Go back to The Dig

Written by: Rik

Date posted: July 25, 2009

One of the greatest pieces of retro-gaming news of late has been Lucasarts adding some of their back catelogue to Steam – I’d been hoping for a while now that they’d join in this online-distribution gig, to help keep their oldies alive. When I saw the initial list of games, The Dig shot to the top of my priority list. There aren’t many sci-fi adventures out there (outside of Sierra’s goofy Space Quest), and this one looked to combine an Arthur-C-Clarke esque story of encountering the unknown, with Lucasarts production values. That had to be worth a go. Even if it was supposedly below par by Lucas standards, those are pretty high standards after all.

For a start, I loved the setting. The alien landscape you find is bleak and lonely, with eerie stone spires against an endless sea. Around the site itself you find evidence of wonderous technologies far beyond our understanding. Yet also it’s all eroding, falling apart, as entropy takes its toll. It’s an grand and ancient monument to something long dead and departed, and now critters nest in control panels and roots push through stone walls. The soundtrack helps also in setting the scene, putting across awe mixed with some vague, floating sadness.

The lack of many people to talk to is then, while unusual for an adventure, quite fitting. In fact your two comrades from the initial mission are for the most part the only people around, and they’re usually off doing their own thing. Even when conversing with them, the options are usually just bouncing ideas around without furthering the situation.

The cast is still pretty well written though. I found Low likeable enough; he’s a manly military type but with an occasional dry sense of humour and moments of self doubt that flesh him out out into a more full character. Maggie’s hard-nosed, independent attitude bugged me at first – she tends to tell you to sod off, stop trying to help and go explore some more while she does her own investigations. Still then that sets up some contrast with Low’s need to lead and take care of his “team”. Also I’m all for strong female characters in games. German archaeologist Frink is the least interesting, as in his unhinged state he becomes rather two-dimensional.

Instead of interaction then, the puzzle-solving then is heavily geared towards environmental challenges. For a good portion of the game you’re just poking around, trying to work out what this place is and if there’s any way home. So you’re often activating bits of alien technology to open up another part of the site and hopefully uncover some clues. Much of it is fairly logical, although there were a few obscure bits with crytals and control panels of flashing lights. Except some head-scratching trial and error just to work out how to approach solving the problem.

So it is quite a slow-burner – lots of strolling around caves and beaches wondering how to activate a bridge or puzzling over alien runes. I get how some might find that dull, although I got along well with the quietly mysterious feel. That said it’s still fair enough to want some kind of story to emerge eventually. The game does provide this; some interesting concepts are raised and there are dramatic conflicts too, based on the dangers of dabbling with apparent miracles that alien techology provides. Unfortunately though the ending, once you find out what happened to the builders of the site, is a bit of a sentimental cop-out.

Anyway I’ve remarked elswhere that I’m sometimes dissuaded from second opinions for fear of just amounting to “yeah I agree with Rik”. Well guess what.. I’d actually give it another half a point. So that’s a disagreement, sort of! Maybe just cos I’m more of a sci-fi fan, or maybe because the ambience suits me. In any case, it’s an atmospheric adventure that’s definitely worth a look.