Posted 28 June 2001 to rec.games.int-fiction
OFFENSIVE PROBING by Ben Croshaw ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/Probing.zip
[NOTE: You might suspect this of being a REVIEW CONSPIRACY review, but of course there is no REVIEW CONSPIRACY, so it can't be. You are warned that the REVIEW CONSPIRACY does not look kindly upon people claiming, despite the carefully-planted evidence to the contrary, that the REVIEW CONSPIRACY exists. There is no REVIEW CONSPIRACY. Thank you.]
I certainly can't accuse this game of having a dull title. For fans of Doctor Who, "offensive probing" might induce visions of attractive young Companions screaming "NO, NOT THE MIND PROBE!" to the accompaniment of magnificently cheesy sound effects as enthusiastic if slightly unconvincing aliens strap them into uncomfortable-looking pieces of hi-tech furniture. Fans of Barbarella may have other kinds of probing in mind, though still with the cheesy sound effects. And indeed, this game is billed as "An Epic Sci-Fi Adventure".
But no cheesy sound effects. Guess you can't have everything.
Offensive Probing is actually an inoffensive little game with some nice little puzzles and some nice little jokes. There are dozens of minor Inform games in the IF archive, most of which are pretty poor; Offensive Probing is in the same class, but it's one of the good ones. Not quite Balances, but I enjoyed it.
It's about the length of a smallish comp game; I finished it in two shortish sessions, spending most of my time stuck on two puzzles. I'll blame the first on temporary stupidity on my part, but I think the game was being unfair in the second case -- I'll explain in more detail in the spoiler section, below. The plot is entirely linear, but the game does have a reasonable amount of interactivity in other areas.
The coding is pretty solid: I only found one glaring bug. I would have preferred a few more frills and niceties, though: the author's notes are supplied as a separate text file, rather than a help menu within the game, for instance. The zip file also includes a PC executable, which seems pretty pointless. Luckily it's pretty small, or I'd be annoyed rather than merely bemused.
This slight lack of polish is evident in a couple of other respects. First, there are more than a few useless objects lying around the place; none are really red herrings, however, and some have decent jokes attached. The scoring system is also a bit unimaginative: it does the job of letting you know how you're progressing, but no more. Perhaps I'm nit-picking, but I'd at least have liked a nice round number for the maximum score, and maybe an itemised FULL SCORE list.
The game is unforgiving, but not cruel. Keep a few saves handy and you'll be fine. And that's about all I can say without getting into spoiler territory. So: if you have an hour or so to spare, and you don't have any religious objections to tongue-in-cheek space opera, give Offensive Probing a whirl. It's good clean fun.
[ ** SPOILERS: coming up ** ]
[ ** SPOILERS: you have been warned ** ]
The first puzzle I got stuck on was the one with the syringe. I inexplicably failed to think of the obvious solution, though the fact that there's no INJECT verb may have distracted me slightly.
The second puzzle I got stuck on was opening the child-proof bottle, and this time I was pretty annoyed when I stumbled across the solution -- QEBC OBGGYR, in rot13. To me this is really non-intuitive; not only is the verb being used in a non-standard way, but OERNX OBGGYR prints the annoying default library message, which in this context is not only annoying but misleading. Grrrr.
I think this is a similar mistake to, say, requiring the player to wait for five turns in a certain location: it sounds reasonable in principle, but in practice the player won't hang around for that long without some additional incentive. Note that the player stopping and thinking for a long time doesn't mean that the player character will necessarily do so. (Perhaps I'm being harsher on this puzzle that it deserves, since I can't help comparing it to the excellent child-proof bottle puzzle in Curses. But it does suffer from the comparison.)
The glaring bug? When you meet the captain for the first time, he stands around like a statue until you eventually come up with an action he responds to:
There is no reply.
That's not a verb I recognise.
Before you have time to do or say anything, the Captain says "Ah, Ensign McSondheim. Welcome on board the SFS Connery."
More amusing than harmful, really. This kind of bug I can live with.
(Speaking of amusing, my favourite joke in the game is the response to READ MEDICAL REPORT. Good stuff.)
A few more quibbles: OUT should be a recognised exit in the first room, and similarly for a few more locations here and there. Also, the section of corridor east of the coolant shaft doesn't allow you to travel west again, despite what the room description says. Oh, and SLEEP doesn't work when you're in your quarters, but ENTER BED does. These are worth fixing, but nothing life-threatening.
The envelope can be used as a makeshift SACK_OBJECT, but for me this doesn't count as a bug. Limiting the number of objects you can carry does -- almost.
And that's about that. If you've finished the game, you'll have discovered that it's merely the first part of a promised trilogy. I don't know about you, but I'll certainly keep an eye out for part 2. And Offensive Probing is a solid enough game that I wouldn't bet against the next two parts seeing the light of day, unlike many of the "Part One Of An Epic Saga"-type games on GMD.
This article copyright © 2000, Iain Merrick