It's Day 2 of E3, and things are starting to wind down a bit. I'm hearing there's been some crazy evening shows coming from Giant Bomb, but I'm going to have to wait until this weekend to watch them. I seem to be spending all the time writing these darn Alternatives and monitoring the GS streams in our chat room. I'm certainly getting more E3 than I anticipated, which makes these Alternatives a bit... I dunno, hypocritical? Well, I make 'em for you guys, specifically the ones aren't interested in hearing about games that won't be out until 2015 anyway. We are kindred spirits, you and I.
Today we're going to be looking at a game I knew nothing about going in, and we're moving from dark fantasy and post-apocalyptic superhero satire to good old "hard" science fiction, as
Party Down's Roman DeBeers might refer to it. Derisively, probably. Mission Critical
Mission Critical is a game I'd never heard of before this week. It's Legend's first attempt at injecting some FMV cutscenes featuring live-action performances into their games, the sort of feature that would eventually be everywhere in PC games of the mid-90s (1997's Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II is a particular favorite example of mine) but not quite descending into the all-encompassing digitized actor nightmares that adventure games would soon become. Taking more than a few cues from Star Trek (let's just say you might recognize a face or two), Mission Critical is a sci-fi adventure game where the crews of two AFS (The Alliance of Free States) ships -- the command ship USS Lexington and the science vessel SV Jericho -- have had to kill themselves to prevent a distant planet's mysterious contents falling into the hands of the enemy (which I believe the game refers to as the UN? I guess they suddenly got evil. And competent. Not sure which is more "sci-fi"), hatching a plan that would leave a single person behind on the USS Lexington to complete the mission. That person is you, naturally, and most of the early puzzles involve fixing the damage done to Lexington during the intro battle and getting everything working again. The handful of other actors only appear during the prologue and occasionally on logs and other video/audio recordings.
As before, I've captured highlights of the intro as a "Part 0". The game itself begins with Part 1, right after. The acting's not actually all that bad, kind of unfortunately because that means there aren't too many fun goofy B-movie moments to capture. It's more like a regular episode of Babylon 5. Or, well, Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Part 0: Hey, At Least People Listen to Him in this Sci-fi Universe We open on a big spaceship moving through frame, which is sort of how you want to start any sci-fi related property if you ask me. Importantly, the USS Lexington is where most of the game is set, so it's neat we get to see it in all its glory up front. A bunch of actors sit around a fancy future age vector display, looking at green wireframes fly around. But what manner of actor, I hear you ask? How about Michael Dorn? The actor best known for the ornery and often injured Klingon Starfleet officer Worf here plays Captain Dayna, who spends most of his time looking concerned at a computer console and giving orders. So, playing to his strengths. The other major role is XO Jennifer Tran (kind of an unfortunate name, really), who is played by Patricia Charbonneau. Charbonneau is for the most part a TV actor like Dorn. She was in RoboCop 2 (as a lab tech) and Manhunter as well though, if you're trying to place her face. So anyway, eventually the plot kicks into gear and the two ships are ambushed by an enemy UN vessel. It's considerably better-armed than the Lexington, it turns out. Not-Amanda Tapping gives us a report that the drone fighters we sent out are getting their asses kicked. The Lexington and Jericho take a few hits each too, before Captain Dayna decides to call for an unconditional surrender. So here's where the plan comes in. Dayna excuses the rest of the bridge crew to the escape shuttles, intending to hand them over to the UN ship. He confides to Tran that he intends to destroy the enemy vessel by bringing an active warhead along with them, which will kill everyone on board the UN vessel, including the ASF's own crewmembers. A single unnamed officer will be left behind to complete the mission. Because they need to give Dorn something dramatic to do, he records a personal message for his daughter before leaving the ship. Everyone vacates the Lexington and Jericho, and... I guess that just leaves us now. Subtle choice of typeface there guys. Well done. Title drop! Part 1: Breaches of Privacy. And Hulls Sounds like another Satur[MOD EDIT: Sexual assault jokes are never funny, kids.] Welcome to Mission Critical! You'll notice that while the usual Legend text box and inventory slots are here, there's no longer a sidebar of commands cluttering things up. Also, every screen transition is fully animated in fancy 90s CGI, because this is the future. There's also a Help option for those who only bought this game because they heard Michael Dorn was in it. It's been built to be far more forgiving to newcomers as a result, up to and including letting the computer play the game for you. Each deck has a handy map to help you avoid getting lost. I kind of like the schematics-style look to them, though unfortunately there's no text to tell you what everything is. We wake up with a note that looks like a seven year old wrote it. Hey, I don't blame Dayna one bit. I've been typing on computers for so long that my handwriting looks like a chicken drank some espresso and attacked a piece of paper in its caffeine-fueled rage. He's given us a code to his stateroom and some basic directions. First, though, we might want to do something about this alarm and worrisome whooshing noise. There's a microfracture somewhere on this deck that threatens to destabilize the whole ship. Fortunately, there's a terminal on each deck that tells you if there's any problems, though I can't yet access the central computer and get info on the ship itself. Named for the most dangerous animal of the Serengeti, Condition Zebra is reserved for "fix this or we're all dead, you idiot" problems. Starting to think this hull breach might be a priority. We're told that they keep these patch kits near every terminal in cases like these. Most of the items in the game have these fancy close-ups. We find the Captain's Quarters nearby, but for as much as I want to rifle through Worf's stuff, I think we'd better grab the manifest he was talking about and go plug that puncture. The whooshing gets louder as you approach the crew quarters, but it takes some checking before we find the right door. I'm using my keen detective skills to deduce that it's probably this one. Probably best I read the instructions for this patch kit first. Knowing my luck, it'll be the first thing sucked out into space once I get in there. I'll also need to check the crew manifest I just grabbed for the right override code. This first page is kind of interesting: Poole and Aguilar are new commissions for this mission, while the Supply Officer only joined after this manifest was created. Presumably I'm whoever that is, then. Makes me wonder why the guy charged with looking after the pantry is the one left behind to accomplish this vital mission, but I nitpick. It would at least explain how I'm able to keep my inventory items in order. Excusing the typo, here's a list of the nine most important officers on board. We'll be rummaging through most of their staterooms for useful items, so it's only polite to know the names of the corpses we'll be robbing. The very back page of the manifest, which I didn't bother capping because we have enough document images already, provides the Captain's scrawled notes explaining which room has which code. We only have a handful, but fortunately one of them fits the room that's currently depressurizing. Man, it's a good thing it hasn't sucked out (or blown out, I guess) all the oxygen in here. Probably best I repair this while I can still breathe. So the instructions say to spray around the fissure, releasing a gel that magnetically seals itself to metal. And then all I need to do is add the patch and voila. No more imminent death. From this issue, at least. Now that all the books and items have stopped swirling around, I can check them out. This one seems like a real page-turner. If I try to pick up any book unrelated to the mission, I get this snippy reply. Oddly, the weights for the books are different for each one, suggesting that I'm somehow able to tell an item's weight in grams just by picking it up. Man, I must be the best Supply Officer in the universe. Now this is more like it! Swedish Bikini Team gag? I mean, without the bikinis. Let's just find a holodisc player and- Aw dammit. 23rd century space porn will have to wait, then. Holy shit, Dr. Anton Fujikawa throws blue. This is the Science Officer's quarters, obviously enough. Besides goofy 3D artwork and not-so-inspirational quotes, it's empty. Dr Michael Dahl, the Medical Officer, has an interesting looking safe in his stateroom. It only responds to a retinal scan though, so whatever's in there will have to wait. Maybe Doc left his eyes somewhere on the ship? This is my room. I already know precisely how useless all my stuff is, so I quickly depart. At least I didn't have to remember an override code for this one. Deck 2 also has the ship's Communications Center, which I'll no doubt be needing once I get the main computer back online. Then again, this is supposed to be a classified mission... Also here is the spare parts room. Every one of these items has a different six character codename, which probably means I'll need to replace a part and have to remember what its number is. This does seem like a "have a notebook handy" sort of game. So back to the Captain's Quarters. There's nothing else here besides an audio log. Dayna doesn't go into too much detail about the mission, but he does talk about how foreboding it was. We also know it has something to do with the planet we're orbiting, dubbed Persephone. The only other room here, and one we were directed to in the Captain's note, is the wardroom. We're here to find Tran's final message, which should tell us the state of the ship and our next objectives. But first, I get distracted by a miniature model of the ship inside the ship. I always wondered why Picard had one of these. So did Commander Shepard, for that matter. Maybe they were fans of the Droste effect? XO Tran, who I unfortunately captured mid-snarl, has left me with two chief objectives based on her damage report: the first is that the ship's engines are about to overheat and explode due to a problem with the coolant tanks, which is probably something we should fix sooner rather than later, and the second is to get the ship's computer back online. Well, time's a-wastin'. Part 2: Irradiation, Irrigation and Irritation The wardroom monitor farts out a keycard, insinuatng that we're now able to leave the deck via the elevator. It's a proper cylindrical spaceship elevator too. With wall ridges. I wonder if it will play the TNG theme when I close the doors? So the spaceship's pretty big. That's nine decks, each with presumably some purpose within the game. I'm a little spoiled for choice, but while a meltdown of the ship's engines is nigh perhaps we ought to head to engineering first. Ah. We can't go there yet because of a potential radiation hazard. I mean, that's what the computer lady just said. I guess we're heading to Reactor Spaces instead. So here's a puzzle: there's four rooms and two tunnels in each leading up and down. Any one of those tunnels might be filled with a lethal dose of radiation. As I have no protective suits or a Geiger counter, I'm saying to hell with this. Instead, I go exploring the other decks for something that might help down there. I'm not eager to lose all my hair and grow flippers any time soon. Here's Deck 3, which I visit first because I still have some override codes to check out. First though, we're checking out the Mess Hall. Besides crappy astronaut food, there's not a whole lot here to see. We can, however, access the VR computer here. Let's hope they don't have Dreadhalls or Kraken on this thing. There's two programs loaded up: the first is a tour of the USS Lexington, which describes each of area of the ship in detail, explaining their function. It's yawn city, though I can't help but feel I ought to listen to it anyway. There might be hints. The other program is a historical documentary on the war we're involved in, and why and how it started. It's interesting, but a bit wordy, so I'll just summarize: The UN clamped down on all technological progress after it was clear that we were developing technology too quickly and that it might lead to a nuclear war that would annihilate mankind. The Alliance of Free States, which included the most technological nations like the US, Western Europe, Japan and, uh, Canada seceded from the UN because they were all like, "Nah son, we ain't stopping this progress train until we get our hoverboards" (paraphrased). Both entities believe they are in the right, so the war's been waging almost non-stop for decades. Both sides are exhausted, have very little resources and people left and clearly something needs to put an end to it. Hence why we're here in the middle of nowhere looking for I'm only guessing will be an alien superweapon. Just a hunch. So after that history lesson, it's time to check out even more staterooms. Hopefully one of these crewmembers had a radiation suit fetish. Then again, I'm not sure I'd want to wear it, knowing why it was there. We find Lt. Falcon's quarters. There's a note with another override code from a person Falcon was knocking boots with. From the crew manifest, above a few dozen screenshots, we know Falcon was a woman. Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean anything if we're looking for her partner. All we have is an initial: J. Going by first names of officers from the manifest and the staterooms we don't already have codes for, it's either James Poole or Jennifer Tran, the XO. Apparently it was pretty serious? Hideki Miura, who wasn't on the first page of the crew manifest, was the resident hacker around here. I'm half expecting Neuromancer posters and a black trenchcoat. I took his gold necklace, because he wasn't using it. I also took his code, even though it seems to be a C++ routine to display Pi. I'm sure it'll be useful? Ah, the gossipy Mary Qwan left a physical journal behind. Not only does she solve this little mystery for us, but casts all kinds of aspersions on Poole being a villainous UN agent. I suspect this info might come into play after I'm done fixing the ship. Poole's quarters has this suspicious spaceship model in it. I'm not sure what it contains, but let's carry it with us. It's probably not going to be an explosive or anything. Deck 3 was largely a wash, at least as far as finding something to help us with those irradiated tunnels, so I decide to start searching the rest of the ship. First off, we head to the bridge to sit in the Captain's chair. Should've been the first thing I did after getting that elevator keycard, frankly. Deck 4 is all crew quarters, and I don't have override codes for any of these. Moving on. Deck 5 is potentially interesting, though this particular room looks like a no-go. Not unless I want to eviscerate myself on space age polymers. In the other direction, though, we have the Medlab. Surely I can find some manner of anti-radiation gear here? Yeah, yeah, I love you too, game. Great. Besides some hint about using the Autodoc table to stun someone, which I'm sure I won't need later, there's nothing much here. The Science Lab's got all sorts of interesting doodads and test tubes lying around. Including, importantly, this hand scanner and Geiger counter. Success! Ah, so this ought to tell me the elemental composition of anything I use it on. Might come in handy. Actually, we do have this strange spaceship model we're carrying around... Ah, okay, so it actually is a powerful explosive. Might as well keep carrying it around then. I'll make sure I don't jump off a ladder too hard or something. So this is an interesting puzzle, and the first instance of a puzzle that requires some thought beyond the regular adventure game inventory deductions. The Geiger counter can only tell you if the area's clean, or if both ladders lead through irradiated areas, or if one ladder leads through an irradiated area - but doesn't say whether it's up or down. There's five floors too. It's a process of elimination, where in the cases where only one ladder is deadly, you can sometimes figure out which direction it's in. Say if the A room on the first floor leads to a deadly descent, and you get a message in the A room on the second floor that only one passage is irradiated, you're safe to go down the ladder there because you already know the one above is the deathtrap. It's sort of neat, but not too challenging. Finally, we make it to the engineering deck. Thankfully, and kind of strangely, there's no radiation whatsoever down here. That might've been unfortunate. The nearby computer gives us two issues to sort out. The first is the coolant issue we're already aware of, which continues to be ever more pressing. This one doesn't seem quite as important. These systems are working, but no longer have back-ups in case they fail. I assume if they ever go down, it'll be for story reasons some time later on. The engineering room's pretty impressive-looking. Kind of wish we could get a better look at the core, but I don't think it's one of those ones like in Star Trek where there's a big blue wobbly thing in the middle of the room. I suspect the actual engine-y parts are underneath that dome. Oh man, I know what this is starting to sound like. Yep, it's a variation on Pipe Dream. I've already messed up here, though, because those big yellow clasps need to be opened manually outside of this mini-game. That means going up to the top floor of the engineering deck and crawling into one of these Jefferies Tubes. We can only turn on one auxiliary coolant tank at a time, so I hope it's not one of those cases where only a specific one will work. The game explains that the tank needs to be fed through the main reactor, through a heat sink and then back into the coolant tank to complete the circuit. It's a lot less annoying than I anticipated it might be, though it also took me a while to get my head around what I was supposed to be doing. Maybe I was just panicking too much. Heck yeah I did. I'm a hero! Hey everyone, I- oh... yeah. Well, I think this is the perfect time to save and quit for now. Doesn't seem like anything's seconds away from blowing up. Except maybe that bomb in my pocket.
So far, Mission Critical's been kind of dull, but I've certainly appreciated the level of detail in the game. That VR orientation video on the ship goes on for like fifteen minutes, describing every section and its role, and much of the written material and audio logs have been quite extensive. There's no shortage of worldbuilding here, which would be impressive enough in a game like Death Gate where there's a whole novel series to draw from, but Mission Critical is entirely original. Well, insofar as it was written by Legend employees, not that it's a particularly innovative sci-fi setting in its own right (hey, but then neither was
Mass Effect, and that does all right). I've read that this game gets a lot crazier once you finally get off the ship, so maybe I'll revisit it at some point. Any interest in seeing these LPs continue? Please feel free to leave some feedback.
Regardless, you are all very much welcome to stick around for the fourth and final game tomorrow. I did want to squeeze in a bit of info on the other three Legend graphic adventures too somewhere, so maybe something on those will show up in a far less exhaustive context after E3's over. Until then, farewell from the worrrrrld of tomorrrrrow.