Today we are going to talk about one of the more infamous games that went through development hell. The game that I am talking about is LucasArts’ The Dig . Before Gearbox Software took the spot of well-known games that went through development limbo with Duke Nukem Forever and Aliens: Colonial Marines, LucasArts had The Dig. Fun fact, the setting and story of the game was inspired by an idea that Steven Spielberg had for an episode in the Amazing Stories series. The game started development in 1989, but was then released in 1995. Many directors and designers associated with the project came and went throughout development, and many concepts for the game changed throughout the process.
Once it was released, it got mostly mixed reviews. People criticized it for its confusing puzzles, high degree of difficulty, and for having a much more serious tone than the past games made by LucasArts. It wasn’t considered their best game, but I have seen over time that this game has a bit of a fan base. It isn’t as big as say, Grim Fandango or The Curse of Monkey Island , but The Dig has its fans. How does it hold up today? Does the big names associated with this game, like Steven Spielberg, Orson Scott Card, Brian Moriarty, Sean Clark, and famous actor Robert Patrick attached to the game help? Or should they have just kept what they dug up buried?
The story is basically the setup of Armageddon or Deep Impact where a massive asteroid is heading towards earth. The team that is going into space to destroy the asteroid is led by Commander Boston Low, voiced by the T-1000 himself, Robert Patrick. He is accompanied by Dr. Ludger Brink, voiced by Steve Blum, and geologist Maggie Robins, voiced by Mari Weiss. As they go up into space and plant bombs onto the giant rock to destroy it, they end up opening up a crack that leads deep into the middle of the asteroid. After messing around with a panel against the wall of the interior of the asteroid, the three of them are teleported to an alien world where they must find out why they are there and find a way off the planet. The story and characters are unfortunately one of the weaker parts of this game. The characters are very one-dimensional, and the story was predictable. Even with the cast they hired for the three main characters, they do little to give the characters more personality. It’s a shame too, since the world you travel through is also not really that interesting.
The Dig is an adventure game where you play as Commander Low. You will be traveling through different parts of the alien planet collecting rods that will open doors, and finding items that will help you solve puzzles that you will need to solve as you go through the game. A lot of the design reminds me of the games that were being released by Sierra. Instead of using a dialogue tree that is used in games like Full Throttle or Grim Fandango, the game plays more like Sam & Max Hit the Road in terms of menus and puzzles. A lot of the puzzles require you to go from point A to point B and then back to point A. It is a lot more backtrack-heavy than a lot of the adventure games released by LucasArts at this time. The interaction between your allies is set up like how you talk to people in Sam & Max Hit the Road, where you will have a multitude of box-like icons that will lead to different questions and conversations.
The world you travel through is a bit barren and deserted, which fits into the overall story, but I will explain the issues with this later on in the review. The main items that you will be using throughout the game are life gems and rods that act as keys to open new doors to other places on the planet. Life gems will bring people back to life. I know, it’s quite a shocker, huh? Anyway, with all the backtracking, keys, and other items that will help you through your adventure, you will get about 2-3 hours out of this game, if you know what you are doing, but you can extend that to a couple of more hours if you don’t know what you are doing. Some of the puzzles seem a little confusing, and if you didn’t read a walkthrough, you would think that LucasArts took the puzzle ideas right out of a King’s Quest game. There are two different endings, but don’t think this is like Resident Evil, The Witcher 2, or any BioWare kind of multiple-ending situation.
The graphics are fine. The sprites are animated well, and some of the early CG looks okay. The animated cutscenes look a little too blurry. The backgrounds are really the highlight with bright colors. The atmosphere is also one of the highlights. The planet is very empty, and it leaves you curious to know what happened to it. Michael Land is the composer of the game. He has worked on a multitude of LucasArts games and other games like The Bard’s Tale and Sim City 4. The music is average. It sets the mood well in certain areas, but can be forgettable during other moments. The voice acting is decent. Robert Patrick is doing his best as the main character, but the only one I really think brings anything is Steve Blum, since he voices other characters in The Dig , but even then, he is also just okay.
Yeah, this game has some issues. The story is fairly predictable with a lot of obvious plot elements that you will catch onto even before you get to them. The characters themselves, like I said before, are one-dimensional and really have no development. I personally felt disconnected from the characters, and the three characters you spend the most time with don’t really gel too well with each other. Oh, and the obvious villain has a very weak final fight with the main character. The puzzles are a bit confusing at times and require too much walking back from place to place to solve. It’s the same problem I have with Sam & Max Hit the Road since that game also has a lot of puzzles where you need to drive back and forward a lot. While the world you are in can be very pretty and atmospheric, it can also be very barren and boring to go through. I feel like there was supposed to be more to the overall story and world, but it just ends up as a generic sci-fi story with just a few cool elements here and there.
Now then, the two separate endings are pointless. They are different in only one little scene, but you can’t really consider one “bad” and one “good.” While there are some parts of the ending I liked, it felt underwhelming altogether. Not the worst ending where it was a waste of time playing through the game, but it was just passable. I also think having a more serious tone hurt the game. The script tries to come off as funny, but in the end, it comes off as corny. Some of the lines gave me a chuckle, but when the game is trying to be humorous, it just feels out of place. It’s like the problem in games like Fuse that originally started out as a humorous game and got turned into a rough-and-tough kind of game, and the humorous parts of the game felt out of place.
Final Verdict: Not LucasArts' best, but it has its charm
From what I originally heard about this game, I thought it was going to be terrible, but in the end, the game was above average. It has a lot of issues, but the game does have a lot of things to like as well. It is a shame that this game had big names behind it, because the final product is just not up to par with previous LucasArts adventure games. Getting a hard copy of the game is cheap on eBay, and you can get it for $5 on Steam, or you can get it in Steam’s LucasArts bundle for $10. I would recommend getting the bundle if you are wanting to check this game out, since you would be saving some money by getting all four games in the bundle at once. Like I said, this game is just above average, but I can see why it has its fans. If you have wanted to find a game in the LucasArts adventure game library that you haven’t tried out or have played the Monkey Island games to death, I would recommend you check out The Dig . Just stay away from the life eggs.