From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobett wrote Crapshoot, a dice-rolling column to bring random games back to light. This week, a lost adventure on a lost adventure where the ship happened and the world was never the same again.
Frank Carlson is the luckiest man in the history of video game protagonists. A spy in 1912, assigned to the Titanic, he survives the sinking only to be fired from the Office of Strategic Services and find himself alone during World War II, in a room he cannot even afford. On his desk, just a tarot card – Death – representing, as always, the cliche. In his desk drawer, a ticket… for the Hindenburg.
And just when everything seems to be going for the worst, a bomb explodes outside her window. Don’t stand near Frank Carlson. I’m serious. Nowhere.
But wait. A Titanic game? Who starts in World War II? I feel time travel! That’s right, I’m talking about Titanic: Adventures in Time, the game that proves that some years it’s better to stay home. Frank can’t even draw a naked woman.
Titanic is a really interesting game that deserves to be remembered much better than it is. It came out a year before That Movie rather than trying to hang on to it, but does an almost equally impressive job of recreating the ship in interactive form. It has two modes, the main adventure and a separate tour mode to just snoop around and take in the scenery. It’s not fully 3D, but its use of short animated jumps between nodes and the spinny-roundy-3D-looky-pokey interface allows you to get up close and personal with much of the ship, in great detail. beyond what most people give back. in 1996.
It’s kind of a spiritual cousin to The Last Express. The environment is much larger, but shares many of the same ideas, including lost artifacts, characters going about their own business instead of just standing (but not at a running clock, like in The Last Express), and a direct link between a fateful last voyage and the war to come – up to and including one of the Titanic’s passengers being a Serbian revolutionary working with the Black Hand. His name is “Vlad Demonic”, which, however, makes him lose a few points. There is also a bit of interesting history behind it. Frank Carlson was the name of a real passenger who never boarded the ship, although probably not one who then traveled back in time for a second trip. If he did, it didn’t go very well. As we will see.
“The past. Always locked in regret. But what if the past could be changed?” I would definitely steal the hours of my life spent watching Transformers 2, for starters.
It should be noted however that the objective is not to save the Titanic itself, which is doomed, but to deal with the conspiracies and mysteries on board which will have a major effect on the future – the first voyage of Carlson having gone wrong when he left his cabin at a crucial point. So there’s no running straight to the nearest lifeboat and disappearing into the night with a shout of “Farewell, suckers!”
Instead, your job is to catch up with fellow spy Penny Pringle – that’s her name – and play a whole match without saying the inevitable. She’s not exactly a fan of you and wastes no time before launching into complaints that “Some idiot booked me into second class”. But she’s an interesting demo of Titanic’s animation style, which combines 3D models with photos for a sort of puppet look almost as unusual as The Last Express’ stop-motion art deco, though it’s a far cry. to be so good.
However, it allows for more movement, including blinking and head rotation during movement, animated lips without the need for full FMV, and for some neat details like filling in the gaps between dialogue options with a “You said?” rather than simply The Glassy Stare of Doom. If you’ve ever played an adventure with portraits, you know The Glassy Stare of Doom. She’s also a bit older than your average sexy game spy, with a very appropriate tone. Never more so than when you fire a German for spending all day “eating…pastries…” Say it in the tone everyone would use to “swim naked at Marmite.”
Thank God she never had dealings with James Bond. “Once you’ve jumped, you can’t stop…” indeed.
The initial quest is a hunt for the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam, stolen and in the possession of a German colonel aboard the ship, though it soon turns out that the ship is full of lunatics, including a high society lady trying to steal a diamond necklace, a very tall medium, an angry missionary and, as mentioned, a Serbian revolutionary called “Vlad Demonic”. There are bad English accents. There are bad Irish accents. Lots of very nervous faces and a very hasty explanation of why the ship appears to have around 20 people on board rather than around 2,000. It’s late at night, and so anyone not concerned by the plot are in their room. Hmm. But it works, and at least gets a hand wave.
The actual adventure is decent, full of espionage and item tracking and even a few mini-games: fencing and poker. It’s the ship’s recreation that’s most impressive, though – thankfully combined with a map that allows for a bit of teleportation – and with plenty of random character spawns that add some life to what could so easily have been. than boring flat backgrounds. By modern standards they are empty, but that was in 1996.
The iceberg is always closing in, of course, and towards the middle of the game the Titanic inevitably hits it, just when you’re in the middle of a confrontation with the evil German Colonel. At this point, a real timer starts and it’s a race to jump ship. But it’s not quite This easy. During the first half, it becomes clear that there is more than just a book at stake. There are four artifacts on board, and all of them have potentially dire implications for the future.
For example, the diamond necklace collected earlier? If Vlad Demonic…sighs…gets away from the ship with it, he takes it to the Black Hand and uses it to fund the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. So it looks familiar. But, take the Rubáiyát. The plan of the German colonel is to exchange it for a painting which is unfortunately not The Fallen Madonna With Ze Big Boobies by Van Klomp. It’s possible to steal this from the cargo hold, or if you get there too late, pick it up later – as said, there’s a heavy time element to Titanic, if not as strong as The Last Express. But it turns out that even though the painting contains war plans, they’re essentially irrelevant next to the actual importance of it…which is a bit implausible sure, but still a reasonable twist.
“As for the painting, it went with me. The plans proved useless. Within a month of the sinking, the War Office abandoned the proposed deployments as a cost-cutting measure. But the canvas—as the only artifact rescued from the Titanic, the painting rose to fame, along with its creator, a rather excitable Austrian named Adolf Hitler, who makes a lucrative career to this day hawking overpriced alpine views to the carriage trade.
There are nine endings in total, where the combination of recovered and lost artifacts can create peaceful, familiar futures, or alternate timelines where Russians and Germans become dominant. Except that in fact In Germany, where all mentions of Hitler have been removed as usual.
I haven’t gone through the full game like with many adventures, as it’s one where the overall plot is less interesting than the main sweep – a genuinely inspired take on the Titanic story that treats it with respect, while continuing to unfold in cool new directions. The time-travel side in particular accepts that everyone, except people who complained about spoilers for James Cameron’s version, already knows how it’s going to be, and finds a new way to bring it to life. importance that it sells rather well, despite a bit of awkwardness with mediums and alligator cards.
This is a rare case where real history is seen as the wrong timeline, with two wars and a revolution, and the quest is to fix what officially “went wrong”. Even so, most of the endings are pretty miserable, with Carlson drowning or being knocked out by everything from Nazis to an atomic bomb. This is almost the level of Singularity.
The historical parts, however, make for a very well-researched tale. Clips from the game’s version of the sinking have been used on television and details like the presence of a copy of Omar Khayyam’s Rubáiyát are true to life. It is also possible to miss the lifeboats but still be trapped on the ship for some time before it actually sinks.
And unlike The Last Express, there’s no easy time rewind. Unless you plan to reload old saves.
The technology at the time didn’t really allow you to really feel aboard the Titanic, but the developers did a great job with what they had. Which, in 1996, wasn’t very technological at all.
Here’s a full read thanks to YouTube. As you can see, the acting is… uh… crap. But the game as a whole is well worth playing whether you’re into history, adventure or otherwise – a highly ambitious and clever time-travel worthy of worship, and so much more.