First posted on 01 November 1998. Last updated on 08 August 2009.
Gateway (also known as Frederik Pohl's Gateway) is the first game from Legend Entertainment I have played. Based on Pohl's famous Gateway Saga, the game occurs in the same Heechee universe from which the books are rooted. Highly imaginative and a pleasure to play, Legend Entertainment has become a game developer to be reckoned with since publishing this title. Gateway is underrated by many gamers when it is initially released. Fortunately, like many cult classics, it eventually rises to become a sleeper hit worthy of Pohl's name.
The Gateway is an abandoned alien space station somewhere between Venus and Mercury, filled with small faster than light starships. They are built by an alien race known as the Heechee. With these ships, a brave group of humans, so-called Gateway Prospectors, explore space searching for anything worth money to the Gateway Corporation. It is a risky business, since no one really knows beyond the basics how these Heechee starships work. The destinations of these starships are known only to the Heechee, who programmed them 500,000 years ago. One may return from a trip with a mother load of technology to make a lifetime's riches, but more likely one may die alone in a foreign land. When the scientists discover a terrible secret behind the vanished Heechee, you must battle against an ancient race so ruthless and deadly to be known simply as the Assassins.
Gateway is a game best classified as an illustrated text adventure. There is a picture for each location which is richly described in text. Still, if one is a diehard "give me text or give me death" text adventure purist, the graphics can be easily turned off without missing anything of the story. Mixing text and graphics is, of course, not a new idea in gaming design since its inception, but computer hardware has also evolved a lot since the earlier attempts. Gateway demonstrates very well such an evolution. The pictures are all well drawn, and the text parser is as good as it comes. If you have played any game from Infocom before, you should feel instantly at home. There are even occasional MIDI tunes to enhance the atmosphere. The game is originally released only in Floppy Disk version. A CD-ROM version is later released. Akin to the classic A Mind Forever Voyaging, the game comes with a wealth of information in the form of manuals, bulletin boards, and trivia games. While a lot of these extras are of little use and the information contained within is mostly obvious, they nevertheless do add a lot to the overall atmosphere and enjoyment to the game.
As the game begins, you have just arrived at Gateway and have not yet been given a mission assignment. Do not worry! The game promises to have many! As the story progresses, you discover that there is more to the mission than just an old-fashioned treasure hunt in space. While the background story is the same as in Pohl's books, one does not have to read them beforehand to succeed in the game. Everything that is needed to be known is explained in the game's prologue. Most of the puzzles are logical and well integrated into the story without being too difficult. Some of them have more than a single solution, while others do not needed to be solved at all to win the game (I am still 5 points short of finishing the game with a perfect score). Even when you get stumped, the story is written so that there are always several different places to explore to keep you moving forward but enough not to be overwhelming.
There is a lot I like about this game. First of all, the game looks good. The screen and text layouts are pleasant to read, and I have not noticed any typos and run into any bugs. The text parser is flexible and well constructed. I do not to play "guess the verb" since the parser is smart enough to guess what you mean rather than blindly execute what you type exactly, as demonstrated in this example from the beginning of the game:
> ACTIVATE PV COMMSET [Taking the debit card first.] You insert your debit card into the slot.
In my opinion this game does not any major drawbacks. Some gamers may find the idea of a text parser somewhat dated on the technological scale, but this interface in this game is really quite intelligent. Once you are accustomed to its use, it is actually a very versatile way of communicating with a game. There are a few places where I manage to provoke odd responses from the parser, but nothing serious enough to be worth mentioning. One minor drawback is that the protagonist of the game is male even though for most of the game the gender choice does not matter. It may have been interesting to let the player choose the sex. If there is any feature I miss the most, it is the ability to scroll back in the text window.
In short, Gateway is well designed and fun to play. It may not an exceptional title, but it is still a very good one. Of all the games that are based on previously written works of fiction, this game has to be one of the best.