While playing Quest For Infamy, I had a burning sense that it wasn’t made for me. It’s a spiritual sequel to games that I’ve never played – the Quest For Glory series – and rather than brush things up, introducing some modern design principles perhaps, it’s holding its ground and offering an experience that could have been released on a 486 in 1990 (which I didn’t have). This is one of the most reverent sequels out there, as it feels like it’s been created with the tools of the time.
That’s not entirely a criticism. While I don’t have any fond memories for Quest For Glory, it’s still easy to appreciate the achievement of Quest For Infamy. This is, after all, a huge game, taking in two cities and plenty of green spaces inbetween, and every single location has been painstakingly hand-drawn. It may be anachronistic, but Quest For Infamy is not an unattractive game to look at. There is so much detail on the screen (almost too much detail, as you have to pick out stuff to carry and interact with). It’s clearly a labour of love.
It’s not only geographically broad either. This is a game that demands multiple playthroughs, as it’s built on a class system. As you play through Quest For Infamy, you are invited to take on a profession, and that profession determines the flow of the game, creating wildly different paths. Our Rogue playthrough was nothing like our Sorcerer, and it boggles the mind to think of how many scenes we must have missed by ‘only’ playing it twice.
But the reverence for Sierra games of the ‘90s does lead to plenty of criticism. Playing Quest For Infamy was, very generally, an occasionally rewarding slog, and almost all of its failings come from the strict adherence to old design.
There’s the lack of any hand-holding at all, which some people will be cheering, but made us want to gouge out our eyeballs. Begin Roehm’s journey into Volksville, and you won’t have any idea of what to do or why you’re there. There’s no prompts to anywhere or anything, so you’re mostly walking around in the hope that something happens to you. It’s also a labyrinth, so you won’t know where to go, or whether you’ve seen everything. Entrances and exits aren’t clear from a given location, and it’s possible to miss a path, simply because you haven’t clicked on the right pixel.
There’s a knock-on effect to the story, and we’re not well-versed enough to know whether it’s common to the other Quest For Glory games. Roehm, the main character, is purely reactionary. He’s not a hero set up for a grand mission: he’s mostly bumbling around, letting things happen and then capitalising on them. He’s an opportunist, and that doesn’t make for great storytelling. He’s also incredibly unlikable. We’re not sure if he’s meant to be endearing or funny, but he’s not adventurous enough to be a hero, or charismatic enough to be an antihero. He mostly makes snarky comments as other people are burdened with the narrative’s heavy lifting.
The characterisation elsewhere doesn’t help. The voice acting is largely risible, with some making us full-on chuckle. It’s a budget game, so the fact it has voice-acting at all is mildly commendable, but when you’ve got some Keanu Reeves-style accents wafting in and out, you wonder whether it was worthwhile. And don’t get us started on the female characters who, when they’re included at all, are all skin, boobs and innuendos. It can feel like you’re playing a Leisure Suit Larry.
Old design means poor usability. Try to use an item and you’re diving into multiple different menus to find it. Choosing dialogue options means swinging a mouse cursor over to the middle of the game screen, rather than tapping up or down and pressing A. But the winner of them all is combat, which is an unholy mess that must be grabbed wholesale from an older Quest For Glory game. No sane human being would create it afresh in the modern age. You’re basically choosing combat options based on nothing other than how they look, and hoping that your random numbers are higher than your opponents’. We may be misunderstanding it, but that’s how it presented itself to us.
Quest For Infamy is a royal mess, and for large swathes of it we wanted it to be over. It’s nowhere near as funny as it thinks it is, it’s mired in misogynistic quips, and it wants you to put in the work to find its good stuff. Much like the games that it’s homaging, you have to earn your enjoyment of Quest For Infamy, and we just couldn’t be bothered.
But there were moments when we got it. When Roehm and the narrator both shut up, and the walls around the game’s world fell down, we had real, actual fun. It’s at its best when you can ignore the objectives (or lack of them) for a moment, and move through scene after scene of gorgeously detailed environments and outlandish happenings. When it’s in this exploration mode, Quest For Infamy shows its quality.
It’s also possible to replace the lack of objectives with a walkthrough. Quest For Infamy even comes packaged with one, present on the main menu. It’s an ugly, brute-force method of dealing with its lack of direction, but at least it’s there. We’d have taken some vague indications of where to go, but there you are.
It’s hard for us to unravel our feelings for Quest For Infamy. On the one hand, this is clearly made for someone other than us: someone with fond memories of the period and the ‘Quest For Glory’ series. We don’t have enough experience to know if it nails that goal, but it certainly feels like it does. It’s too confident in its approach not to.
On the other hand, by choosing to be so willfully old-fashioned, we kept ricocheting off of its walls. The lack of guidance, charm and usability were obstructions to any kind of enjoyment.
Sod it: let’s keep it simple. If you have love for old Sierra adventures, you will likely have the required patience and affection to enjoy Quest For Infamy. It’s the longest, most lavish love letter to that period that you are likely to find.
If you don’t, however, there are just too many usability hurdles to enjoying Quest For Infamy. You can get more satisfying point-and-click and RPG kicks elsewhere.
You can buy Quest For Infamy from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S