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RETURN NULL  Part 1

   

Have you ever thought of playing a comic book character ? If so then you will find RETURN NULL quite an interesting prospect. Sadly the story or plot is rather weak, evolves slowly, and there is no empathy for the characters, not even for the hero Jack, who you play, whose wife Sarah is killed in the prologue.

   

There is no animation, it is all just like pages from the aforementioned comic. Jack usually has three options, when you click the cursor on something of interest (i.e. a Hot Spot); a Hand = Grab, a Bag = Inventory and a Spy Glass = View. Clicking on these icons brings up a text box or bubble with a minor explanation.

   

The game begins with Sarah and Jack, who both work for the LSF (Local Security Force) in a dystopian, Blade Runner style, future. They are after a terrorist, a young student called Albert Quinton. When they get to his apartment he grabs a device and runs towards the roof, Jack follows him while Sarah looks for another route. On the roof he shoots at Jack, and Jack gets shot. The game has a real-time mechanic that puts the characters in combat situations where you can duck for cover then pop up and shoot back. This takes a little getting used to - well it did for me, I kept ducking and popping when I should have been popping and ducking; and once again I was reminded of the Leslie Nielsen in the Naked Gun or Police Squad where the gunfight occurs with the antagonists within a few feet of each other. On the rooftop Sarah confronts Albert and then the scene now shown from below erupts in a massive explosion, killing both Sarah and Albert.

   

Move to the start of the game and Jack has been investigating Sarah's murder on his own time. He is now being hassled by his Chief who wants his badge and gun and his ex-partner, Smith, who resents Jack and is set to take over his position in LSF. Jack is forced out by being suspended.

A phone call from a terrorist who calls himself  "A" tells Jack that he will give Jack the name of Sarah's killer if Jack will break into a warehouse next to LSF and steal some blueprints. Jack doesn't take too well to being blackmailed so "A" breaks off and "C" comes on the line. She looks to be a regular, prototype anti-establishment student type, and she is empathic towards Jack, telling him straight up that the LSF had Sarah killed so that they could get their anti-terrorist bill passed by Government - the death of an LSF agent will carry a lot of weight in the argument for.

   

This is a dramatic, heavy piece which makes me wonder why Jack's surname is Drebin, for if memory serves me well (and I am the first to admit it doesn't always) Leslie Nielsen's bumbling police lieutenant in the Naked Gun series is "Frank Drebin", so taking it seriously is hard and I found I was waiting for something stupid to happen - it didn't.

   

Beautifully illustrated, this is a linear adventure. When a scene appears on screen you take it in, read any text and then click on the screen, anywhere, and then another scene appears, overlapping the previous one(s) until the page is turned and the next scene arrives where you follow the same procedure and so on and so forth.

The story flows straightforward without deviation, it really is like turning a comic book page by page and taking the actions for the characters on each page. There is no drive, no game as such, but if you treat it as an interactive comic, like watching a play in pictures, then it does have a certain charm and appeal. 

   

It isn't an expensive purchase so if you like the style, sort of point and click but not quite, then it is good value for money. This is the first of three parts which are neatly set up with the finale of this episode.

     

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015