Subsunk

The text based adventure game. What fond memories I have of these.

Back in the late 70’s and mid 80’s these games were pretty widespread and popular forms of interactive fiction. A genre that has evolved to the point that it no longer resembles what I grew up with.

Yes the humble text adventure was a staple genre in my early days of gaming. I would spend many hours in front of our C64, absorbed by the worlds and settings I would explore with the text interface. One game of which is still stuck in my head to this day.

A game called Subsunk.

Subsunk was written by Peter Torrance and Colin Liddle with the aid of The Quill Adventure System, which was a popular piece of adventure creation software ported to numerous systems. It was then published by software publicist Firebird, owned by Telecomsoft which in turn is owned by British Telecom (BT), in 1985. The game was released for a few of the home computers at the time including the ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC and Commodore 64.

In Subsunk you play the role of Ed Lines, a famous journalist for the Seafaring Gazette. Who as been assigned the task of reporting on life onboard a modern Submarine. The Sea-lion. However disaster strikes and the sub is taken by an enemy power. Now Ed has to find his way to the Telex room, get it working and send the Subsunk distress call. All of which he must do without been found.

Controls in this game are, for the most part, pretty standard in terms of text adventures. You have your north (n), east (e), south (s) and west (w) direction commands. Then there is the standard examine, open, close, use, pickup and drop commands. But then there are some really obscure commands like scrape, pour, clean, blow and go. With “go” been possibly one of the strangest to use as it’s only used twice in the game and one of them is to enter a locker.

The “smear” command is another example of a needless and obscure command as this is only used once in the entire game. And even then you have to use it in two stages. Of which the first stage is “smear butter” and then the second stage “on tube”. Which in retrospect sounds far more suggestive than what it actually is.

These extra commands left the interface feeling a little clunky and unintuitive at times and left many of the puzzles needlessly harder than they should have been. Giving me no end of grief while I used my head against a brick wall.

Wait that should that be “smash” my head against a brick wall?

The story in this game isn’t going to be wining the Man Booker Prize any time soon. However, for a budget game, the world seems pretty well realized.  Most locations are detailed in their descriptions, as are some items when examined. There are few though that do have some bland descriptions and simply state things like “the west room” or “a screwdriver”. But for the most part it gives you enough detail to picture the world in which you’re playing.

Talking of picturing the world. This is one of only a hand full of text adventures, I have played, that feature graphics. Thanks to an expansion to the Quill system called The Illustrator. True these may only be simple ASCII graphics. But this was a big thing for me to be able see some of the locations in the game.

Another little trick that this text adventure had from others was the inclusion of small sound effects. Though I am not entirely sure that it was really necessary to include these within the game. And while it’s a nice that there is some audio, as basic the sound effects and music are, these do bring an issue to the game.

When ever you enter a room that has a sound effect the game waits until the effect is over before allowing you to enter a command. This pause, while brief, may not be enough to completely ruin the game but does leave you feeling frustrated when trying to travel any great distance. Much like if any commands are executed that result in a sound effect or music been played, you then again end up having to wait for the music to be played before you can continue.

Again not a game breaker but still frustrating all the same.

But saying this I found that Subsunk is by no means the worst budget game I have ever played. In fact I would say that, as far as budget titles go, this is probably one of the better titles that I have played (See my review for non here for a poor budget title). Yet this game is not without its short comings. With the clunky interface, lack of detail in places, annoying little pauses while effects are played and short playtime, that all do unfortunately add up in the long run.

But I suppose you have to remember this is a budget title (as if I haven’t already mentioned it enough) and that it wasn’t intended to set the world on fire. So, depending on your point of view, you can ignore these and just appreciate this for what it is. An enjoyable little game that is intended to waste half an hour on a rainy day while not upsetting your bank balance.

As such I give this game a 3 out of 5 rating. Not bad but not great.

Gameplay Video

CritAnime

I grew up in the magical 8-bit era of computers and consoles. I saw the games crash and saw the recovery from it with the NES. I will always have my trusty C64 in my office and when the need arises I will pop a tape in the Datasette and play some classic games.

With a wealth of knowledge, especially on old-school rpg's, I hope to bring it to you. The viewers of Retroist.com

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