Eagerly awaiting for this 10-years-in-the-making unofficial but better than the official sequel to the King’s Quest series, we downloaded The Silver Lining and quickly finished it in one sitting. And before we post our impression, the reader should know that we have been keeping taps on the game’s progress for the past decade — we have lamented when Activision shut down the project and we rejoiced its resurrection regardless. Not having played the demo (we didn’t want the demo to ruin our experience), we were somewhat surprised that Episode 1 – What Is Decreed Must Be, isn’t a whole lot longer than the demo — for adventure veterans (no doubt that is 98% of the audience of this game), Episode 1 can be finished under half an hour, and it felt like a prelude to what is to come, thus is why we have called this article an impression rather than an official review. If comparing the work of Phoenix Online Studios to the work of Telltales Games, it is correct that Phoenix has no doubt done the same honor to Sierra games bringing back that feeling of nostalgia to the modern PC, like Telltale has done for LucasArts point-and-click adventure games, but the downside to that is the system that Sierra adventure games were built on top of, was a bit more archaic and inferior than the Scumm system of its LucasArts brethren — of course no doubt some of the best adventure games in that era was from Sierra: King’s Quest 6, Quest For Glory 1, Leisure Suit Larry 1, Gabriel Knight and Conquest of the Longbow comes into mind, but there is also a reason why all 3 of the Monkey Island creators are still now active in the game industry, and most of the Sierra folks has long since retired with the exception of Jane Jenson. Yes, I am in some way calling earlier Sierra adventures inferior with its repetitive map structure, items that can be missed and can’t be accessed later in the game, illogical puzzle choices, way too many accidental deaths… but I digress. Thankfully Phoenix Online Studios hasn’t brought most of those problems (Note: I didn’t say ALL, but one could argue that it can’t feel like a Sierra game if it was devoid of those shortcomings) to The Silver Lining, and not to our surprise, for we anticipated this game with high expectations; the Silver Lining was polished like it was a professionally-made-commercial game, just that it happens to be free, so we can’t really fault it for being extremely short, like 1/10 of an already short Telltale game – there are barely any puzzles, maybe just one if you can even call it that. There are some obvious faults that transferred from earlier Sierra games, like the apparent lack of an inventory or to Main Menu icon without using hot keys; if you didn’t know what those hot keys were you would either be banging on your keyboard like a monkey testing out every key trying to save the game or escape and quit the game trying to remap your controls from the main menu — Escape only lets you quit the game for some reason without saving it, the alternative would have been helpful; just so happens we were playing this game on a macbook running a dual-boot PC, if you understood that, our F5 and F7 keys don’t actually respond in-game and it took us quite a while to figure out how to save. There are other very minor details as well, like pressing a hand icon on a door if you are too far away from it don’t necessarily propel your character forward, those of us who are used to LucasArts and more modern adventures will feel somewhat inconvenienced.
If it feels like we have criticized the game more than we should have praised it, that wasn’t our intention. The Silver Lining Episode 1 brought back to life the world of King’s Quest 6, arguably the best King’s Quest ever made, all in 3D, and the world looks better than what Telltale has done for Sam and Max. The script is professionally written, and the voice-acting professional and crisp — even the narrator is brought to life by a new female voice and some of the jokes, while contrived, are at least somewhat funny feeding off nostalgia of old King’s Quest games. Graham sounds just like how he did in the official King’s Quest V and the unofficial VGA remakes of King’s Quest 1 – 3 by Tierra; I am sure it isn’t the same voice actor (or is it) — but the lack of personality of the original Graham helps in the way that, unlike Guybrush Threepwood, you probably can’t remember what he sounded like anyway even if your life depended on it. At the end of the day, if we are to sum it up, The Silver Lining is worth every minute of your time, as short as it is (lasts about half an hour for a person with average IQ and half of it is filled with cutscenes), it is still bitter sweet in the way that it promises a dark plot and much more interesting things to come — if only King’s Quest 8 was a quarter as good maybe the series would not have died back then. If the rest of the series holds up to the same level of polish, this game will go down the gaming history as one of those best game ever that nobody has heard of, a lot like Ultima Lazarous. And if the rest of the series turn out to be tedious and punishing, it is more of the fault of the original material it draws upon — a lot like how I would call the Lord of the Rings films great fantasy with mediocre pacing and cliched plot. We really look forward to what Phoenix Online Studios come up with next. With Telltale’s season 3 of Sam and Max and the conclusion to the Tales of Monkey Island, LucasArts revamped best-adventure-of-all-time Monkey Island 2, and now Phoenix’s gorgeous vision of a new King’s Quest, the Trial By Fire VGA remake, the advent of iPhone/iPad devices being a perfect platform for adventures, it is a good start of a new decade for those of us who grew up with classic adventure games and refuses to let our childhood perish.