Wednesday, May 2, 2012

-REVIEW: Avernum: Escape from the Pit-
a tale of two richards

Title: Avernum: Escape from the Pit
Developer: Spiderweb Software
Price/Platform: $9.99/Steam

I told you so

Dick Cheney is eating dinner with his wife on a Tuesday. On Monday, he spends 14 hours supervising corporate takeovers and poring over legalese. On Wednesday, he maintains his business contacts over 18 holes on the fairway of Terranea’s beachside resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. On Thursday, his face latches itself on to an untraceable corded phone as he engages both businessmen and widowed matriarchs alike for investment capital. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday all blend together in a hurricane of religious rituals, in-law time, and such vigorous shoulder-rubbing that even Mitt Romney would be ashamed.

Across the table, his wife speaks plainly: “Richard, I wish you’d spend more time at home.”

He stops chewing.  Having comprised 50% of the actual noise in the room, its absence is admittedly significant. However, it is quickly replaced by the deep stare of a man pushed far too close to the edge. And this stare is directed straight at dear old Mrs. Cheney.

“Woman, what in the name of our good Lord and Savior, Jesus Halliburton Christ, are you talking about?” His calloused, phone-gripping hand now grips the edge of his hand-carved mahogany claw-foot dinner table.

Mrs. Cheney is unfazed. She continues, “I just don’t think you spend enough time here, with me. And I’m telling you now, if you don’t change, I don’t think I’ll put up with it much longer.” She continues eating.

Mr. Cheney’s grip loosens. His rage subsides. His rightful, incendiary righteousness fizzles out like some gassed-out stovetop. His crested countenance falls. There are only two choices for Mr. Cheney: concede to his wife with a simple “yes, dear” and continue to grind down what little nub of life his heart contains until the end of days or revolt, rebel, and cast it all aside, risking life in the pit of progressive liberalism. To make the choice between order, success, and security or dignity, control, and freedom. Welcome to the world of Avernum, Mr. Cheney.
In this world, his calloused hand is a warrior, his designer golf clubs are a rogue, his silver tongue a well-versed priest, and his bottomless wealth a powerful mage. These are all that he needs to navigate the depths of Avernum, and these are all that he is allowed. And while he may name his hands, colorize his clubs, or diversify his investments, he cannot succeed without optimizing each and every one.

It’s Thursday now. As he leaves, his wife stands in the doorway and sighs, “Richard, don’t forget to lotion your hands before you start and after you’re done. You’re not getting any younger, you know.” He smiles, nods, and tips his hat as he crawls into his unmarked Toyota Cressida. He recalls a time when his hands retained their strength without their contorted, dessicated wrappings. A time before his vigor was spent on fundraising and pandering, a time before said vigor twisted his smooth, earnest hands into telephone claws. Even so, he knows his vigor was well spent: he has given up the the ivory hands of a polymath for the ability to convert 10 minutes into $10,000 with words and plastic machinery.

But this is the sacrifice all must make for glory, greatness, and success in a capitalist world. This is the cost of success in Avernum. The difference here is that while Mr. Cheney only has one life, you may relive, reset, and retry, allowing Avernum to twist and contort each new virginal potential into a different but equally wizened, myopic expertise. If only Mr. Cheney were so lucky.

Still, he submits himself to this desperate drudgery for the sake of material gain and political consistency, goals that only the smelliest of hippies would deem unworthy. They do so because they miss the point of material gain and political consistency; they think too plainly and turn away from analysis too soon to grasp the beauty of the greater, more altruistic goal of conservativism: luxurious security for up to 4 people in your life at the cost of mediocrity for millions and abject poverty for thousands. Welcome to the world of Avernum, Mr. Cheney.

On Wednesday morning Dick meets up with another Dick, who also happens to be a senator of one of the great Red States, for a round of golf.  As the solar troggs beat out their infernal drums upon the fairway, Cheney turns up his own heat: “Dick #2, it’s been a good month for the great state of [REDACTED], hasn’t it? Jobs are up, the people are happy, and you’re up for an unchallenged re-election. I’ve given you all that. What I need you to give me is—“

Dick #2 holds up a hand. “Dick #1, you’ve got it all wrong. I know I owe you for finding me my beautiful Thai wife and expediting her beautiful Thai immigration paperwork, but this isn’t how the great state of [REDACTED] works anymore. We’re a real democratic state, and the people aren’t swayed by the big money and Reagonomics anymore. And I’ve got to stay with the people.” 
With a quick wave Dick #1 bats off both Dick #2’s objections and the gnats circling about. “What’re you sayin’ Dick #2? Are you saying you don’t need trickle-down economics anymore? You don’t need The Gipper? You don’t need…me?” 

Dick #2 exhales gently. “Dick #1, no one needs The Gipper anymore. What that means for you…I think you’re on your own with that one.” As the last word leaves his mouth he swings through his putt. Birdie.

The Cressida chugs along on the road home as “The Best of Randy Travis” blares out the tape deck. No one needs The Gipper anymore, hm? He quietly hums as the tune of “I Told You So” plips and plops on. No one needs me anymore too, maybe. The words “I’m tired of spendin’ all my time alone” involuntarily capture his lips. But, do I have to go the way of The Gipper? What’s the man done for me? There was a simpler time, wasn’t there? A time without all the smoke, mirrors, and trickle-down economics. A better time.  

His voice gets louder, bidden by some flaming urge as he bellows “would you say the tables finally turned? WOULD YOU SAY” A better way. Leave the glory and politicking to those 80s bastards with their untamed hairstyles and neon sweatpants. A better idea. Strip down to bare bones and focus on what matters like people and places, like city hall and not capitol hill. A better me. A better Dick Cheney. And as he sings again and again that chorus “I told you so” the shackles of Reagonomics fall from his mind, leaving an uncorrupted, essential, and efficacious (but slightly unsightly) Anglo-Saxon neoconservative behind the wheel of an unmarked Toyota Cressida. Welcome to the world of Avernum, Mr. Cheney.
It is Tuesday again. Dick sits at his dinner table, his bedraggled telephone claws only slightly less bedraggled, his hair only slightly less stress tousled, his mind only slightly less beholden to Ronald Fucking Reagan. Across the table, his wife seats herself. “Well Richard, it’s nice to finally see you here before me.” There is no flamed recoil, no incendiary reaction. “I was certain that you’d misunderstood me, as you so often do.”

“Darling, you know I never think of such things. I’ve gotten something for you.” He reveals the bouquet of roses in the grasp of his telephone claw.

“Oh, oh Richard! They are beautiful.” She meets the gift with a grasp of her own, but as their grasps intersect, a pause. “Oh, oh Richard. Dick. My Dicky…I’ve been horrible.” Her grasp wilts.

“Honey, I did it for you. I did it all for you. These hands. This hair. This life is for you, honey. I don’t regret it. Don’t say you’re sorry.” Her wilted grasp is only tenderness to his telephone claws. “I’ve learned anew what it is to be American. To be a Businessman. I can do both, honey. I can be the man you love, and the man who makes love to you.” Tears bubble up gently beneath his gaze. He is remembering all the used (and unused) condoms he found in his matrimonial bedroom two weeks ago.

“I’ve been horrible. Horrible!” A stream of tears is expelled here, too, between trembling sobs and mumbled apologies. She too is remembering those damn condoms. They both continue to exchange sobs, murmuring sweet reconciliation across a mahogany claw-foot dining table in the hills of suburban Maryland, cleansing the cedar walls of marital acrimony and misunderstood emotions. Their ocular torrents rush up the walls, down the drapes, and carry their reignited love across the halls to a grand culmination in that matrimonial bedroom. Congratulations on your escape from Avernum, Mr. Cheney.

It’s Wednesday now. The solar troggs are once again beating their infernal drums. Dick #2 pulls a 2 iron out of his caddy’s back and drives his white, dimpled orb into the distance. As it sails, his phone rings. On the other end of the line a voice speaks plainly, “Richard, your time is up. You need to come home. Now.” He watches through his polarized monocular as his dimpled orb bounces gently on the green, mere feet from the hole. The hole, however, is on a hill on a peninsula in the sunbathed paradise of Terranea.

He responds. “Baby, I’m almost done here. You know that. Just wait. I’m near finished. Alright? I’m near done.” He climbs into his golf cart and with a gnat-batting wave commands it to start. As it scrambles to the green, panic begins to build within. Through his monocular he spies a dimpled orb gently orbing its way down the hill. His dimpled orb. Down a hill into the sea.

His phone rings again. And again. The cart rumbles toward the green. The orb is rolling. His phone is ringing.

Welcome to the world of Avernum, Mr. Gephardt.