Sunday, October 27, 2013

"Waxworks", MS-DOS, 1992.

So, what's the most frightening thing about wax? OK, we're in consensus, as is the artist for this ad. And is there a second frightening thing about it? Yes, you in the back? What? Well, okay, a Brazilian bikini wax is indeed a harrowing prospect, but I was thinking something more along the lines of... the uncanny sensation that the realistic wax models in museums might somehow become animated, sapient and murderous. Isn't that one universal? Well, take it from these chappies from the land of Madame Tussaud's...
Jack wasn't nimble.

Jack wasn't quick

So Jack became a candlestick.

No other fantasy role-playing experience delivers the undiluted horror of WAXWORKS for the IBM PC. Descend into five vast worlds of molten terror, battling over 100 evil denizens that occupy the WAXWORKS. Decaying graveyard ghouls, man-eating plants, bloodthirsty Egyptian priests -- even Jack the Ripper -- are all dying to enter the world of the living with only you in their way. But stand warned: the first-person perspective, VGA color graphics are not for the squeamish. WAXWORKS. It all boils down to terror.

Unofficially a species of Elvira 3, harnessing the tech and sinister themes of the two Elvira games (and, heh, "Elvira 0", Personal Nightmare -- adapted by Alan Cox from AberMUD 5 code!), this is one tough game. I always wondered at the precise logistics informing the ad art -- the wax fills the throat and coats the tip of the nose but somehow fails to pool in the eye sockets? Or it has been chipped and peeled away from there to lend the ad extra punch? I give hats off to the artist for rolling with such an esoteric order and depicting it in such a way as can be understood more or less at a glance. (How would you depict "asphyxiated and coated in wax, barring bloodshot, terror-filled eyes" in a round of Eat Poop You Cat? Everyone would just keep glossing over the exceptional elements and you end up with Han Solo in carbonite every time.) The big slogan unfortunately just makes me think of Rolling Stones songs. (Anything reminiscent of Stones songs is unfortunate.) (Edit: not 5 minutes after penning these words, what comes on the radio? I've got to be more careful...)

The small print says Adventure Soft UK, but the line of games was released through the "HorrorSoft" label (under publisher Accolade in the US, as you can see), and the warning is fair: these games didn't hold back on delivering punchy shocks. (The Adventure Soft UK story is a whole other post, taking us from a Scott Adams "Adventureland" UK importer to licensed Fighting Fantasy adaptations, the consummate graphical adventure presentation of the first two Simon the Sorcerer games, and on to Dark Corners of the Earth -- long after most of their competitors had been put out to pasture. I belive Simon Woodroffe is currently heading Rare, a fellow traveler through the ages. Erk, I probably shared a similar tangent back when I wrote about Ironsword.) (Come to think about it, I believe there was an earlier text adventure game by Brian Howarth, also entitled Waxworks.)

The first sentence of the blurb is weird, establishing that no other game is, well, this game. Well, yes I suppose that's true. The numbers are casually tossed around to impress (as if we could be impressed by the implication of "we didn't find enough in any of these rich settings to build an entire game around") and if you count on your fingers you note that the fifth of the five vast worlds remains unnamed, a surprise reserved for the exclusive enjoyment of the game's players. "Dying to enter the world of the living" works; "boils down to terror" not so much. Please put your living statue game on hold, I am interested in learning more about the process by which wax is refined!

Of the four screenshots presented, only the lower right-most appears to represent any kind of interactive gameplay, and you know, I don't think offering him a papyrus is really the most strategic option at that point. (Remember the ubiquity of "Egyptian" levels in games? When did we leave our ludological Egyptology fixation behind? Did the platform games wear it out?)

Speaking of worn out, could they say WAXWORKS a few more times? Not without someone catching on, I suppose.