by Douglas Adams, et al
125 Cambridge Park Drive
Cambridge, MA 02140
ST Disk $39.95
by Andy Eddy
Everyone, at one point in their life or another, faces the "red tape shuffle," the hideous condition that comes from dealing with big companies and their infernally inefficient ways of doing things. Proof of this malady shows up regularly; blood-boiling examples include having a phone conversation put on hold for a matter of weeks or getting the runaround while trying to straighten out a $1 million computer error—obviously not in your favor—on your bank account.
Douglas Adams—best known for bringing his twisted, yet realistic, sense of humor to light on the radio, on television, and later via computer disk in the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy—and Infocom have taken true-to-life horrors like these and turned them into a warped adventure that is called, fittingly enough, Bureaucracy.
The scene is set (based on an actual experience that Adams went through): You have just moved into a new house, as well as acquired a new position in a new company. As if dealing with all that isn't enough, your local bank has misplaced your change-of-address form. So what, you say? Well, the bank has sent your newly renewed, valid credit card to your old address and you're supposed to be on your way to a working vacation in Paris. As you quickly find out, nothing seems to go your way... NOTHING! Needless to say, you're up against a wall—a bare wall, as the moving company has yet to deliver your furniture from your old residence. See what I mean?
Bureaucracy is much like your standard text adventure; you have to find items and their uses to help you in your quest, and certain goals have point values. The difference here is that your progress isn't predominantly monitored by the number of moves you make or your score—after all, how could you score in a life experience like this?
Realistically, you'll know how you're faring by way of an on-screen blood-pressure reading. Everything that goes wrong causes your blood pressure to rise: aggravating bank tellers sending you to closed windows, filling out form after confusing form, phoning your girlfriend/boyfriend to find that they're no longer interested in you, even by using words that the game's parser doesn't understand (though the game sarcastically tells you that you aren't licensed or authorized to use that word).
It gets you right in the mood from the start. The first thing you're told when you boot up is that you aren't licensed to operate the software, but through their kindness you can fill out an on-screen form to straighten out the predicament. You're shown a form, and one by one you're prompted to fill in the entries—albeit in a random order that sets you off balance—and certain slots bring about a snide comment from the game on your answer. Then it proceeds to mangle the information anyway; getting your house number wrong, calling you Ms. instead of Mr., and on and on.
Bringing the chase into more realistic ambience, Bureaucracy takes the initial form you filled out and tailors the rest of the contest so it closely parallels your life, creating a type of Computer Mad-Libs, if you will. Your entries become the focal point of the story—the bank is located a couple of doors from your house address, your present and past girl/boyfriend's names are listed in your phone book and they later leave disheartening mesages on your answering machine, someone will invariably walk by carrying something shaded in your least favorite color.
Best of all is the whimsically sardonic feel to each and every situation you're up against. Meandering through your neighborhood is like a trip to the looney bin, as you meet the strangest group of people and animals that you could possibly imagine. Door-front intercoms spewing forth the weirdest banter, a deaf matron with an elephant gun, a one-winged macaw whose cage is lined with something you'd like to get your hands on. And that's just for starters.
You'll laugh and chuckle with everything the game throws your way, but frankly, it gets under your skin after a while because you can relate to what is going on in real terms. This goes beyond the typically wonderful Infocom style, because Bureaucracy uses your name, speaks to you directly and tells you, point-blank, what a mess your life is becoming! Why shouldn't you feel edgy and apprehensive laughing about your life going down the tubes—even if it is a game?
Bureaucracy is a wild romp through corporate affairs and its interaction on the hapless, helpless "little guy." Send a copy of it to a bank manager near you and then go hide your money in your mattress. Besides having a lesson for big companies in there somewhere, it can be entertaining to us peons as well.