A fan-made continuation of the King’s Quest adventure series, which officially went dark in 1998, Silver Lining is the rare case where an average Joe Gamepad won a concession from the legal department of a major studio—and what’s more, the team of enthusiasts known as Phoenix Online did it twice. Over nearly a decade of development, Phoenix faced down a cease-and-desist order from Vivendi Games, and then another from Activision, the Death Star of game companies. After Phoenix finally wrested a license from Activision this June, the game was cleared for public viewing.
Judging by The Silver Lining: Episode 1, it’s possible Activision saw what Phoenix put together and decided the company had nothing to fear. This first chapter (of five) is a bizarre way to mark the end of an eight-year struggle, as it offers practically none of the puzzling and trickery that made King’s Quest such a fondly remembered icon of early PC gaming. Roberta Williams' idiosyncratic games thrived on small challenges like sneaking around a witch’s gingerbread house, or making a bump on a log fight with a rotten tomato. So it’s inexplicable that Phoenix mires the bulk of the 90-minute downloadable game in long dialogues and cutscenes to spin the epic, boring yarn of an evil wizard who put King Graham’s daughter, Rosella, and her fiancé under a spell. There is one “puzzle,” so to speak. You have to figure out some way to pay the ferryman, with only a cloak and a heaping bag of gold in your possession. Bafflement does not ensue.
In a contentious thread on the game’s official message board, titled “To everyone who thinks the episode is too short and with not enough puzzles,” the developers promise that subsequent chapters will have more for players to actually play. Even with that theoretical improvement, Silver Lining will be saddled with all the telltale signs of its amateur origins. The movement controls feel straight out of 1987. (Maybe it’s a tribute?) And the voice-work is dodgy, but pity the actors who have to navigate a script filled with clunkers like “The king can somehow relate: Inside of him a wild storm has just begun to rage, harrowing his every nerve, at every inch of a man who has looked evil in the eye before and won, yet has never found a way to truly put it to an end for good.”
As a symbol of players’ enduring love for a venerable fantasy series, The Silver Lining: Episode 1 is a charming curio, but that’s the extent of it. The letdown of a fan-made sequel is inevitable, so it probably shouldn’t be a letdown at all. After such a hard-fought battle to create the game, though, it was easy to hope the spoils would be sweeter.