Copyright: © 1982 Infocom
Genre: Adventure

Deadline was the first murder mystery game from Infocom and their third
game overall (after Zork I and Zork II). Despite the limitations of an
early parser and very difficult puzzles that require multiple restores,
Deadline in my opinion is the best mystery game of all the ones Infocom
released. Deadline was not only the first non-fantasy release for
Infocom; it was was also the first Infocom game to ship with feelies: the
original game was sold in an eye-catching "police folio" folder. In it,
you find materials that resemble contents of a real case folder:
interviews with the suspects, 3 pills in a plastic bag (found at the
crime scene), a photograph of the murder scene, a letter from the
attorney, and a coroner's autopsy report. These feelies are remarkable in
their authenticity, and help set the atmosphere for the game even before
you start it. Deadline marks the beginning of what make Infocom games
special and worth collecting in original boxes: Infocom went on to
include feelies with every one of their games, and they serve as
copy-protection device (i.e. you need the information to solve the games)
in addition to boosting the games' collectible value. The story: you are
a police detective asked to investigate the death of Marshall Robner, a
wealthy industrialist found dead in his own library from an apparent drug
overdose. You have twelve hours to expose the foul play and catch the
killer. But before you arrest someone, you'd better have evidence for all
three ingredients of a successful prosecution: the murderer's motive, the
method, and the opportunity. There are many possible endings the game,
but only one "optimal ending" that explains all the loose ends and sees
the suspect in jail. One of the most memorable things about Deadline is
the excellent NPCs who behave much more realistically than in most of
today's games. All of the game's six main characters are fleshed out with
well-written scripts: each character acts in a way that is consistent
with his or her motive. Since the game proceeds in "real time" in a sense
that NPCs carry out their own agenda no matter what you do, and there are
dozens of events you can witness and questions you can ask, you are
guaranteed to see something new whenever you replay the game. True to the
detective genre, a successful resolution of the case requires detailed
interrogations and careful observations of NPCs' reactions to your
questions and objects you show them. You can follow them around, or even
accuse them outright and see what they have to say. The puzzles are very
difficult in a sense that many of them suffer from either the "guess the
exact syntax the designer wants" syndrome, or the "you need to either be
prescient or restore a lot to see all the right things" problem that also
burden other mystery games. You can miss crucial plot points simply
because you are not in the right place at the right time, and there is
sometimes insufficient hints about when or where that event may take
place. This is aggravated by limitations inherent in Infocom's early
parser: it doesn't understand many synonyms or sentence variations. The
game is also buggy, but that is forgivable given the game's complexity
and scope vis-a-vis hardware limitations in 1982. Even with a very high
difficulty level and a buggy and limited parser, Deadline still ranks as
one of the best Infocom - and murder mystery - games ever made. It is
very well-written, full of believable and memorable characters, and
offers a deep gameplay that will truly make you feel like a real
detective. A must-have.

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