Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Dig Review

The Dig is a game by LucasArts that is based on an abandoned story idea that was originally meant to be part of Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories television program.  It began development in 1989, and went through four project leaders (Noah Falstein, followed by Brian Moriarty, then Dave Grossman, and ultimately Sean Clark) before it was released in 1995.  Despite its tumultuous development, The Dig ended up being a fairly enjoyable game.

The game follows two astronauts and a reporter who is part of the mission to report on it first hand.  The trio intend to set off detonations on an asteroid that is headed on a direct collision with Earth, in order to break it apart and send the shards of rock off course.  Things don't go as planned, as they soon find themselves hurled across space to a desolate planet where an advanced civilization seems to have just disappeared.

They decide to try to find clues about the planet they've landed on by deciphering the ancient machines that they encounter.  This is the bulk of a lot of the puzzles, which are similar in style to the object manipulation puzzles found in games like Myst.  This game actually has a lot in common with Myst, as the game is mostly about silent exploration, and the dialog that is there is pretty dry and scientific.  There are moments of dry humor spread throughout, but the tone of this game is much different from the other games in the LucasArts adventure library.  The story is pretty interesting, especially as the story slowly gains impetus as the crew begins to use artifacts without knowing their full purpose, with disastrous results.

The artwork is really nice in this game.  Its long development cycle meant that the game looked dated even in 1995, but it has a really unique art style that still looks nice today.  The cutscenes have fantastic animation, although the video has been highly compressed to fit on the media of the time, which means that there are noticeable artifacts.  The backgrounds are a high point, as they are all lusciously detailed, giving a sense of wonder to the otherwise dreary surroundings of the empty planet.  The voice work here is top notch, led by Robert Patrick (the T-1000 from Terminator 2) as Boston Low.  In a game where character interaction is sparse, this is important, as you'll be hearing from the same group of people a lot.  Luckily, this isn't a problem as all three of the main astronauts are all voiced well, as are the few other characters that appear in the game.  The music is also fantastic, helping to add to the mysterious nature of the game's setting.

If you don't mind the dry dialog and the many Myst like object manipulation puzzles, The Dig is an enjoyable game.  The cutscene videos are a bit too heavily compressed, and the pacing of the story is a bit slow, but the excellent voice acting, music, and background art help make the game a memorable experience.

(Side note: If you want a more detailed explanation of the game's somewhat abrupt ending, check out the novelization of The Dig by Alan Dean Foster.  It differs from the game in some parts, but it's an excellent read overall, and is a fine companion piece to the game.)

Final Verdict:

3½ out of 5

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