(This is part of my journey going playing through 1992’s The Dagger of Amon Ra. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)
Among the pantheon of Sierra’s adventure game series, Lara Bow is much less recognizable than King’s Quest and Space Quest. She only appeared in two titles, 1989’s The Colonel’s Bequest and 1992’s The Dagger of Amon Ra, before disappearing forever. Yet Lara Bow remains an interesting engima in Sierra’s catalog, a series that primarily focused on character-based murder mysteries with a female protagonist (thanks in large part to creator Roberta Williams).
I’ve heard that Amon Ra is an underrated classic, and so I snapped it up on GOG a while back when it went on sale. Let’s see what Ms. Bow is up to in this title and how we might help her make her way as a journalist in the big city.
What’s truly bizarre about the start of this game is that if you click “play new game,” then you’ll miss the very informative introduction. Instead, you have to deliberately choose “introduction” from the menu to get the setting and backstory.
Anyway, the tale begins on a passenger ship in the 1920s as a shadowy figure skulks inside of a cabin and then strangles its occupant to death. That accomplished, the body is tucked inside a steamer trunk and the ship disembarks in New York City.
One of the first things that I noticed about this game is that it has an absolutely striking art deco style with its layout. Certain scenes are framed like comic book panels with inserts and talking heads and pretty bad voice acting (more on that later).
Outside on the gangplank, an Egyptian guy is having an argument with the museum curator over the latter taking the Dagger of Amon Ra out of its native country. Snooty rejoinders abound and an ominous feeling is felt.
Meanwhile in New Orleans, aspiring journalist Lara Bow leaves her father to take a train to NYC for a job that he got for her at the Tribune. Lara’s voice is trying so hard to be that Southern drawl that we all know well, yet the actress lays it on too thick and she often comes across sounding like a parody than a person. This is a problem that much of the game’s voice acting has, and I won’t belabor that. Anyway, Lara is promptly mugged the second she steps off the train — like, that very second — and is made fun of for being really short (even though she isn’t):
Lara’s first assignment at the paper is to investigate a burglary that happened at the museum, as the Dagger was apparently stolen. Right away the game establishes how this is a very unfriendly time for professional women, as Lara is discriminated against left and right and can’t even pee in her own building. Seriously. It’s established that there’s only a men’s bathroom on the news floor. So this game is really sexist but it’s in a historical sense so it’s hard to tell if you’re supposed to be offended or if it’s parody or if it’s just part of the setting. I’m rolling with it.
Anyway, it doesn’t matter, because Lara dies:
Oh yeah, this is a Sierra adventure game, and that means one thing: random acts of death lurk EVERYWHERE. In this instance, Lara is killed crossing the street if she doesn’t look both ways. And I found that I had to do this every dang time I crossed certain streets. It’s not being realistic, it’s just being punitive.
The main goal of the first act of the game is to get ready for an evening reception at the museum. Since Lara had all her stuff stolen (which she is quite chipper about, by the way), this makes her primary mission to get a dress to wear. And that means solving a whole bunch of chain-reaction needs from various NPCs. Stereotypically Irish cop is hungry? I have to annoy a bum to get his newspaper to get a coupon to cross the street and not die and get a free sandwich. That sort of thing.
Yay, I got hit by the car again! I’m convinced that this city is out to kill Lara Bow by any means possible.
One slightly interesting twist on the adventure game format is that occasionally this title will let you select dialogue options to see how they play out. It’s nothing super-significant but it is kind of fun to roleplay these situations.
While we can at least explain the sexism that runs through this game, the racism present is harder to pass off. Everyone is so strongly stereotypical that it’s very hard to know if the writers were being offensive or tongue-in-cheek, as with this Chinese guy that operates (of course) a dry cleaning service. Also, he’s extremely promiscuous and mentions something along those lines every other second despite being about 79 years old.
And sometimes this game is just flat-out impossible to interpret. Lara finally gets a dress (thanks to a long-abandoned dry cleaning ticket buried under trash in the cab above), but when she finds the sole women’s bathroom in this entire city, it’s occupied by what seems to be a flapper on drugs who won’t stop making really inappropriate remarks while Lara is undressing. I am starting to suspect that she took off the doors to those toilet stalls back there and just sits in this bathroom all the time.
At least Lara gets dudded up for the museum event and is ready to crack this story wide open!
One amusing bit of design is this screen when you go to quit the game. Oh Lara, I can’t quit you!