RED HELL REVIEW - March 1994
|Red Hell is a new adventure based on the premise that the USSR won
the Second World War by inventing the atomic bomb first, and now controls the USA (newly
christened the North American Democratic Alliance).
Under Soviet control, the world's environment has decayed to breaking point. You play Mark Constantine, a sort of civil servant/businessman type out to get to the bottom of several things, not least the Termination Order served on your son Philip at the start of the game. Sounds pretty intriguing so far, eh?
Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear. Where to begin? How to adequately convey the horror? How to accurately portray the brain-melting frustration? I know. I'll take you, the readers, through a step-by-step guide to My First Hour With Red Hell. Hold on tight, won't you? This could get a bit nasty.
First game. Start up. Location one. Oh look, I'm standing on screen with another character. I'll click on the 'Talk' icon and have a chat. 'It's impolite to shout at Jack across the aerodrome. Try moving closer.' Click on 'Walk' icon. Stand nose-to-nose with Jack and click on 'Talk' icon. Watch in mirth as digitised characters bobble heads around while miming dialogue bearing absolutely no relation to that displayed on screen. Having good time already.
Jack walks off. Spot objects hanging on the wall. Click on 'Pick up/use' icon. 'You can't reach the greasy rag from here'. Click on 'Walk' icon and walk over to wall. Pick up wrench and greasy rag. Only one place left to go. Click on elevator button. 'You can't reach the button from here.' Click on 'Walk' icon. Walk closer to elevator. Body now obscures elevator button. Walk slightly back. Click on elevator button. Wait. Continue waiting.
Oops. Click on 'Pick up/Use' icon. Press elevator button. Elevator door opens. Click inside elevator. Wait. Oops. Click on 'Walk' icon. Elevator door closes. Swear. Click on 'Pick up/Use' icon. Press elevator button. Door opens. Quickly click on 'Walk' icon and enter elevator. Click on 'Pick up/Use' icon. Use security card in elevator. Go to next floor. Pick up card again from elevator. Enter next location. Spot something at bottom of screen. Attempt to walk to it.
Oops. Click on 'Walk' icon. Attempt to walk to it. Character walks forward into stool and stops. Back character up a bit. Click on six successive points on screen in order to direct character to object in straight unobstructed lines, like slow-learning toddler. Click on object. Oops. Click on 'Look' icon. Look at object. Examine close-up view. Click on object to pick it up. Oops. Swear again. Click on 'Pick up/Use' icon. Pick up object. Remember to click on 'Walk' icon. Click on new area of screen to walk to. Game crashes. Swear.
Second game. Talk to Jack. Attempt to pick up greasy rag again. 'The greasy rag appears to be stuck to the wall.' Get confused. Give up on greasy rag. Repeat previous moves. Attempt to pick up object in second location directly. 'Don't you want to look at it first?' No I bloody don't. Try again. Swear. Give up. Look at object. Click on object to pick it up. Swear loudly and kick desk. Click on 'Pick up/Use' icon. Pick up object. Walk (via five separate points) to new area. Enter copy protection. Watch digitised footage with even worse lip-synching. Enter different elevator. Click on 'Pick up/Use' icon. Click on card slot. Oops. Click on 'Inventory' icon. Reselect card which has been replaced by object from previous location. Enter location three. Attempt to enter nearby door. Get killed. Swear.
Third game. Repeat all previous moves. Including copy protection. Explore location three. Seem unable to enter other locations, so re-enter location two. Look around. Get bored. Re-enter lift and head for location three. 'Card not authorized.' Go back to card-authorizing computer. 'You have missed your appointment with First Secretary Loginov. He cannot reschedule you for at least two weeks,' says the voice, while onscreen text suggests 'at least a month.' Game over. Swear and kick desk again, only harder.
Fourth game. Decide to save after every location. Repeat all previous moves, including copy protection, but with save every tenth click or so. Still unable to pick up greasy rag again. Reach third location. Discover previously-unknown capability to enter new area by clicking on point two pixels further to the right of previous attempt. Three doors and an object are revealed, but only one is in any way actionable. Enter toilet. Laugh until sick at selection of toilet/condom/ mirror-based humour. Attempt to leave toilet by clicking on door. Oops. Click on 'Pick up/Use' icon. 'Use' door. Exit toilet. Return to location three. Examine various items, seeking clues. Click on flag. 'Another subtle reminder of Soviet oppression.' Sides split. Click on new location. Oops. Swear. Click on 'Walk' icon. Enter new location.
New location (secretary's office) appears to have large invisible force field in the middle. Spend three or four minutes clicking pointer around all over location, while character walks backwards and forwards and turns around on the spot. Swear, kick desk and throw pencil at screen. Eventually manage to manouvre character into desired position, standing immediately beside desk. Attempt to examine computer on desk. 'You cannot reach the computer from here.' Attempt to climb onto top of desk. Character turns around on spot. Swear.
Five minutes later. Game plot dictates return to location two. Important plot character standing in location. Attempt to talk to character. Oops. Click on 'Talk' icon. Attempt to talk to character. Character walks into elevator and disappears. Carry on regardless. In next location, talk to different character. Different character makes reference to previous conversation. Which didn't happen. Can't be bothered to swear. Smile weakly instead. Attempt to walk to new location. Oops. Click on 'Walk' icon. Wonder why programmers didn't go whole hog and include 'Move left leg' and 'Move right leg' icons. First hour over. Locations reached: six. Mental state: dangerously fraught. Sob quietly to self.
Much later. Armed with hint book. Hint book 54 pages long. Includes phrase 'The End... or is it?' Locations reached: 12. Number of occurrences of forgetting to click appropriate icon before performing action: 417. Number of separate mouse clicks on destination points required to guide character around locations: 1,103. Level of logic in solution so far: tortuous ('Mark automatically climbs out of the barrel. Take the bungee cord that holds up the totem pole, which will cause the totem pole to fall and crush the barrel. Move the top box on the stack at the right to cause it to fall off the stack to the floor. In the box close-up, open the box and take the spelunker helmet.') Plot coherence: completely disintegrating (time travel, pottery shards, poetry, shamen, Bavarian Health Spa). Mental state: borderline psychosis.
Later still. Following hint book. Deviation from hint book frequently results in end of
game. Tears streaming down cheeks. Every move accompanied by agonised pounding on desk and
side of head. Unbelievably, find sections including bits where you have to navigate screen
and perform actions against a timer. Feel insanity approaching. Enter new
location. New location is a maze. Swear, kick desk, punch monitor, hurt hand, swear again,
run out of office screaming. For ever.
Lows: Unbelievably infuriating control interface.
Verdict: Think the review was annoying? Try playing the game. The most unpleasant PC-related experience I've ever endured for money.