Phoenix Online – The Silver Lining Episode 1 review

indie games studio continues the King's Quest story after many years
Photo of Phoenix Online – The Silver Lining Episode 1

Remember King’s Quest? It was a series of classic adventure tales masterminded by Roberta Williams throughout the eighties and nineties. There were eight of them in total, and this project from Phoenix Online unofficially continues the series after a gap of twelve years. However, it was very nearly never released due to legal wrangles with Vivendi earlier in the game’s development, although these were seemingly settled (with the prefix King’s Quest IX having to be dropped from the adventure’s title).

Then everything looked to be going pear-shaped when at the start of this year, Activision (which merged with Vivendi) ordered the project canned once again. However, due to the support of the many fans behind the initiative, the game has actually ended up finally getting the nod to be published. Even Roberta Williams herself has sung its praises, calling The Silver Lining “very true to the original series”.

This new tale for a new millennium has actually been split into five episodes, with the first one just released as a free download (the rest will be free, too, as rather commendably, this is a work simply designed to please die-hard King’s Quest fans). It uses familiar characters and locations from the classic adventures, and you step into the shoes of King Graham (or “Gram” as the American narrator likes to pronounce his name).

First impressions are reasonable, with colourful 3D graphics that are hardly cutting edge, but are nicely realised with a sense of style. The backing music and sounds are polished to a decent standard, as well, with some nice cracks of thunder and other effects. The only let-down comes in the animation stakes, with Graham walking around like he’s caught a touch of Thunderbird-itis (there definitely seem to be invisible strings attached to his limbs somewhere).

The interface is nearly as clumsy as Graham’s knee joints, although to be fair to the developers they have obviously made a conscious decision to keep it “old school”. There’s no context sensitive pointer here, so you’ve got to right-click to scroll through the walk, examine, interact with and talk icons. We’re so used to modern adventure interfaces by now, it feels very weird to step back in time. Moving is clunky, too, because when you click on a destination, the character attempts to move directly there (walking into walls if they’re in the way). In other words, you have to direct Graham through more crowded areas with closely spaced multiple clicks.

That’s not the real problem with the first episode of The Silver Lining, however. Our main beef was simply a lack of interaction on a general level. There’s a lot of walking about, examining stuff, and talking to people, but not much else. In actual fact, there’s a commendable amount of detail here. Click on the walls and you’ll hear a comment about the style of decoration. Examine a rug and some details about its weave and quality will be imparted. This is great flavour and atmosphere, but there’s a point where you tire of descriptions of the intricate carving on a candlestick, and start lusting after some actual puzzles and real interaction.

And the heart of the matter is, there are hardly any puzzles to get your teeth into at all, and those that are present are some of the least challenging we’ve ever come across. We were more perplexed the last time we changed a light bulb, or did a tabloid crossword. Ultimately, it’s over too soon; an hour or two at the very most if you explore everywhere and listen to everything. And you’re left with the feeling that you haven’t done much except view a load of cut-scenes. True enough, the story has some promise, and this initial episode is evidently supposed to be introductory. But come on guys, this is an adventure, we expect more than a vague scattering of puzzles.

Company: Phoenix Online

In some respects it's a promising introductory piece, but there are so few puzzles here, and they're so simple, we couldn't help but feel disappointed. Still, this is a free download, and we'll be hoping that the lack of interactivity and overly simplistic conundrums on show in Episode 1 aren't representative of the rest of Phoenix Online's five planned episodes.