MISSING / Radical Poesis / PC

The ultimate judgment of a video game really only lies in one thing - when you've put it down, and you later look back on all the finite life-time that you spent on it, do you feel like it was time well spent? Did you take something worthwhile from it, or at least have a really good time?

Bad games generally have the courtesy to be very bad from the get-go, which precludes you from ever sinking too much time in to begin with. The type of game that commits the worst offense, in my eyes, is a game that starts off promising, and does enough things well to draw you in, but then just collapses eventually due to either laziness or technical incompetence, leaving you frustrated and feeling like you just pissed away hours of your life that you can never have back.

And that's why Missing is Awful Freeware. It does a lot of things very well, gets off the ground as an engrossing mystery/adventure, and has a lot of recommendations out there on the Web giving it far, far more praise than it ultimately deserves. In the end, however, it sucker-punches you with insultingly sloppy writing and a pointless exercise in abusive masochism and nihilism that provides nothing at all, not even raw entertainment unless you are some sort of sadist or masochist.

The primary problem with the game is the writing, and the primary reason that the writing is the problem is that there's really little actual *game* here. This is really more like a "visual novel" than a game; there's no way to die, you're led along a stiflingly linear and mostly obvious path through a small game area, and there are only three incidences in the game that approach being able to be called "puzzles" (and these are all so simple as to only barely qualify.)

A game with a poor story can be held afloat as an overall good experience if the other factors like gameplay, level and puzzle design, aesthetics and interface are all spot on. Missing has most of the above down well, but it fails the most crucial test for an adventure/mystery game - the puzzle design. With an almost complete absence of puzzles, and thus challenge, we are left solely with the story upon which to judge the merits of the work, and unfortunately writing is far and away the designer's weakest ability.

The game was designed to be an approximation of the old ICOM adventure games (Shadowgate, Deja Vu) that started out on the Mac but were most famously ported to the NES. The interface is simple, but effective, and I've no real complaints there, other than not being allowed to save the game outside of your character's room. The strength of the game by far is atmosphere, with very good background and lighting effects work, passable human characters, and effective MIDI music and digitized sound effects.

The game seems to draw more than a bit of inspiration from Snatcher, given the art style in some areas and some little Easter Eggy sort of references, and like a Kojima game things are best at the beginning when you know almost nothing of what is going on, and gradually descend into ludicrousness and deus-ex-machina as the plot is revealed. Unlike a Kojima game, the author doesn't try to confuse you into not noticing the weak writing at the end with a bunch of mumbo jumbo and overly complex plot points, nor does he have the excellent early '90s era Konami artists and sound team to help bail him out either. I don't want to spoil anything, in the event you do decide to play it, but there's a whole lot of problems endemic of very amateur writing. "Supernatural" events are adopted for the sake of atmosphere, then totally discarded without an explanation or purpose as the plot works itself out. The author seems to lack even a rudimentary understanding of biology, or even common sense environmental factors, which really takes a toll late in the game where it becomes impossible to suspend your disbelief as events unfold. Stuff just kinda happens because the overall structure of the plot requires it, even when it makes no sense at all. There's lapses in continuity, contradictions of things previously established (that REALLY should have been noticed), major characters that inexplicably disappear from the story, and characters who are introduced and yet never seen or developed in any way. All of this I could overlook if the ending weren't complete garbage, some sort of adolescent attempt at pulpy luridness and shock sheerly for shock's sake that calls to mind the cheesiest of crappy Hollywood horror movies and exploitation flicks.

I'm still uncertain whether it was a misguided attempt at depth and having a "non-traditional ending", or sheer laziness on the part of the writer, but the late-stage collapse of the story and the horrid ending are enough to kill whatever positive sentiment you had toward the rest of the game. At least, that was my experience, which is why it's here in the halls of the Awful. Two to three short hours of playtime combined with almost no real challenge at all don't do it any favors, either. There's promise here, to be sure, but the author has some weaknesses that need to be shored up one way or another, possibly by bringing on other people who are more capable.

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