The Game Room

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me! Ever since I was a wee lad, I've been obsessed with pirate stories. This hasn't abated in my adult life--much to my therapist's fascination, I'm sure. So when I heard that Aspyr Media was publishing a Mac version of LucasArts' latest Guybrush Threepwood adventure, Escape from Monkey Island, the Blackbeard in me wildly gyrated his hook and peg leg with joy.

It's been a long time since a top-shelf adventure game made it to the Mac. Adventure games of any kind are a rare breed these days, even on PCs, but the industry-wide dearth hasn't diminished LucasArts' skill at crafting them. Escape from Monkey Island is a rollicking good time, and thanks to recent advances in graphics technology, it's a feast for the eyes as well.

Escape from Monkey Island is the fourth adventure game to star Guybrush Threepwood, a wannabe pirate and an unlikely hero if ever there was one. Although he's a bit daft, he means well. And as the story unfolds, you'll find that even though Threepwood may have a bit of Walter Mitty in him, he's not just a daydreamer--he's a doer, but in his own bumbling, incompetent sort of way. In fact, he's already won the hand of the beautiful and plucky Elaine Marley-Threepwood, resident governor of Mêlée Island--a veritable pirate haven.

Elaine and Guybrush return to Mêlée Island after a three-month honeymoon to discover that Elaine has been declared legally dead. Elaine's gubernatorial seat is up for grabs, and challenger Charles L. Charles is making his play for the position. Charles is a new--yet disturbingly familiar--presence in town. Guybrush and Elaine soon discover that proving Elaine's identity and health status is more difficult than they thought, and that their old nemesis, the dread (and undead) pirate LeChuck, is behind recent events.

Yo Ho Ho and a Venti Latte!

What makes this adventure tale so engaging is that it's firmly rooted in situations that folks can identify with today. Threepwood's archnemesis LeChuck may be a supernatural force straight from the flaming bowels of heck, but Guybrush needs to solve all sorts of mundane--and riotously funny--problems in his attempt to vanquish him. Threepwood and his band of brigands square off against the most fearsome menace on the high seas: lawyers. Threepwood also goes head-to-head with a real estate tycoon, a thief with no nose, a prosthetics salesman, and perhaps the most frightening of all, a bucktoothed barista at the local Starbuccaneers coffee shop. That's only the tip of the iceberg, mateys--to tell you any more of the story would ruin the surprise.

Throughout, the game is rife with well-written dialogue superbly delivered by top-notch voice actors. And an engaging soundtrack accompanies the action; contrary to my habit, I didn't scramble to turn off the music after the first few minutes.

Don't let the brightly colored, cartoonish animation fool you, by the way--kids may enjoy this title, but it's definitely made for adults (the game is recommeded for teens and adults). If the topical humor I described doesn't make that clear enough, consider that some of the puzzles in this game are tougher than a six-month-old sea biscuit.

Simpler Than a Slipknot

Escape from Monkey Island's user interface is intuitive and straightforward. The game consists of 2-D illustrated backgrounds populated by 3-D characters and objects. The 3-D animation is excellent--objects and characters move realistically and even cast shadows.

You direct Guybrush using the arrow keys on your keyboard, and you can make him look at, use, or store various objects, as well as talk with characters. When Guybrush needs to address someone, you're presented with a branching menu containing various comments, queries, and replies, depending on the context.

The game is cleverly designed, so if you haven't yet explored a crucial area or gotten a key piece of information, your interaction with other characters in the game may subtly change so as not to give the story away. This level of detail is refreshingly complex and challenging.

Escape from Monkey Island is also nicely configurable--you can set keys to execute a variety of commands, tweak audio and video settings to your liking, and save the game at any point.

Four Sheets to the Wind

The 3-D characters and objects in Escape from Monkey Island are rendered using OpenGL, which can tax a Mac's graphics hardware. Aspyr recommends running the game on a Mac with an ATI Rage Pro or comparable graphics card and at least 64MB of RAM.

Westlake Interactive, the company that ported the game from the PC, did a nice job on the conversion. Installation was a breeze, and the game performed reliably, although it did crash once or twice on my 450MHz Power Mac G3. Interestingly, it ran perfectly on my 333MHz PowerBook G3, which is slower and equipped with less-formidable video hardware. The game's only apparent technical deficiency is a prodigious appetite for space on your hard disk. It needs 500MB in "normal" installation mode and 1GB for the full installation, and you have to keep the CD in the drive at all times.

More Fun Than an Isle o' Monkeys

If Escape from Monkey Island has any shortcomings, it's that the game often depends on self-referential jokes and on characters who were introduced in the series' first three games--which you probably haven't played, unless you have a PC lying around. If you aren't already a Monkey Island fan, you'll occasionally have that somewhat uncomfortable feeling of not being in on the joke. But that does little to diminish the otherwise excellent story.

As a single-player adventure game, Escape from Monkey Island can be played only once. But it's vast, spanning two CDs in all, and you can count on getting days--if not weeks or months--of challenging fun out of it, depending on how much time you invest. Like a long, engrossing novel, Escape from Monkey Island would be a good game to be stranded with on the proverbial desert island.

Macworld's Buying Advice

Escape from Monkey Island is an exemplary modern adventure game, superbly executed by Westlake and Aspyr. If you find the adventure genre appealing and have a bit o' the pirate in ye, then set sail for Monkey Island, by hook or by crook. 

If you ever hear PETER COHEN, senior editor at MacCentral, suddenly shriek "Yaar! Weigh anchor and hoist the mainsail!" while brandishing a cutlass, be very patient--he's working out a few issues.

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