Pilgrim: Faith as a Weapon
Review by Enigma
You don't know. You really don't know what you're in for with Pilgrim,
Arxel Tribe's mind-blowing 1997 release that disappeared for
a few years and now is available again. I expected to really enjoy
myself by wallowing in the Year of Our Lord 1208, and I did, but
I never expected anything like the mysteries Pilgrim explores.
The game starts out as your standard point-and-click medieval adventure
with lots of nice, logical puzzles, but it ends up as a surreal
struggle against powerful forces that tempt the soul. It's an adult
game, not because of any salacious content, but because of the sophistication
and depth of the ideas it tackles. You will need your thinking cap
for this one.
Arxel Tribe based Pilgrim on Paulo Coelho's Diary of
a Magus, which should have given me a clue that the storyline
eventually would depart from sweaty, earthly reality. Pilgrim
fools you. Much of the game is exactly what you'd expect it
to be: a traditional adventure set in the Middle Ages. Cross the
broken bridge, evade the guard, escape from the dungeon, get the
sword from the stone. That sort of thing. Well done for its time,
fun and interesting, with some vexing puzzles, nice slideshow artwork,
and nifty medieval tunes. Later, things turn weird.
If you're expecting a simple battle between good heretics and bad
inquisitors, you're in for a surprise. The game goes far beyond
that, eventually exploring questions for the human soul. Pilgrim
will challenge you to examine your own beliefs about life, faith,
and the "good fight." I stand amazed that a simple adventure
game can tackle such subjects, all the while integrating them into
a point-and-click slideshow with inventory-style puzzles.
It's stunning, outrageous, and constantly interesting. Pilgrim
turns the adventure game into a visionary flight of imagination.
You are Simon, apparently an adolescent or young man, and your
father is dying. His last wish is that you deliver a mysterious
Coptic manuscript to a man called Petrus in Toulouse. Of course,
as in all standard-issue adventures, you meet with obstacles. You
have to get over that bridge and into the city. The plot thickens
as you find yourself dumped, literally, into a dungeon, where you'll
solve a series of puzzles as part of a deviously trapped escape
route. All the while you'll learn about the political difficulties
of the times. Remember that stuff. There will be a quiz at the end.
The game's theme begins to emerge even in those early scenes, however.
A magician says that he's careful not to do tricks that are too
mysterious. He's worried about the Inquisition. You'll learn that
the Cathars, a major heretical sect, operate powerfully in the area
of Toulouse and that the local ruler, an astute politician, might
be protecting them. Why is Petrus so hard to find? Why is an officer
of the Inquisition visiting, and what do he and the Pope really
want? Especially, what was your father up to?
I don't want to give away the surprises you'll encounter, except
to say that they grow curiouser and curiouser, and you will not
guess what's coming. Toward the end of the game you'll be into surrealistic
territory. Sorry. Can't say more than that. Play the game.
By today's standards, movement in Pilgrim is primitive,
anchored to a grid. The inventory-based puzzles range from simple
to intriguing to well-nigh impossible, but they fully integrate
with the plot and stick to logic, usually. You've got three inventories,
all with different purposes. First comes your "bag," into
which you'll place items to carry around and use, such as that manuscript
and a notebook in which you can type your own notes. Next come icons
of people you've met or heard about. Finally, you have an "item
inventory" that contains images of items, but not necessarily
usable stuff. That distinction confused me a bit. Early in the game
I found a rope, and there it was in my item inventory. I couldn't
use that one, though. I had to find the rope again, and click on
it again to put it in my "bag" before I could use it.
Actually the system works pretty well, despite the odd double icons.
The people and item inventories are there for use in conversations,
as subjects for questions you'll be asking. As you move on in the
game, unnecessary stuff disappears. It's a pretty good system and
not at all unwieldy once you get used to it.
I mentioned that the puzzles stick to logic, usually. Because of
that "usually," I'm letting you know now that you'll probably
need a walkthrough for Pilgrim's endgame, even though the
game includes somewhat cryptic hints if you want them. Blundering
your way through the thing will take gobs of time and cause far
too much repetition, but I suppose it's possible. I was too fascinated
with the plot to bulldog through the more arcane mysteries, so occasionally
I used a walkthrough because after a while I just had to find out
what was going to happen next. Even in the endgame you can reason
things out, but you'll die plenty of times in the effort.
Yes, Pilgrim will kill you fairly often when you make a
mistake, but once you die the game immediately returns you to an
earlier point. However, especially in the dungeon and in the endgame,
that "earlier point" is at the very beginning of the whole
series of puzzles, so save, save, save your game. In the endgame,
which has multiple, devious puzzles, every time you die you'll have
to listen to a long dialog before you can restore your game. That
was the only feature of the game that I seriously disliked.
Another warning: Pilgrim has a particularly nasty maze.
The thing looks gorgeous, with carved, golden walls, but it also
has staircases that might have been designed by M.C. Escher. You'll
wind up going around in circles on those stairs before you realize
what's happening. Now, I normally don't mind mazes. I either blunder
my way through them or I take the time to map them, but not with
this one. This one's built in three, or possibly more, dimensions,
so mapping would be quite a challenge. I blundered around for quite
a while and then grabbed the walkthrough.
I mentioned that there would be a quiz at the end of the game.
Yup, really, there is. I got the impression that the quiz, along
with the excellent in-game encyclopedia, was supposed to make Pilgrim
into an edutainment game. Certainly, with the depth of the issues
it explores, it would be difficult to play the game without learning
something. The quiz reminded me of the one in Chateau
d'Or, so if you hate that kind of thing, use a walkthrough.
The final question, however, is one that only you can answer.
Lights, Camera, Action!
Pilgrim looks good, despite its archaic slideshow and movement
grid. I especially liked the interior scenes, with flaming torches
and crackling fireplaces. Toulouse looks cleaner than I imagine
it really would have looked in 1208, but the game recreates the
time period quite convincingly. The marvelous medieval music helps
a great deal, with plenty of haunting and catchy tunes in minor
chords. Later in the game, the music becomes more modern, and it
nicely heightens the menace while you're battling for your soul.
The voice acting works well, although the lead actor consistently
mispronounces some rather simple words, such as "faraway"
(instead of "far away," he says "fairway," as
though referring to a golf course). The characters come in 3D models
that don't move much. I disliked that aspect of Timescape,
but I was able to forgive it easily in Pilgrim because
I was so fascinated by the game and the intriguing dialogue, and
because there's so very much more to see and do in Pilgrim.
Although Pilgrim is PC-only, it ran almost perfectly under
Virtual PC 4.0 on my iMac. The game ran in a window with the VPC
desktop showing in the background, which annoyed me until I got
caught up in the game. After that I barely noticed it. I ran into
only two problems. In the first scene, I couldn't pick up a necessary
object. Reloading solved the problem. Also, just once, the game
froze as I tried to save. Fortunately only the game froze, not the
VPC or the iMac, so I didn't have to crash and restart. Other than
that, the music, dialogue, ambient sounds and graphics worked perfectly.
I was not, however, able to play the "bonus" CD, an interview
with Paulo Coelho. Most likely a real PC would have no difficulty
Yes, the graphics are nice and the puzzles will challenge you,
but the superiority of Pilgrim rests on the intellectual
content of the game. It doesn't pander to the lowest common denominator,
that's for sure. The human issues of faith, growth, and power it
explores will have you thinking long after you tuck your computer
in for the night. Yet throughout, it remains just a point-and-click
adventure game, moving imperceptibly but surely toward temptations
that may torture your soul but that always give you choices. I most
certainly don't regret the time I spent wrestling with its demons.
Just remember, as one character says, "Regrets are immortal.
Demons are not."
Release Date: 1997
Four Fat Chicks Links
Windows-compatible sound card
166 MMX processor
32 MB RAM
5 MB free hard disk space
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