There used to be a computer magazine called Ace. As every computer magazine has to have a gimmick - AMIGA POWER's, for example, being that we always tell the truth about games - Ace had a farcical scoring system. Each game reviewed by Ace received not only a mark out of a thousand, but also a gently or steeply curving line predicting how your interest in the game would be retained over time.
Nonsense of course, as the reviewers clearly hadn't been playing the game for three months (or whatever).
Anyway, the point is while playing Bloodnet I've been mentally plotting my own 'lasting interest' curve and it looks like a row of spikes ona tachycardiac sugar-fiend's electrocardiograph machine. Not since Elite has there been such a nettling mixture of the buzzingly terrif and crashingly poor.
No sooner would an intriguing plot twist pop into view than a grueseome mechanical fault would lurch from the wings to cancel it out. Tragedy loomed with some doom in a room as a week or so of sternly attentive play left me wallowing miserably in that flat, indecisive state. But then, a religious experience.
Bloodnet (the everyday tale of a vampiric 'cyberpunk') is a phenomenally complex point-and-click adventure. Far phenomanallier than is needed, in fact, with a CONTROL METHOD OF ASMODEUS that uses both mouse buttons in an unhelpful manner and a doorstop manual of essential reading.
You can 'recruit' characters to your 'party' and 'jack' into 'the matrix'. Statistics make a fulsome appearance, as do 'character generation' and (eek) 'hit points'.
The game has a terrible, terrible beginning as you struggle with the controls. Picking up an object is a three-stage affair: first, you double-click on it with the right button to bring up a description of the object; then you single-click on it with the right button to put it in your hand; then you turn your character to face out of the screen and single-click on him with the left button to make him put it in his inventory.
The idea is that, with the object in your hand, you can switch to another sheet, and, say, put it in your computer unit, give it to another person in your group or 'use' it with something. But you can do all this much more easily from the all-in-one inventory screen. Worse, because you have to double-click to examine an object, it's all too easy to get it accidentally - a fatal error if you're in a room with someone on guard.
Practice helps, of course, but you'll still fume over having to pick everything up one object at a time and then switch to the inventory screen, scrolling through lists of unlabeled icons in order to pass the objects to the appropriate character because the members of your party can't get things directly. You should at least be able to specify into whose inventory objects are put by default.
And, heck, while we're on the subject of clumsiness, although you don't have to walk around the location to pick up objects or talk to people - the game takes the sensible view that you can reach everything and you can switch directly to the city map in order to travel around - you do have to manoeuvre your character through doors if there's an adjacent room and this is appallingly and unnecessarily fiddly.
Again, if someone attacks you (sometimes if you just talk to them, or walk into the same room as them), you're only given the option to run away after you've meticulously placed your companions in fighting positions. And, cheaply, in fights everyone's represented by the same sprite so you can't easily see who's shooting whom.
And even if you've already talked to them, you don't get any indication of who the characters are on the screen until you commit talking to them - an agonising fault when their talky close-up looks absolutely nothing like their full-figure pictures. (At a transient camp, for example, an obviously age-bent white woman turns out in close-up to be a 12 year-old black arms dealer. Cheers, Mr Artist.)
And playing from floppy is impossible - everything you do causes lengthy disk accessing and from being killed to being asked to insert a save game disk takes 17 swaps.
And you don't get to talk to people, you just get fed lines and occasionally answer yes or no to a question. And there are minor bugs, like people chatting about people you haven't met yet as if you have, or tatting about people you've just shot in front of them without apparently having noticed you've just shot them. In front of. Them. Brrrr.
Plotting to free the world's computers
Such are the faults of Bloodnet, skidding maliciously beneath the hammer of kindly indulgence like the hamster in the underfelt of life. It took me the week or so of attentive playing to realise I didn't care about them at all because I was having far too much fun.
Being a bit of a point-and-click player, I've come to loathe their addle-pated Saxinraxin-Raxinfraxin plots )off which hangs lots of obvious puzzles for no reason other than point-and-click games have to have lots of them and they have to be obvious), their plastic characters (often existing solely to blurt out a vital clue before dropping dead) and their crass storytelling (clearly planned without a writer in sight).
Bloodnet's story is a zinger. On the streets of 21st Century Manhattan vampires are quite at home, picking off the underclass and concealing themselves from the neuromediaeval knights of vengeance by setting up rich-boy clubs for bored necrophytes.
Meanwhile, revolutionary students are plotting to free the world's computers from the propriertary grasp of a sinister multi-national corporation, people are being bumped off in 'cyberspace' and in trying to find someone who can reverse the slow vamp conversion you're undergoing a plot of terrible proportions that only a cockroach embittered by a life of pitiable uselessness would reveal to you.
Isn't that fantastic? A tremendously involving, immaculately-scripted story that fizzes with ideas, populated with characters who never ring false, stocked with sly, satisfying puzzles that don't leave you trying combinations of everything you're carrying in befuddlement AND NARY AN ORC IN SIGHT.
Even more refreshingly it's all non-linear, letting you follow up leads and explore the city- and 'cyber'-scape in any old order. And leaving it to you to tie up your findings. (I myself continue to err on the side of caution, not yet taking up a number of hackers on their eager offers to rampage through 'cyberspace', but for the moment retaining my hard-bloke hit squad to make sure of any opposition).
And the game's cheerfully amoral. There's a bit, for instance, where you find out a gang is being hired by the villain to rub you out, but is willing instead to work for you if you come up with their fee first. Cunningly, however, it's just as easy to storm into their hideout and massacre them before they get a chance to be a nuisance because shooting someone's carries no penalty beyond perhaps slinging their friends into reprisals.
(A word here about the scraps themselves: although everything's governed by 'target acquirement, 'character statistics' and those (eek) 'hit points', you can thankfully turn them all off and tell everyone to act on their own initiative, sit back and watch the exchange of fire in hopeful terror.)
A major plot-point of the game concerns synthesizing dangerous high-tech drugs to help your party in fights of in 'cyberspace' (or to sell for a tidy profit) and, most entertainingly, as a half-vamp you're forced periodically to kill for blood, the nebulous 'innocence' of your victim determining how much you lose of your precious humanity.
Truly, Bloodnet is a game where you are in control. AS IT SHOULD BE. (It's also luxuriously large, after that week or so of attentive play, at a guess I'm a little over halfway through the game, still visiting new locations and still returning to old ones armed with extra information to make sense of the rum goings-on. Although, of course, the non-linearity makes it splendidly difficult to establish how far I am from success).
Point-and-click games are in the vast majority an insolently poor bunch. Bloodnet joins with ease the pantheon of greats, jostling Nippon Safes and Beneath a Steel Sky to appear in the class photo beside the Monkey Island. It's beautiful.