Passengers On The Wind (Infogrames) Review | Commodore User - Everygamegoing

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Passengers On The Wind
By Infogrames
Commodore 64/128

 
Published in Commodore User #47

Passengers On The Wind

A daring escape from a British ship, an attempted rape by a one-eyed coffin-burner, voodoo in the French colony of Dahomey, and seduction and subterfuge in the Savannah... Passengers On The Wind clearly has a story slightly more complex than the usual junk we get from most software publishers.

Based very closely in plot and graphics on the award-winning comic strip by Francois Bourgeon, it follows the adventures of Isabeau, an 18th century French girl of noble rank, who travels the globe in search of the proof which will restore her lost fortunes.

It's an ambitious undertaking, and in fact the game only covers a small part of the story, beginning - rather confusingly - in mid-flow with Isa and Mary's dramatic rescue of Hoel, Isa's Breton lover, from the ship where he is imprisoned by the British. From here the story progresses haphazardly, as Isa and her companions board a smuggler's ship to France (Mary giving birth to a child en route), and after a brief sojourn in the town of Nourmoutier, they eventually travel to the fortress of Juda in French West Africa. There, amongst the depraved Europeans and the unfortunate slaves, an aged missionary holds the secret to Isa's mysterious and colourful past.

There's a fair amount of danger and suspense along the way, and certainly rather more undressing than we usually find in computer software. Both Isa and Mary, the two heroines, are resourceful ladies whose solution to most predicaments is to unbutton their blouses. In this way, they cunningly catch their enemies with their pants down. This is, of course, no less than you'd expect from any game based on a French comic-strip.

Infogrames' programmers have struggled gallantly with the awesome task of squeezing all this onto a computer screen. Each episode - and there are nine - opens with a vivid, atmopsheric illustration of the location, and, as the action proceeds, cartoon frames are laid over this, sometimes rapidly, in an attempt to retain the spirit of a comic strip.

Below this graphics area is where your involvement takes place, as you use your joystick-controlled cursor to select the portraits of the characters, and then read their thoughts and speech in the text window, choosing between alternative courses of action where necessary. For the narrative to proceed as it should, you must get the right people saying and doing the right things at the right time.

There isn't much skill in all this. Sometimes the choice of action of character is obvious, and at other times totally random. If the characters speak in the wrong order, the plot might develop in a different direction, but more often than not, the dialogue merely becomes garbled, with answers being given to questions which haven't been asked. The wrong action might be fatal (as when Francois attacks the leopard) or only irrelevant (as when the lecherous Viaroux decides whether he will bed one or both of the heroines).

More infuriating is when selecting the wrong course of action causes an entire slice of the plot to be overlooked - although you're unaware of it at the time. Fortunately, you can start each episode again if you feel things are getting out of hand, and when you're satisfied you can then save that episode. In this way by trial and error, you can eventually complete the narrative. It's a bit like sticking the pages of dismembered book back in the correct order, and is just as exciting.

Most of the time the plot is, in any case, largely incomprehensible, with characters popping up and disappearing from chapter to chapter. What happened to Grenouille, who vows she will never leave Hoel's side? Where is Mary's lover, John, while she's busy bonking Francois in the bushes? And who's looking after Mary's ludicrously-named baby while all this is going on?

Your understanding of events isn't helped by a clumsy translation from the French which is impenetrable and often hilarious, as when the West African slave tells Isa: "Here the king is everything, he has heard on the tom-toms that Viaroux has cocked everything up." Isa replies: "So what?"

Better still is when one-eyed Dewey, the cremator, excited at the prospect of some hanky-panky with Mary, announces that he will warm himself up by jumping up and down. God knows what the original French was, but I bet it wasn't that!

Add to this an instruction manual which inclines towards gibberish, and some needless irritations in gameplay (like not being told who the various characters are, and finicky icon-access), and you've got a package which promises a hell of a lot more than it delivers. All it really succeeds in doing is making you ask yourself "Why am I squinting at this travesty of the comic strip when I'd be better off reading the book itself?"

As that quaint 18th century pidgin English phrase puts it, Infogrames have cocked everything up.

Bill Scolding

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