is accessed by clicking on the backpack that is always displayed in the upper right corner of the screen, and you then use the left mouse button to apply an item. For me, the keyboard/mouse combo took a little getting used to, and I would never have figured it out without the manual, but once I got used to it, it was very easy to use. The game plays in the LucasArts style, where you pick up seemingly useless items that can be creatively employed in other portions of the game. However, this game has a lot of red herrings, which kept me a little off balance throughout—and I liked it! Periodically, the inventory gets cleared out due to some plot twist, so you don't have to lug the unnecessary items to the point of the inventory becoming unwieldy.

The graphics are a mixed bag—the cut scenes are all very nicely done, but the active scenes are pixelated to a pretty large extent. However, this game only occupies one CD, so I suppose the bigger pixels were required to make it fit. Whatever the case, the pixels were not so big as to obscure anything, and anyway, when you hover your cursor over an item you can interact with, you get an on-screen description. I think the developers could have put the game on two CDs for a very negligible difference in production cost and a huge increase in graphic quality—this game was only released a couple of years ago and should not look as dated as it does.

Next, let me talk about the voice acting. This, to me, was the absolute worst thing about the game. I was ready to quit an otherwise decent game several times just due to Kent's grating on my nerves. The actor, a fellow by the name of Corey Feldman, is some kind of Jim Carrey wannabe, but he takes it to the nth degree and then applies a slacker surfer dude 'tude overlay on top of it. Now, I am a big fan of Jim Carrey, but you've got to admit there's only room in this world for one of him. If I had heard even one more "whoa, dude" by the time I finished the game, I think I would have gotten out my flamethrower and applied it directly to the CD. The rest of the actors did an admirable job but were just completely overshadowed by the horrible Kent. The sound effects and music on the game were neither intrusive nor inappropriate; they were used in the right places and proper quantity—generally a pretty quality effort. No doubt, duuudes, this whole category suffers mightily, not for lack of effort on the part of anybody but simply for annoying the hell out of me. I play games for entertainment, and it's not fun to be driven buggy.

In conclusion, this game might be considered a flawed masterpiece. It has some definite pluses but one great big minus. I did enjoy the style, gameplay, and story, but I would recommend that if you play it, you turn off the volume and turn on the subtitles (it does have that option—dummy me for not using it early in the game). The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Gremlin Interactive
Publisher: Interplay
Release Date: 1996

Available for: DOS 

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System Requirements

DOS 5.0 or higher/Win95
486/66 or higher
8 MB RAM
20 MB free hard drive space
256 colors, SVGA
Mouse/keyboard
Soundblaster-compatible

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