Part 1: Stalin is a friend of mineAs a rule, old cRPGs were wacky. Sentinel Worlds had a talking alien key join your party and villains making funny faces at you. In Space 1889, you were fighting space Nazis plotting to take over the universe, helping Rasputin conspire against the Tzar, and pillaging the tomb of a prophet called Kazakhstan. Wasteland pitted you against bunny masters and murderous nuns. Dark Heart of Uukrul had Sagaris. Whale's Voyage featured inane dialogues and a flower-fueled alien spaceship as a bonus location. 2400 A.D. had synth potatoes, broken refrigerators, robots screwing up a city, and was just a very conversational game that never took itself seriously. And I'm not even talking about the early Ultima games or Might and Magic's roasted peasants. So yeah, old role-playing games were, as a rule, wacky. Some of them were also very good. And Escape from Hell is among the wackiest of them all, even if probably not among the best.
It opens with a quasi-Faustian scene in which God and the Devil are observing the actions of Richard, our game's protagonist and a Guns'n'Roses fan, and his girlfriend Alison.
Alan seems to have disappeared after having read aloud a mysterious incantation, and Alison now follows him, all thanks to Richard.
The phone startles you as it starts ringing. "Hello?" you answer. A voice on the other end says, "Connecting," followed by three clicks.
Definitely not a good idea.
And that's how Richard finds himself in Hell. We don't know what Alan's and Alison's sins were, but the manual tells us Richard's:
Paving the Road with Good Intentions
This is a story about Dick, and how Dick went bad without even knowing it.
As Dick was growing up, his parents tried to teach Dick to share. If they gave Dick some candy while his friends were around, they would say "Dick, be sure to share with your friends." As a child, Dick didn't like sharing: sharing meant that he had less for himself. But eventually Dick learned to enjoy making his friends happy by sharing with them. He would have less, but they would be happy, and he liked to see his friends happy.
So Dick grew up to be a generous person. He would share everything he owned. Eventually, like all good, smart people, Dick bought a computer and some really cool software. He made many copies of his cool software and gave the copies to his friends, because this made his friends happy. The software companies that made the cool software Dick copied had to raise their prices to cover their costs, because they weren't selling enough software. As a result, all of the people who were not Dick's friends had to pay more for their cool software. Within a couple of years, Dick's generosity put several small software companies out of business.
Don't be like Dick.
From that, we can only assume it wasn't by accident that the hellish incantation made its way to Richard.
Before we start exploring Hell, however, the game's copy protection kicks in. It comes in the form of a card listing some weird creatures and indicating their name, favourite sin, profession, etc. (including some obvious jokes on, say, Hecate or Sisyphus):
We input the answer, which is 1992, and the game proper begins.
Lava pits, treasure chests, telephone booths, road signs... Yup, looks like Hell all right. But... wasn't Richard, like, dark-haired in the introductory slides?
First we explore the contents of the nearby treasure chest. Interacting with things, as well as with NPCs, is done by simply bumping into them.
The Healing Elixir is exactly what its name implies. The Fairy Dust is weird: it's an instant teleporter item that can get you to odd places sometimes, especially if you use it indoors; I'm not sure if that's a bug that the developers didn't have the time to fix or an intended feature. The manual even explicitly warns you against using it:
A Word About Fairy Dust: You were warned when you picked this stuff up: use it only in dire need. It's great for escaping a tight situation, but if you use it indoors, you might wind up in an undeveloped section of hell. Worse yet, you might materialize in stone -- which means instant bye, bye. If you find yourself in an undeveloped section of hell, try a few things to get out. Things like walking around to find a door back to where you came from, or using the Fairy Dust again. If none of this works, it's time to reload your last saved game.
As for the Holy Cross, it's actually a plot-critical item; as in, you won't be able to beat the game if you lose it or use it in the wrong way. And losing items is easy. An item is gone forever when...
- used up: many items, including the Holy Cross, have a limited number of uses;
- dropped on the ground with the Drop command: a dropped item can't be recovered;
- given to an NPC: even if the NPC doesn't need the item in question, he/she/it will never give it back;
- it is in possession of a companion who leaves the party; which is further complicated by the fact that companions tend to leave the party suddenly and without any warning.
But anyway. Let's now have a look at Richard's character profile.
Level 0! Realistic, I guess. Apart from the items we've discovered inside the chest, Richard is carrying a knife, a phone handset, and matches.
Richard's stats are mostly average. But look at his Piety -- he's just found himself in Hell, literally, and his Piety remains low! Unbelievable.
Skills are divided into passive and active. Richard's passive skills are... not exactly what you would expect from an ordinary level 0 student. Suspension of disbelief: on. The active skills, however, look pretty believable. Yeah, right.
A telephone booth is nearby.
I guess "we couldn't help you any further" references the items we've grabbed from the chest. Well, some help is better than no help. And the game's big baddy is revealed outright: predictably, it's His Nastiness Satan himself.
Inscribed in a marble plaque next to the sign are the words, "This program is dedicated to my darling wife, Alison L. Seaborne."
The road sign is actually a copyright message. A copyright message in Hell, how fitting. And it looks like Alison was indeed the name of Richard L. Seaborne's
Abandoning all hope, we exit the small starting area through the gate to the south.
We close the gate and cast a look around, noticing a few strange creatures as well as what looks like a pile of stones (but is in fact the entrance to a hellish city).
And this is where Richard's adventure officially begins.
Bumping into one of the creatures, we're told that's 1 Skeleton. Talk to the Skeleton is the, well, natural option here.
The waiting room is, I believe, the small area we've just exited. It looks like we were supposed to just stay there until Hell's higher-ups would decide our fate, but this is a cRPG, so no chance. And the City on the Edge of Eternity is what the nearest city is called.
Moaners are another variety of local populace.
Sounds... not so bad. Maybe Richard should just settle down here and, you know, actually die?
Sometimes there is a group of monsters hidden behind a single character icon. These are two Hell Privates.
We can't get past the skeleton at the moment, as attacking it would also mean having to deal with the hell privates, so we're railroaded into entering the City on the Edge of Eternity.
Every bureaucrat's dream. (Depicting Hell as a bureaucracy is so cliché, though.)
Looks imposing. We approach the road sign...
A large sign reads, "The City on the Edge of Eternity."
...and then one of the terminals:
Hell, where it hurts so good!
And the Devil's Banner, unsurprisingly, has the shape of a demon's head. Or is that a goat's? Ah well, all the same.
3 Hell Privates. Better not get on their bad side.
And now it's exploration time! Let's find out what attractions this city has to offer.
Going to the right brings an encounter with some thugs. Non-hostile, thankfully.
So many useful clues in one go. We'll be sure to keep all that in mind. And Capone must be the Al Capone.
A lone evil woman is roaming this place. Makes sense.
Not safe for work! And "or is that the other way around" sounds fishy.
The nearby building sign reads: "Office of Redundancy." Naturally, we enter it.
Just a single moaner here.
Whenever you talk to him, he hands you a laptop. Whenever. There are redundantly many laptops in Hell.
"Only the dead may use the furniture"? Not fair.
Another moaner is encountered outside:
A garbage can lid -- a basic kind of shield -- can be found behind the Courthouse Waiting Room, and the Hell Guard Training Camp is north of the city. Got it.
The sign reads, "Post office of HELL! It doesn't rain, sleet, or snow here and the mail never goes through."
Guess who that number one criminal at large is? Let's enter the post office to find that out!
Inside, we are instantly attacked. The number one criminal at large must be Richard! Serves him right for escaping the waiting room.
The combat interface is quite simplistic, but there are a couple of tricks to it, explained in the manual.
Attack: Choose attack to attack. If there is more than one group within range of your party, also press the letter for the group you want to attack. You attack with your currently equipped weapon. Note that grenades or bombs (such as sleep grenades) with a special characteristic must be Used in combat for their special characteristic to take effect.
Defend: Choosing Defend reduces the amount of damage the character will receive from a hit. The damage will always be reduced somewhat, but Defend works as a random percentage -- sometimes the damage is greatly reduced, other times it is barely reduced at all. If you opponent packs a real wallop, you probably should Hide instead of Defend, since any percentage of a big hit is still significant.
Status: Displays the Character Summary for the character and lets you choose one option. If you need to equip a different weapon or use an item, choose Status.
Hide: Choosing Hide reduces the chance that you will be hit by your opponent. If you are attacking a group at long distance and some characters don't have long range weapons, those characters would be wise to hide.
Run: If you choose run as the option for any member of your party, the whole party runs. You can't split your party up. To run, choose the Run option and then hold down the cursor key for the direction you want to run in. Your party won't move until the first opportunity for an action. In the mean time, you'll be pummelled by the bad guys. Also, it is likely that guards will chase you when you run, so you may be running for a while to get away.
At the moment there's no way Richard can survive an encounter with a skeleton and two hell guards, and we choose to Run.
Naturally, the enemies get a chance to attack Richard before he runs away.
Once back in the top-down exploration screen, we quickly press the down arrow key to escape this nasty place. Thankfully, the guards don't pursue us outside the Post Office and the outside guards are non-hostile. And since this game features (slowly) regenerating health (next-gen!), we don't have to worry much about our HP having been somewhat reduced.
Exploring further, we come across another building with a sign:
Libertarians in there!
And an unholy monk outside.
Hmm, between this monk and the Libertarians, I know what I'd choose. Let's head inside.
Interaction with... Stalin?
Stalin a free market capitalist with a generic character portrait? The devs must've been Trotskyists.
In any case, we now have a "Capitalists for a free Hell" badge, and Stalin in our party! Things are shaping up nicely.
Too bad Stalin sucks as a companion.
20 HP. No combat skills. No passive skills at all. Sixteen points in Stealing and three in Bluffing. Trotskyists indeed.
Next time: oh, if someone would just tell me what to do!