44: Rise of the Dragon

Publisher: Sierra
Developer: Dynamix
Year: 1990
Platform: DOS, Amiga, Macintosh, SEGA CD

Review: Dynamix introduced their first game in the adventure genre in 1990, and while it suffered a little from the inexperience of the game designers, it still soared high and above most of its competition.

You play Blade, a former cop who didn’t work within the system and is now a private dick. The mayor’s daughter, an addict, has been killed by a mysterious drug. The mayor has hired you to not only investigate her murder, but the organization that is behind everything. The setting is in Los Angeles in the near bleak future, and most of the game revolves in and around Chinatown; however, there are very few locations to visit in the game.

The locations therein are well realized and the digitized graphics are sufficient if not a tad bit grainy. The sound does a superb job of staying in the background, hardly noticeable but still reflecting the appropriate mood. The icon interface is very intuitive, with most commands executable with one click of the mouse, while not being too insulting. Items can be dragged to and from the inventory and combined with ease. There are enough subtle hints, background imagery, and red herrings in the game to make the point’n’clickin’ meaningful.

Where Rise of the Dragon really stands out is the pacing of the game. Though it doesn’t get mentioned often, the pace of a game can easily make or break the player’s enjoyment. Blade lives in real-time. The world moves on with or without him.  More importantly, characters respond appropriately to Blade’s actions and remember them as well. Piss off an informant?  Forget about getting anywhere on that lead. Apologize to your girl?  She’ll remember your sincerity later. Talking with characters prompts conversation trees that can wind out to several different outcomes. While the game can never be put in an unwinnable state, the more you screw up, the less likely you’ll be able to deduce what’s going on around you.

apologizing to your girl

Though there is a time limit, in the game and in some sequences, it is not too constricting.  You are allowed extensive exploration as well as the “restore” command to beat the clock. One of the game’s treats is the numerous ways you can creatively kill yourself. After I won the game, I spent a good amount of time searching for all of the possible death scenes and the four alternate endings.

Ultimately, the game’s biggest disappointment is its brevity. Perhaps I’ve just played too many games, but I was able to complete this one in about three hours. The puzzles are none too difficult, and there simply isn’t extensive enough character or plot development. There are also two arcade sequences involving using your weapon of choice. The first one is implemented seamlessly and is simple enough, while the second is very clunky and abruptly ruins the flow of the game near the end. While you can skip them if you so choose, continuity is sacrificed.

Despite it faults, Rise of the Dragon should please most adventure gamers as it does a wonderful job of creating a realistic, non-linear environment without ever forcing the player to read the authors’ minds by solving obtuse puzzles. Certainly worth an afternoon.

Contemporary RatingMedium.  The game’s time limit combined with the pointless arcade sequences could scare some people off.  However, if the game intrigues you it shouldn’t be too much a barrier.

Cruelty Rating:  Polite.  You need to save the game regularly, but you can’t get stuck and dangerous situations are apparent.

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