HELL CAB - A Pepe Moreno Production from Time Warner Interactive Group

Reviewed by Mark Marino
          Computer        Graphics        Memory          Disk Space
Minimum   386 PC          SVGA            3MB free        about 3MB
                          (640x480x256)   (in Windows) 
Max/Rec.                  Local Bus

Control: Mouse
  Sound: MPC sound card required.
  Notes: MS-Windows 3.1 and single speed CD-ROM drive also required.

Reviewed version v1.0 on:  486/66, 16MB RAM, PAS-16
     Reviewer recommends: 486 with double speed CD-ROM drive, 8 MB RAM

Hell Cab is a MS-Windows CD-ROM adventure game that comes to us from the vivid imagination of Pepe Moreno. For any of you aren't familiar with Pepe, he is more widely known for his comics and graphic novels, which are beautifully drawn and written with a distinctive style that is uniquely his. He has ventured off from his traditional inked medium and has delivered what promised to be an intriguing interactive journey into this artists fertile imagination. Unfortunately, he failed miserably.

Hell Cab places you in the shoes of a weary traveler, waiting for a delayed flight from JFK airport in New York. While your flight has been delayed, you decide to take a cab tour of New York City. Unfortunately, you picked the wrong cab. It seems your friendly cab driver, Raul, turns out to be a minion of the bad guy Satan himself. Your cabby doesn't like it when you're short on the fare (guess what, you are a little light on the green stuff today). So he makes you sign a contract with the devil in order to pay your fare and return to your earthly life. Raul then takes you to several places where you can win back your soul by winning in various action sequences. And thus your adventure begins.

Although the premise of the game sounds interesting enough, it's the awkward execution and limited actual gameplay that really sinks this game. Like many other "multimedia" titles before it, Hell Cab ends up being a feast for the eyes and ears, but a famine on the fun factor. Perhaps a Hell Cab screen saver would have been more appropriate.

The Good: Let's talk about the good parts first. Hell Cab has some really nice graphics, which should not be a surprise, considering the background of the designer. But even in the graphics department, I've seen better. Most of the graphics are statically rendered screens, with some rudimentary 2-D animation thrown in. The graphics are comprised of hand painted and 3- D rendered scenes, as well as digitized bitmaps of actual places (such as the NYC street scenes). They are all nicely done, and mesh well with each other. A number of Quicktime for Windows movies are also employed in the game which are quite amusing, though mostly unrelated to the game. While strolling down the corridors of the Empire State Building, you can click on any of the picture frames on the wall and be treated to short Quicktime movie. The best ones of the bunch are 3-D animations done by Jim Ludtke, the creator of the Residents - Freak Show CD-ROM. (I'd suggest checking that one out as soon as it's released for the PC.) The sound in the game is entirely digitally sampled, there is no FM soundtrack. The sound quality is good, and the original score and sound effects add to the gaming experience greatly (except for a gratingly annoying tune that plays whenever you are in the Empire State Building lobby).

The interface is similar to Myst, where you can click on a direction to go in and the screen will transition to the next scene statically (i.e. no animated walk-throughs a la 7th Guest). This worked fine for me in Myst mostly because the rendered 3-D landscapes were so beautifully done, and in Hell Cab, it's not a big loss either. Once at a new location, you can click on various objects on the screen to manipulate them. For example, to open a door, you simply click on it. The interface, however, is seriously hampered by the designer's choice to use an authoring system instead of developing the game with a language such as C or assembly. I'd like to touch upon this popular trend among CD-ROM game developers briefly.

The Bad: Hell Cab was developed in Macromedia Director for the Mac, and was ported to Windows using the Macromedia Director Player for Windows. Director is a multimedia "authoring" tool that allows the developer to incorporate graphics, animation, video, and sound into a presentation-like application. Authoring systems can be used to great effect for projects like computer-based training and touch-screen kiosks that only require limited interactivity, but they are greatly limited in performing the kinds of activities that are traditionally associated with computer games. Just compare a game like Return To Zork or Gabriel Knight to a game like Hell Cab or Iron Helix, and you'll see what I mean. In particular, authoring systems provide no sprite animation facility which greatly hampers the ways you can graphically interact with the game universe. In essence, the game becomes an "interactive movie" in which you direct the action. Now I'm not saying that you can't make a good game using an authoring system (Myst and Iron Helix are both good examples of proper use of authoring systems), but there are lots of design considerations that have to be well-thought out to overcome the limits of an authoring system. The Hell Cab development team must have taken that day off. And to make things worse, the Director Player for Windows is a total system hog, complete with memory leaks and bugs.

The Ugly: So what do you actually do in Hell Cab? Well, first Raul takes you to ancient Rome where you must choose between battling a gladiator, or going through an obstacle course called the gauntlet. If you win, Raul will whisk you away to World War II, where you must help out the French Resistance by machine gunning down the Nazi marauders. If you get past that, you progress to prehistoric times, where I don't know what you do, because I grew bored of Hell Cab before getting there. The main problem with Hell Cab is that it tries to be an action game, when it should've been an exploratory adventure game. When the action sequences occur, the game becomes unresponsive and laboriously difficult to control. As such, it is largely a matter of luck to succeed, rather than strategy or quick reflexes. For instance, when battling the gladiator, you are in first person perspective, a la Doom, with your sword in the middle of the screen. When the match begins, you must click frantically on the mouse button to thrust the sword at the gladiator, trying to aim at his exposed parts. At seemingly random intervals, your sword will actually thrust, and you may inflict some damage. If you're lucky enough to do this enough times before he cuts you down, you win. Not fun by any definition. Unfortunately, the other action sequences are at least as equally frustrating. This is some of the worst gameplay I've ever experienced.

Conclusion: I have to say that I had a lot of hopes for Hell Cab when I got it, especially when such a great visual artist as Pepe Moreno was the man in charge. I was sorely disappointed. If Hell Cab had been an adventure game, it might have worked, but as an action game, it flounders under the awful performance and limited graphic capabilities of the Director Player for Windows.

If you're interested in a much better CD-ROM action game, try Iron Helix, or even Rebel Assault (at least it's fast). For those who want a good CD- ROM adventure game, try the wonderfully imaginative Myst or Gabriel Knight, the best thing Sierra has done in years. Avoid Hell Cab unless you're a real masochist. Though some of the eye candy was tasty, it was ultimately unfulfilling.

This review is Copyright (C) 1994 by Mark Marino for Game Bytes Magazine. All rights reserved.