“The past, forever locked in regret. But what if the past could be changed?”
Having already talked about the Jurassic Park games I was playing in the late 1990s, here’s another game I was playing a lot around the same time: the PC game Titanic: Adventure out of Time. It was released in 1996 by the now out-of-business video game company Cyberflix, but I don’t believe I played it until after I’d seen the James Cameron film and my interest in the Titanic really took off. It was a unique game, and definitely a good one for Titanic enthusiasts like me.
The story of the game begins on 14th April 1942 from the first-person perspective of Frank Carlson. As you move around Frank’s shabby London apartment, you are able to interact with items which indicate his backstory: mainly that he used to be a government agent who was given a mission onboard the Titanic, and was fired as a result of failing that mission. Once you’ve wandered around long enough, the ominous sound of an air-raid siren fills the air, followed swiftly by a bomb exploding right outside your window – which somehow catapults Carlson back in time to the evening of 14th April 1912, in his cabin on the Titanic. With a few hours remaining before the iceberg makes its presence known, Carlson has the chance to properly carry out his mission – and the consequences will be bigger than he can imagine.
You spend pretty much the whole game wandering around the Titanic, an experience that has a lot of appeal all on its own. The surroundings are three-dimensional, spacious, and very historically accurate – apart from a little artistic licence which gives you a little more freedom than an actual passenger would have had. You can wander around pretty much the whole boat deck, the Grand Staircase, the first class smoking room, the cabin areas – even the engine and boiler rooms at certain stages in the game. Unfortunately there are still a few areas where you just get locked doors; you can’t take a look at the first class dining room or the second class facilities, for example. If you try to get into the first class lounge, the resident steward does take the trouble to tell you that it’s closed. “We would only open it again in an emergency,” he says pointedly, “which we are not experiencing at the moment.” So…yes, you can get into the lounge eventually.
Although the main story isn’t that long, it is very compelling. You start off simply being required to recover the Rubaiyat, an ancient book which has been stolen by a German colonel named Zeitel. But recovering that (not a guarantee) is far from the end of things, as it turns out Zeitel’s exchanging the Rubaiyat for a painting of some interest to the German High Command – and there’s a notebook full of the names of Russian communists hidden onboard as well. Then there are a couple of side quests, as it were, involving an old flame who wants you to hide her diamond necklace from her husband, and a steel baron who makes you the go-between for him and his former employee who stole an incriminating letter from him. You spend your time finding and collecting items, solving puzzles, deciphering encrypted telegrams, and even partaking in a little fencing, to keep the story moving.
Quite a bit of the game’s fun comes from interacting with the wide cast of characters – most of which are first class passengers, and all of which have quite different personalities and backgrounds. Personal favourites of mine included the cheerful American businessman Max Siedelmann, and the sage psychic (no, really) Leyland Trask. Unfortunately, when having conversations with these characters – held by selecting one of a few options for you to reply to their statements – you had to witness the fact that the character animation wasn’t that great. During conversations, they were portrayed by real actors, but their body and lip movements looked stilted and exaggerated, almost like they were lagging. I was never that enamoured with the game’s music, either: a different track plays depending on the area that you’re in, and it’s not bad music per se, but a lot of it is very ominous and sometimes unnerved me when I was young and playing the game. I was already nervous in case I turned in a certain direction and found some steely-eyed figure standing there, staring at me; the music didn’t help.
Eventually, however, it gets to 11:40pm and there’s an iceberg right ahead. (“An ice-burg!” cries Zeitel, who is with you at the time. “They’ve run into an ice-burg! The ee-diots!”) At this point, while beforehand the clock only moved forward depending on how far along you were in the story, now you’re on a genuine time limit to do everything you need before the last lifeboat goes at 2am. With the Titanic slanting and groaning, and the normal teleport-between-areas function disabled, you have to rush around manually trying to get your hands on all your essential items. Assuming you get in a lifeboat and survive, the ending depends on which and how many items you walked away with – for you see, this game gives you the power to change history! No, you can’t actually prevent the Titanic from sinking – if you go onto the bridge and fiddle with the wheel, you get short shrift from the resident officer. But you can prevent World War One, World War Two, and the Russian Revolution – if you get everything. Different combinations can result in the Nazis or the Soviets invading Britain, or the Nazis inventing the atomic bomb, which aren’t quite so cheerful conclusions.
You can see more about this game here and here. As with Trespasser, I’d like to see something similar to this game done with modern graphics – you could probably include even more areas of the ship. But there aren’t that many Titanic video games out there: maybe there’s only so much you can do with the concept in that market.