Crusade is funny. It’s original. It’s free of writing errors and bugs. It’s even got a number of nifty little verbs added in to fit its “faith-based hijinks” theme, verbs like FORGIVE and CONVERT and WORSHIP. It’s got an irreverent take on religion. It contains a couple of decent puzzles, including one that was so subtly done, I still have no idea how the game got me to type the correct verb, but type it I did, and was rewarded. One of these puzzles has two different solutions, one of which gives more points, though I have to say that the higher-point solution seemed by far the more obvious to me. There’s some fun political satire in here as well — pretty harmless, really, but good for a chuckle.
So why did this game leave me feeling so unsatisfied? I think the problem is sparseness. For all that Crusade does provide, there’s a distinct sense that the game has no real interest in creating an interactive environment, but instead wants the player to pretty much follow the walkthrough to hit the interesting parts, and encourages such behavior by making everything else really, really uninteresting. The problem was immediately apparent when I started the game with five items, each of which was described, “You see nothing special about the <item>”. There’s a mixed message here. Clearly, some of these items are in my inventory not because they’re useful, but because they establish character in some way. But their utter vacuousness undermines that purpose considerably, and makes the game feel boring as well. Even the new verbs seem to be implemented with the absolute minimum of effort:
You're not very persuasive.
You drop to your knees with great reverence.
NPCs abound who only respond to one or two things, failing to even generate a stock reply for the rest. There are a few non-essential areas, but a great many times I found myself faced with flat, uninteresting library messages after attempting legitimate actions. I got the impression that the game just didn’t really care that much about being interactive.
That sort of attitude is poison to interactive fiction. I don’t so much mind linearity, if the line is fairly wide and provides lots of interesting stuff to look at on the way. This game, however, was reminiscent of its initial image: a long, thin line trailing its way through a trackless desert. Sure, it gets you somewhere eventually. But the trip is pretty dull.