Alabama Smith in
Escape from Pompeii
Alabama Smith in Escape from Pompeii is a new adventure game that builds inventory puzzles into a hidden object-style interface. You play the young Alabama Smith, an archaeology student who has just been given the opportunity to study in Naples. His mentor tells him of a mysterious amulet buried in the ruins of Pompeii that is rumored to grant the owner the ability to travel through time.
The adventure begins in the university library with one seemingly not-so-simple goal in mind: find a long-lost hidden room. Surprisingly, a few clicks later you'll be staring down its dusty staircase and into a forgotten chamber. Making your way there is a simple matter of solving puzzles by finding items and either combining them in your inventory or using them directly on objects in the scene.
One key difference between Alabama Smith in Escape from Pompeii and most casual adventure titles is this game spells your tasks out on a list at the bottom of the screen. Instead of blindly fumbling for items and ways to combine them, all you have to do is check the window next to your inventory and try to accomplish the tasks listed, usually in order from top to bottom. While this does take some of the oomph out of the adventure, casual players will appreciate the light hand-holding.
An interesting option available early in the game (which can be toggled between levels) is the choice between Casual and Expert mode. Expert is more like a traditional adventure game where you look for items and figure out how to use them with the puzzles at hand. With Casual, however, you're presented a list of items to find (much like a hidden object game) along with additional in-game hints and the ability to skip mini-games. The choice is entirely up to you.
Analysis: Simply dropping the word "Pompeii" in a game's title will immediately conjure epic images in your mind. Alabama Smith had me from the title screen, and its simple combination of item puzzles and no-frills storytelling was just enough game to keep my attention the whole way through.
Here's where Alabama Smith in Escape from Pompeii starts to stand on shaky ground: puzzle construction. I mentioned earlier that your tasks are listed at the bottom of the screen. While unconventional for an adventure game, it's an acceptable solution to make the game more accessible to casual players. But even with things spelled out in front of you, you'll still have to resort to the hint system in order to get things done. This is purely because a handful of the game's puzzles make no logical sense.
Most adventure games (especially interactive fiction) relies on the player's ability to see a game world and extrapolate uses for the items provided in the scene. Alabama Smith encourages just the opposite, however, and wants you to stick to the list and keep your creative instincts to yourself. It feels a bit stifling to an old-school adventure gamer like myself, but I still found plenty of enjoyment in completing puzzles and working my way through the story.
Alabama Smith in Escape from Pompeii sets its sights high and wants to be listed amongst the best-known casual adventure games. Even though the story is interesting (if a tad contrived) and the game mechanics themselves easy to use, more logical puzzles and less reliance on lists would put the final level of polish on the title that would make it outshine most games of its genre. As it stands, however, you've still got a grand adventure.