While licensed games or games based on movies have a bad reputation (mainly because most of them are cash grabs), we can’t help but at least glance at games with famous people attached to them. And even after enjoying a playable demo of said game, expectations for it are naturally high. Today, we’ll be reviewing The Dig.
The Dig is a point and click graphic adventure developed by LucasArts and released in 1995 for DOS and ported for the Macintosh in 1996. It was re-released in 2002 for Windows 95 and in 2015 for modern Windows, macOS and Linux.
It’s based on an original concept by Steven Spielberg (yes, THAT Steven Spielberg!), which was supposed to be part of his Amazing Stories TV series, then a movie and when that wasn’t feasible, it became a computer game instead.
Development for the game begun as back as in 1987 when Spielberg, impressed by the Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade adventure game, pitched The Dig to LucasArts. The development passed through FOUR project leaders: Noah Falstein, Brian Moriarty, Dave Grossman and finally Sean Clark.
The game was originally supposed to have survival elements (including collecting resources), but then Moriarty cut all of that and focused instead on a typical graphic adventure using the SCUMM engine, also used in previous LucasArts adventure games.
But it was with Clark that The Dig became the game we’re seeing here. With an updated SCUMM engine and dialogue written by Clark himself and famous sci-fi writer Scott Orson Card (who some of you might not appreciate).
With all of these movie elements, it’s no surprise that the box art front cover even looks like a movie poster:
It definitely conveys a sense of mystery and the title foreshadows probably the most important item in the game.
But let’s stop wasting time and boot this sucker:
As one can see, the story begins with an asteroid in a collision course to Earth and you take control of NASA Commander Boston Law, voiced by Robert Patrick (T-1000 from Terminator 2) and helped by Maggie Robbins, voiced by Mari Weiss and Dr Ludger Brink, voiced by Steven Blum (Spike Spiegel from Cowboy Bebop, among many others).
The first part of the game, as seen above, is to plant 2 bombs on the asteroid to divert its course and then explore it. But the asteroid turns out to be more than it seems and you and your crew end up stranded in an alien world.
The game conveys right from the start a sense of isolation and exploration as the alien world reveals its inhospitable side. The mystery grows with every new location explored and puzzles solved.
And speaking of the puzzles, while some will require a lot of trial, error and repetition, none of them seem very illogical. Only a couple of them will be somewhat frustrating, especially for players with little or no experience in graphic adventures.
But the new SCUMM engine is very well implemented, focusing on just the left mouse button to perform all the actions required with a simple click. To inspect something, one must use a magnifying lens located in your inventory just like any other object. It becomes very intuitive the moment you take control of your character.
You even get a communicator (that looks like a smartphone) to contact the other characters when they aren’t available on-screen and even has a Lunar Lander mini-game in it.
Even the dialogues options are limited to simple icons located at the bottom of the screen instead of the typical dialogue lines.
And whether or not you’re an experienced adventure gamer, the game’s length shouldn’t be too short, providing a solid experience.
The soundtrack is adequate throughout the game, mirroring the feelings of isolation and drama presented, but the volume tends to rise during some scenes, drowning out the dialogue a bit. But that’s easily solved by reducing the music volume in the options screen.
The cutscenes are well animated but a bit low-resolution, even for the time. I wish this game was made with SVGA graphics instead.
But unfortunately, the game’s story has other faults and to properly analyze them, I have to go to spoiler territory:
Consider this your final warning!
While the game’s story is solid during most of it, it gets increasingly grimmer and darker towards the ending, steadily losing all comic relief throughout.
The beginning is fantastic, even after arriving on the planet. But then an unavoidable tragic event occurs early on and then, the story gets deadly serious and rarely lightens up again.
Even the upbeat ending does little to wash away all the serious tone and the drama all the characters go through.
And speaking of the ending, I’m not a big fan of it. After all that happens, the ending pulls a sort of deus ex machina and magically solves all the characters’ problems, which I personally consider lazy writing.
And yes, I know there are supposedly 2 endings: one “good” and one “bad”. This is not true: it’s the same ending, but with a slight variation based on ONE choice you can make near the end. But whether you make the right or wrong choice, it doesn’t matter because there aren’t any repercussions nor consequences; it all ends the same way. It only changes one of your companions’ reaction, that’s all!
And we’re out of the spoiler territory and the end of my ranting.
So, do I recommend it? If you’re a graphic adventure fan and don’t mind a slightly depressing story, then give it a shot. Despite its flaws, it’s still a solid game, with somewhat good puzzles, a nice soundtrack and a great atmosphere. And you can buy it here at GOG.com or here at Steam.
Well, what did you think of this game? Write your own thoughts about it in the comments and remember: when in deep space, always avoid eggs or egg-shaped objects. Nothing good ever comes from those!