CODENAME: ICEMAN / Sierra / PC
I don't have any personal problem with Jim Walls. I think he's a poor writer, generally speaking, but his Police Quest games at least broke new ground in giving the player a detailed look into the life of a beat patrol officer in adventure game form, and there were certainly plenty of qualities to appreciate about them - none of the original trilogy were out-and-out bad. I get the sense we wouldn't see eye-to-eye on politics and social theory, but I'm not out to slam him. I'm just being honest, and honestly, Codename: Iceman is the worst adventure game Sierra ever made. And I suspect it's about 100% Jim's fault.
If you're not familiar with the man, Jim was a California Highway Patrol officer for most of his life. I'd imagine he was a decent cop, and he was injured in the line of duty in a shootout, leading eventually to his somewhat brief career making adventure games for Sierra and later Tsunami Entertainment. He was at his best with the Police Quest series, because even though the writing often descended into "laughably bad" territory and the "police procedure" adherence could get really tedious, he had a rich body of personal experience to draw on to give gamers this look into a world that really hadn't been represented before in this medium. And I thought all 3 games ended up coming off pretty well overall in the end.
Not so with Iceman, where Jim seems to just be trying to write a Tom Clancy novel. Apparently he was both the lead writer and designer on this one, and as bad as he is as a writer, he's even worse as a designer. I say this judging by the arbitrary puzzles, obtuse parser, shitty arcade sequences, goofy logic and general lack of communication with the player on display in this one.
The story puts you in the role of Navy submarine officer Johnny Westmoreland, who starts out relaxing on the beaches of Tahiti with seemingly no problems in the world as he enjoys a little R&R. And indeed, the early portion of the game consists of just roaming around the tiny island doing stuff because it happens to be there. A volleyball game that serves as the game's indirect (and highly ineffective) copy protection is the first arbitrary puzzle of the sequence, but it's tolerable. The rest of the Tahiti introductory portion should give you more than ample warning what to expect for the rest of the game, however.
Johnny ends up wandering into a bar and speed-seducing some slut, who mentions during their night of passion that she dropped an earring. OK, so we at least have some clue we should be looking for an earring - but finding it is incredibly random and arbitrary, as it's tucked away in some spot where it isn't visible until you walk near it, and even when you do you stand a good chance of not noticing it. Using a walkthrough that told me where it was, it still took a good five minutes of scouring the beach to find it! The kicker here is that you don't even have to find it to advance the plot, but if you don't, you're basically hosed at the end of the game - one of the most vicious Sierra Hang-Ups in their whole catalog.
What's even worse than the earring puzzle is a simple phone call to the cleverly named "Nosinky Dinghy" to get off the island. The goal here is obvious - you need a dinghy to come and ferry you to the airport. The parser displays its incredible lack of options and flexibility here, however, as every sensible way to request a water taxi is met with a "You're not making any sense!" and a disconnect, forcing you to dial the number over again. In the end, you find that simply typing "talk" in caveman style is the answer. Whoever programmed the game seemed to have spent as little time on the parser and enviroment text as possible - looking at things inevitably gets you the most spartan and unhelpful description possible, yet the game is incredibly finicky about specifying your actions to the point of ridiculousness.
Eventually (if you have the patience), Johnny gets off the island and back into his Navy blues. You'll soon be on a nuclear submarine, which is where the vast bulk of the rest of the game takes place. Be sure to have the manual handy here, because you'll be expected to drive the submarine while taking orders from the Captain, and responding too slowly to his orders ends the game. Even if you have the controls down pat, juggling them as he changes up orders can still throw you off enough to cause the game to end suddenly!
There are a couple of battles aboard the sub, which are easily the most frustrating points of the game outside of calling Nosinky Dinghy. When the first one crops up, your torpedo tubes are malfunctioning, and you auto-die if you didn't repair them earlier while you were supposed to be doing something else. You can auto-fail the second one if you waste too many missiles on the first one, which (according to some FAQ) each only have a 30% random chance of hitting their target.
Other fun on the sub - boringly plotting courses and decoding Sekrit Spy Messages, and this fat drunk challenges you to a game of dice. He's in possession of an item you'll desperately need later in the game, but of course you don't know this at the time, and have to win a bunch of rounds of pure chance against him to get it. For further fun, if you save/restore more than two times after starting a gambling game, he'll call you a cheater and sulk off somewhere forever, potentially hosing your save.
The end portion of the game is more adventure-gamey and not all that bad, though it's only about fifteen-twenty minutes in length overall, and there's a really crappily done car chase sequence thrown in (that can mercifully be skipped.)
About the only positive things I can say about the game are that it's one of the better looking of Sierra's EGA games and reliable vet Mark Seibert delivers a decent MIDI soundtrack. When the game isn't busy actively irritating you, however, it's a strict dry procedural - guide the no-personality characters through a series of events using bureaucratic steps usually written down for you in the manual.
Download (since I can't find it for sale anywhere)
* Hilarious Everything2 article