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Grand Larceny

Grand Larceny

 

    The title screen.The title screen.
Developer: Beam Software
Released: 1984
Genre: Mystery
Graphics: Pixel art / 2D
Perspective: Third person
Gameplay: Parser



 

 

 

 

 

 





 

 


 

Note: this is a Commodore 64 game.

 


 

"You are a government agent, sent after the thieves who stole the plans of a secret new super-computer. You have traced the thieves here, to the Grand Hotel where they have hidden the plans." With a description like that on the game cover, along with the mention of loading time of only three minutes, and completion time of "weeks", what does the digital James Bond (who is not James Bond, or have any other name actually) encounter?

Hidden items, secret passages, locked doors, and hopefully stolen plans is the answer. The game does have a more inspiring backstory than many other games do. Unfortunately this doesn't carry much further than the print in the manual, there isn't that much secret agent stuff in the game, with the exception of some random things. Before even entering the hotel, some lady winks at the secret agent, so there certainly is some James Bond influences in the game, although not much chances for romance.

So the basic premise is clear. What is unclear is what incompetent organisation does this poor agent work for? They have placed secret communication devices inside the hotel for the agent to find, as well as a tranquilizer dart for the agent's gun (which doesn't show in the inventory), and at a given time there will be a helicopter to pick the agent up. But somehow these unknown assistants (Moneypenny? Q?) didn't manage to find the stolen plans, so the agent must do that himself. Assuming he can enter the hotel to begin with, because the hotel is very classy, and the porter doesn't let the poor James Bond wannabe enter because he is not dressed properly. Too bad the agency who managed to place all those agent gadgets in the hotel couldn't provide the agent a proper suit!

Shaken, not stirred.Shaken, not stirred.
By now it should be evident that the plot is not very logical, but neither is James Bond, so who cares. Anyone looking for a thrilling story is going to be disappointed though, as the game is really a collection of espionage clichés all rolled into one game. And some puzzles, but not really a narrative. It isn't as bad as it sounds, there are some very good things in the game, which cover many of the shortcomings.

Among these is that there are some puzzles which can be solved in different ways. For instance, the player can try to find a way to enter the hotel through the front door, which is doable despite the agent's wardrobe problems, or choose an alternative way to enter the building using the fire escape. Another great idea, at least in theory, is that there really is limited time to complete the task. The clock keeps ticking forward all the time, and every parser command takes it one minute further. The pickup happens when it is scheduled to happen, so if the agent can't find the plans and the helicopter in that time, it's game over. Actually, the agent gets shot at that point. It is awfully friendly from the bad guys to wait from 4:00PM, which is the time when the game begins, to 11:59PM and let the agent roam free, until popping him cold just after his ride home departs without him.

Once again, the game fails in all possible logic, as situations like that don't make any sense. But putting that aside, it is actually quite fun to explore the hotel trying to access closed areas and find hidden items. And there are plenty of those, however very few of them are actually needed to complete the game, so there are lots of red herrings and false leads given to the player. The route to complete the game is actually so short, that taking the fastest way to do that leaves the agent several hours to spend waiting for the helicopter pickup. Luckily that time can be sped up by hitting anything from the keyboard, everything gets "executed" as one-minute long thing, and the game speed can be adjusted from 1 to 9 too.

On the roof.On the roof.
And yes, the game has a parser. Which, like said, interprets everything as a command affecting the gametime. Otherwise there are 26 commands that the parser actually understands, most of which are actually not needed in order to complete the game. The parser is user-friendly enough to allow shortened forms for commands, like OPEN DOOR typed as OP DO, or looking at the carried items using the INVENTORY command by simply typing IN.

Exploring the world is mostly safe. There is at least one way to reach a dead-end, and the time can run out, at least in theory, but otherwise the player can go anywhere and try to do anything without any sudden deaths lurking behind every corner. It is kind of fun trying to find hidden items, even if they don't advance the game to its completion. Beyond that, there's not that much to do besides completing the game.

The game looks OK for its kind, with most work having been done on the protagonist character. Some other people in the game world are almost hard to identify as people, so some extra work on them would have been nice. Backgrounds are basic, but on the other hand easy enough to recognise as what they are supposed to be. There is some music heard during the gameplay, but nothing that would really stand out. Nothing in the game is really a showcase for technical brilliance, but everything works well enough that there aren't any notable issues when playing the game.

When the agent finally is boarding the helicopter with the plans, there isn't a very big feeling of completion or closure. Sure, the game objective has been met and cleared. But as the game doesn't even try to develop the story that is written on the game cassette inlay, the adventure is reduced to simply getting inside the hotel, finding the plans, and then getting out of the hotel. It's probably good enough for the purpose, but with some great underlying ideas in the game it would be nice to see something more. Still, the game does manage to maintain the balance of being somewhat challenging, but not unfairly difficult or excessively annoying in any regard. There are many games that haven't managed to do that. This larceny isn't as grand as one would hope, but the case is still nice enough to solve if games of this type are of any interest.

The door is locked.The door is locked.

 


 

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