Publisher: Phoenix Online Studios
Developer: Phoenix Online Studios
System requirements: Windows XP/Vista/Win 7, 1 GHz Intel or AMD CPU, 512 MB RAM (1 GB for Vista/Win 7), 256 MB DirectX 9.0c-compatible graphics card, DirectX 9.0c or higher
Release date: Available now
The King’s Quest series by Sierra Online can easily be considered some of the most beloved games of all time. In addition, they are the cornerstones of adventure gaming, PC gaming, and gaming in general. Created in 1984, the first game took the world by storm and became so popular that six sequels were released during the next 10 years. The seventh sequel strayed from the classic formula and was not very well received. At that point, a decision was made to discontinue the franchise. (Anyone who would like to learn more should read David Craddock’s excellent three-part article on the history of KQ.) Today, 12 years after Sierra’s last KQ game, a fan-made sequel, The Silver Lining, has been released. It was developed by a group of uncommonly dedicated volunteers who have worked long years and have overcome significant odds to bring the game to market. The project was shut down twice by the IP holders (Vivendi and Activision), but both times the fans were able to persuade the publishers to grant the team a non-commercial license.
The Silver Lining is broken up into five episodes that will be released for free throughout 2010, starting with What Is Decreed Must Be. The events take place after the last official KQ game, and are set in the Land of Green Isles, a familiar location to those who have played KQ VI. The entire royal family of Daventry has gathered for a wedding. Without giving away too much of the plot, I can tell you that disaster strikes once more, and King Graham takes upon himself the familiar task of righting the wrongs.
The gameplay is simple. You control King Graham by using one of the available cursors, which include such actions as look, talk, use and walk. Most things have detailed descriptions when you look at them, and most actions prompt a comment by the female narrator voice. Some objects in the world can be picked up and stored in the inventory. Once you find a way to use an object, you take it from the inventory and click on where you want to use it. In short, TSL is a standard adventure game, something that the fans of the series are sure to appreciate.
The game is rendered in 3D and is reasonably pretty. The art style of the original games is preserved as best as possible, and although the visuals are dated and will clearly not win any awards (facial animations could be improved), the game is pleasant to look at in most cases. Sound-wise the story is the same, the recording quality is high and the music is agreeable, although the voice acting is somewhat lacking.
My biggest gripe is with the narrator character. She can be quite annoying, and is often guilty of breaking the fourth wall. The latter is done in jest, but it’s nonetheless a profoundly bad idea. Another problem is pathfinding; Graham often tries to walk from point A to point B without any regard for the fact that the way is blocked. Every puzzle is simple to the point of being trivial, and you can expect anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes of gameplay, depending on how much you explore. Of course, since we’re dealing with just the introduction to the story, both length and difficulty should be taken in context.
All in all, the worth of The Silver Lining is tremendous despite its shortcomings. Its nostalgic and sentimental value is first on the list, along with its testament to the ability of fans to resurrect what they truly love. The symbolic meaning is there as well, since this game will always serve as a reminder of how gamers can stand up to major publishers and emerge victorious. The game’s own merit is not to be dismissed either, especially considering that it was made by people with no previous development experience. Finally, the return on your investment is overwhelming, since TSL costs exactly zero dollars and zero cents. Go and download it right now.