The Silver Lining Episode 1: What Is Decreed Must Be (PC)

Posted by Jim Cook, Jul 10, 2010 20:45

King’s Quest is a name that will evoke very strong memories in those who were into adventure games back in the 80s and 90s. They’ll tell you about interesting character designs and fascinating places to explore, and some excellent music for its time. These same games were also very cruel to the player, often punishing them for even basic exploration and causing a lot of save-load cycles. The Silver Lining is a ’fan sequel’ to this series, and its first episode is an interesting teaser of things to come that suggests it may take King’s Quest’s strengths while addressing some of its flaws.

The first episode mostly serves to set the story’s tone and let the player get used to things. Without getting too far into spoilers, The Silver Lining takes place at least after King’s Quest 6 (though the exact timeline is something best researched on the game’s website and other resources). Characters from several parts of the series appear here, though the locations are mostly taken from KQ6. Some are rather faithful to their original designs, while others have been changed for the better. One example is that the thinly veiled copy protection ’Cliffs of Logic’ puzzle has been removed in favor of normal stairs, since there’s not much point in copy-protecting a free game.

Like most King’s Quest games, The Silver Lining has you advance the plot by guiding your character (King Graham in this case) through the world, gathering items, talking to people, and solving various puzzles until you reach the end of the episode; each installment is essentially a ’small game’ unto itself that picks up where the last one left off. This approach has much in common with other adventure games such as the episodic Sam & Max games, and shows potential. The major difference is that in The Silver Lining, like the official King’s Quest games, your character can die. Exploring in the wrong place or doing the wrong thing can end Graham’s life abruptly, forcing you to reload an older save or use the retry option which will dump you back to the spot just before death happened. At least in this first episode however the game was not very ’kill-happy’; I only found one way to kill Graham despite exploring nearly all of the episode’s content (as far as I’m aware, at least). If this heralds a King’s Quest game that will only punish the player for doing truly dumb things but allow general exploration and curiosity, then that could be good news indeed.

The presentation, the voice acting, music, and graphics, deserve some attention. Visually speaking this is a relatively primitive game; it’s in full 3D, but the visuals are clearly not as advanced and polished as a high-budget retail release would have. This is balanced out by most characters and environments having a lot of detail to them however, so while the result may be underwhelming it is never ugly, and most areas are interesting to explore. The voice acting is a varied lot, with some performances sounding fairly close to the original character or doing a good job regardless, while others are decent... and the absolute worst of them are at least tolerable. The music on the other hand is pretty good all around, with several pieces fitting the ’soft epic’ motif of the King’s Quest series. It’s also worth noting that many characters and locations are immediately recognizable, and this is coming from someone who has only played a few games in the series so long-time fans should be pleased.

While The Silver Lining is doing pretty well for itself so far, there are a few issues. The most significant is Graham’s pathfinding behavior; he can navigate minor changes in his course (such as small twists in a bridge) just fine, but otherwise tries to take the most literal, straight-line path possible to a location. If this means a column or wall corner is in the way, Graham will just bump against it until you manually guide him around, and while this isn’t too big a problem it is nonetheless jarring.

Also noteworthy is that Episode 1 is very short, lasting perhaps an hour and a half or two hours, and the overwhelming majority of it is spent watching story cutscenes. There are only a few places to explore and a mere handful of puzzles to solve, which was definitely surprising. A more apt name might have been "Episode 0: Prologue and Tutorial"; by the time you’ve figured out the basic flow of the story and how to play, the episode is over and tempting you with a preview of the next one. It’s the sort of thing that would be upsetting if this were a paid product, but as a free teaser to a free fan sequel it’s far more easily forgiven, and the developers have commented that the other episodes will indeed be longer and more involving.

To King’s Quest fans, or even those curious about the series to whatever extent, this ’teaser episode’ shows a lot of promise. It’s clear that the developers have all of the framework for a good King’s Quest game, and it’s equally clear that this is a labor of love. If you go in with realistic expectations, knowing that this episode is meant to build interest for the rest of the set and get players introduced to the story, then you’ll probably be quite happy after you check this out. The potential is there, so here’s hoping the rest of The Silver Lining builds on an excellent start!

Game Website (The Silver Lining is free to download):

Rating: 3.0, votes: 5

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