The following review was written by a member of The Escapist community. For more information on community reviews, please see this forum thread.
The release of LucasArts’ back catalogue on Steam has thrust several formerly hard-to-find adventure games back into the limelight, letting old hands indulge their nostalgia and younger gamers see what all the fuss is about.
Reviewing a game as old as Loom is problematic, because half of the things you would normally talk about are off-limits. Sure, the graphics and sound aren’t up to much, but the game is twenty years old, so complaining about them is unfair. However, for the sake of completeness, I’ll touch on them briefly. The graphics are actually quite impressive given the limitations of the old VGA palette, and while they don’t hold a candle to the high-definition tour de forces that are released nowadays, they still manage to be evocative. Loom’s background music consists entirely of excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and unfortunately it tended to just fade into the background, which seems something of an oversight in a game where music is so important.
Loom is a departure from other LucasArts adventure games in that it isn’t a comedy game like Monkey Island or Day of the Tentacle. There’s some comedy in there, but for the most part it’s presented as a serious fantasy story with some very dark moments in it. What’s reassuringly familiar, however, is that it is impossible to lose the game and you can’t actually die, meaning that the only obstacle between you and the ending are the puzzles.
In Loom, craftsman guilds have evolved into societies based around a single trade. You play as Bobbin Threadbare, an apprentice of the Weavers Guild on Loom Island. The Weavers Guild has transcended the confines of ordinary cloth and is capable of spinning the very stuff of creation, giving them great power. Bobbin is ostracized from the rest of the guild, which he assumes is because he is such a terrible weaver. It is very quickly revealed, however, that Bobbin actually has great potential and an equally great destiny to fulfill. If this all sounds familiar, remember that Loom predates the Star Wars prequel trilogy by nine years.
The story moves along at a decent pace, and the characters, while not especially well rounded, are compelling enough to hold your interest. I have to confess that I didn’t click with Bobbin immediately and it took me a little while to warm to him, but that’s a personal thing and your experience is likely to differ. Loom does occasionally fall into a couple of cliché sand-traps, but the originality of the setting more than makes up for it. To go into too much detail would take us into spoiler country, but let’s put it this way: Summoning demons never ends well.
My main gripe with the story, aside from the cliff-hanger ending, is that you never feel like you’re completely clear about what’s going on. This problem is unique to the Steam re-release because the original releases came bundled with a half-hour audio drama that reveals most of the back story, with the actual game beginning where the drama ends. The story doesn’t fall apart without it, but it always feels like there are blanks that aren’t ever really filled in.
Loom’s gameplay differs from that of other adventure games in that it lacks an inventory. Instead, puzzles are solved by playing drafts, which are four-note melodies that have specific effects and work a lot like spells. This means that you effectively solve puzzles using just verbs, and as you learn new drafts you are expanding your verb list, so rather than “use key on lock,” you’d use your Draft of Opening and the result depends on the context. Some drafts are very specific, like the draft that turns wool – and only wool – green; while others, like the Draft of Opening, have much more general effects.
The nice thing about the drafts is that many of them are reversible, so if you play your Draft of Opening backwards, it will close things instead. It adds another dimension to the puzzles and requires a little bit of lateral thinking, as the version of the draft that you learn may not be the exact version that you use to solve a puzzle. At first, your distaff, the musical instrument on which you play the drafts, is limited to just three notes: C, D and E, but as you progress through the game you’ll unlock the higher notes, giving you access to the full range of drafts.
What Loom could really use is an in-game record of the drafts that you’ve learned. I resorted to jotting them down on a piece of paper because there were simply too many to remember and often I’d hear a draft long before I could actually use it. It doesn’t help that the drafts are different each time you play through the game, meaning that your notes from one play-through will be of little use to you on the next.
Bottom Line: Loom’s problems are relatively minor and shouldn’t deter you from grabbing it. It’s a bit on the short side and if it were more expensive I’d be hesitant to recommend it, but for five bucks you could do a hell of a lot worse.
Recommendation: Buy it. It’s a fun game and it’s ultra-cheap.
Logan Westbrook once weaved a coat of dreams and memories. Stylish, but terribly impractical in the winter months.
– Logan Westbrook nilcypher