During the early 1990’s, LucasArts produced a plethora of fun, quirky and hilarious Point’n’Click adventure games, such as Day of the Tentacle, Sam and Max and of course the legendary Monkey Island series.
However, in 1995 the studio released a game that, while in keeping with the puzzles and style of their previous Point’n’Click adventures, went for a much darker, bolder and grander story that replaced zany humour for Hard Sci-Fi.
That game was The Dig.
The game was initially envisioned by Steven Spielberg (Yes, THAT Steven Spielberg) as a possible story for his Science Fiction anthology series Amazing Stories. However, the story, about a crew that set off into space to prevent an asteroid colliding with Earth, only to find themselves crash landing on an ancient alien world, became far too large in scale that no television budget would do this epic story justice. In the late 80’s,the idea was brought forward to LucasArts to make into an adventure game.
Despite the six years of “development hell”, this game took to see release despite the numerous setbacks and changes the project saw (with many people working on it stating that the game was “cursed”). The finished product is a bold and exciting Hard Sci-Fi adventure story, and one that deserves recognition alongside the studio’s previous titles. By losing the humour that they became renowned for in the early 90’s, LucasArts were able to craft a fantastic Sci-Fi mystery, and help the player care for and empathise with the characters in a way that had previously not been done in a Point’n’Click adventure story.
The graphics may not be to everyone’s liking, and in fact when it was finally released in 1995 they were considered dated then, however if you can look past this, you will find in this game a very in depth story with unique puzzles, characters and environments; in all honesty, I find some of the visuals in this game to be quite breathtaking, even in the 20+ years after its release.
Being a Point’n’Click adventure game, there is a great emphasis on problem solving and figuring out puzzles, which in the days before internet walkthroughs (Known by many as those dark days of old), could leave you crying silently to yourself staring at pixels on a screen and wondering why the developers hate you this much to try and force you into the fetal position. The Dig moreso than others in LucasArts’ catalogue of adventure games, does employ some puzzles that I found pretty obtuse. and in some places purely illogical – However, I guess you could argue that as the game is about the exploration of a bizarre alien world in which you are required not only to find a way back home, but to discover what happened to this ancient and once great civilization that lived here. Given this, it would make sense that the puzzles are real head scratchers for us human folks, although I feel I am being very merciful in saying that. Also, the feeling you get after solving a particularly tricky puzzle is very rewarding, and does make you feel smarter than you very well could be (I know it had that effect on me).
The characters and indeed the dialogue do follow your traditional Sci-Fi tropes and stereotypes pretty hard, with your protagonist, astronaut Commander Boston Low, being that grizzled yet experienced man’s man who will get his results no matter what goddamn threat faces him, and knows what’s what! But the cliched moments do add a kind of niche charm to the game, and it does help suck you into this story and makes you a participant in the old Sci-Fi tales that everyone grows up with. The fact that the story does follow a cliché format at times also doesn’t stop this story from being very engaging and at times moving.
On release, the game did not sell as well as its predecessors in the LucasArts canon, however I do feel that it deserves recognition for it’s ambition to try something new with the genre. and tell an epic story of exploration among the stars and of strange alien worlds. If that sounds like something that may interest you, and you aren’t put off by its older aesthetic and emphasis on puzzle solving, you can’t go far wrong with The Dig.