While watching one of the countless documentaries on the sinking of the Titanic, I learned a very curious fact: the ship that was considered unsinkable went down thanks to a series of small gashes that totaled just over 20 square feet in area.
Just like its namesake, Starship Titanic also sinks because of numerous holes -- but we're not talking about a series of tiny punctures. No, the problems that pervade Starship Titanic are so large that you could drive a... well, an ocean liner through them. Practically no aspect of the game -- story, navigation, puzzles, interface -- works to draw the player into the game world, and the result is an exercise in tedium and frustration for all but the most tolerant adventurers.
Your goal in Starship Titanic is straightforward: find out what's gone wrong with the luxury starship that's crash-landed into your home, then correct the problem before you smash into a star or hurtle into a black hole. The situation sounds dangerous, but slow pacing, a paucity of characters, and a nearly invisible back story rob the game of any sense of urgency.
One of the biggest reasons for Starship Titanic's failure to captivate is its movement and navigation interface. Animated sequences from a first-person perspective are shown when you travel between static screens (just as in Myst), but you'll grow weary of these sequences after just a few hours because you'll have seen them so many times -- and the only way to skip them is to constantly hold down the Shift key. Even more annoying is that there's no way bypass the long, weary animations used whenever you ride an elevator or the Pellerator (sort of a tram used to reach certain destinations).
What it all adds up to is that you'll spend huge chunks of time simply traveling back and forth over the same old ground you've seen dozens of times before, cursing as you sit on your hands waiting for the elevator or Pellerator to finally reach your destination. You spend so much time roaming the ship's corridors, in fact, that this could almost pass for a power-walking simulation.
All this toing and froing wouldn't be as mind-numbing if you met a lot of interesting characters along the way, but here again Starship Titanic founders. The only characters you can interact with are a handful of robots, and of these only a couple lend more than a brief spark of humor to the proceedings. Press releases tout the power and versatility of Starship Titanic's text parser, which allows you type in specific questions and hear audio responses to your queries. But because the answers have been pre-recorded, there's no way the program can provide an applicable response to all your questions, even with 12 hours of speech. In the end, you'll forego chatting up the 'bots and focus instead on the puzzles.
And that leads to even more frustration, because the solutions to some of these puzzles are so obscure that it's practically impossible to complete the game without constantly referring to a walkthrough. Part of the problem is the interface: sometimes the cursor doesn't change to indicate you can manipulate an object, and aside from talking to 'bots the only way to "explore" the game world is to look for clickable objects. But the real reason for the insane difficulty level is that you get so little feedback from the game that you can wander around for long stretches of time with no idea what to do next.
Finally, there's the game's back story, which in most adventure games explains why you're doing what you're doing. No such luck here, though -- all you know is that the ship isn't working, with no hint as to how it got that way in the first place. Studious gamers might stumble across the explanation in the ship's e-mail archives, but it doesn't add that much to the ambience because it's really not that interesting anyway.
What makes all this truly disappointing is the game's pedigree: Starship Titanic is the brainchild of Douglas Adams, whose book A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has all the qualities -- interesting characters, wacky situations, and humor that manages to be simultaneously bizarre and subtle -- that could have saved this game from sinking into obscurity. As it stands, though, about the only gamers who'll get their money's worth out of Starship Titanic are devoted Douglas Adams fans -- and even then only the most patient need apply.
People who downloaded Starship Titanic have also downloaded:
Titanic: Adventure Out of Time, Star Trek: The Next Generation - A Final Unity, Synnergist, Discworld Noir, Star Trek: Borg, Grim Fandango, Shivers, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Harbinger
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