The adventure game genre was experiencing a golden time in the 80s and into the early 90s. Companies like Infocom, Lucasfilm Games (later to be renamed as Lucasarts), Sierra On-Line, and even Activision, tapped into this exciting genre taking players from their homes and into wild adventures inside their imaginations or worlds built pixel by pixel onscreen with a parser prompting them for their reply.
In France, one of the first game companies there, ERE Informatique (which, in 1987 after suffering financial hardship, was bought out by Infogrames) published an adventure game called Crash Garrett in 1988.
Crash Garrett stood out from many of its graphic adventure peers that split their action into an upper screen where you might be able to see the figure you were controlling, or which gave you a static, first-person view of the scene in question, all of which left a parser down below to await your instruction. It did, that, too, but the way its visuals came to life with moving portraits, comic book style sound effects, and plenty of captioned speech created a personality steeped in 1930’s pulp and a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor.
And that’s when this adventure takes place. According to the incredibly brief instructions that came with the game, the game covers “two days in May 1938” with the action kicking off immediately as Crash flies his latest client and Hollywood gossip columnist, Cynthia Sleeze, to interview her latest star.
It seems like a typical job until Cynthia asks Crash to make a quick stop along the way at a clinic run by a certain Dr. Thorn. And that’s when things start to get dicey. Before Crash knows it, Cynthia’s not coming back with him and he’s forced to make another detour back to Hollywood to try and figure things out.
Crash isn’t the most forgiving adventure game and encapsulates some of the genre’s then-most brutal aspects such as dead ends (both literally and figuratively) coupled with an extremely abstract parser and scheduled events.
Where a few adventure games will take the time in their documentation to explain common commands and the limitations of their parser, or even go so far as to provide a few abstract hints and suggestions, Crash Garrett seems to gloss over that by suggesting the player to just type stuff and watch things go. Coupled with that some events in the game are actually dependent on a bit of timing and saving often becomes a sacred mantra.
On the other hand, it also introduces one or two neat twists to the usual formula. One is that the instructions call on you to be the voice in Crash’s head. When he asks what he should do next, he’s asking you as his “internal friend” who apparently came into being after suffering a coma from a previous misadventure (Crash gets hit in the head a lot). The ending even comes up with a revelation for just who you are in the game. Surprise!
The other twist is that Crash can call on a dose of “Power”, represented by icons in the upper left hand part of the screen, the source of which is a mystery. By calling on this internal “power”, Crash can do some sweet things like move faster than his enemies or hit much harder than he should. Think of it as some kind of super adrenaline rush that he can let loose when he needs to at the end of a command. Instead of hitting that return key, players use a key combo to unleash this and get an advantage over his foes who might otherwise kill him instead. He also has a limited number of times to use this ability, but the game is generous enough in giving you quite a lot of it.
The game is steeped in pulpy fiction whether it’s in describing Crash mounting his “throbbing” mechanical beast (his motorcycle) or dealing with Nazi spies with bad accents. Even the music that plays over the title screen hams things up with a pulpy interlude.
The game was released on the Atari ST and was also made available on the Amstrad and the Amiga. In addition to the usual graphics and sound that took advantage of its hardware, the Amiga version also had Crash “speak” his lines with a synthesized voice that sounded like the WOPR computer from 1983’s Wargames. It…wasn’t great…but for its time, it was something of a technical gimmick that might wow a few players.
One thing that, unfortunately, dogged the Amiga version was a series of bugs that apparently made it impossible to solve. A walkthrough for the game even goes so far as verify this as one of the differences between the Atari ST and Amiga versions.
A sequel was heavily hinted at the end of the game, but alas, none was made. Given the other difficulties that the game presented in comparison to other adventure games that did a far better job at balancing fun versus sheer frustration, it’s probably not much of a surprise that Crash Garrett didn’t go on to Germany and the mysteries of Egypt to uncover whatever evils lay in wait for him and his kidnapped girlfriend.