For years now the adventure genre has been a stagnant place, overwhelmingly dominated by two styles. At one end you have the descendants of Myst, tours through rendered locales filled with mysterious gadgets and artifacts that you must learn to operate. At the other end you have the heirs of King's Quest, defined by sprite-based animation and inventory-based puzzles. It's a rare occasion when something innovative comes along, and games that do break from the formula - The Last Express, Bioforge - are all but overlooked by the general public. In this environment, Starship Titanic occupies a unique place. It isn't particularly innovative, but neither is it a Myst or a King's Quest clone. Instead, it draws upon storytelling and puzzle-solving styles that originated in the text adventures of old, and is a somewhat refreshing game as a result.
The text-adventure feeling makes logical sense. One of the creative forces behind Starship Titanic (science fiction humorist Douglas Adams) developed two such games for Infocom. Those who have played Adams' text adventures (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Bureaucracy) will feel right at home on the Starship Titanic. The puzzles involve the same type of overly complex logic, requiring you to go through mind-wrenching ordeals to accomplish the simplest of tasks. While there's nothing on par with the classic Babel Fish puzzle from Hitchhiker's, the majority of the puzzles keep with the same absurd spirit - such as when you must deal with a complex mechanism simply to turn on the television in your cabin.
The text-adventure references don't end with the puzzles. The game actually includes a text parser that is used for conversing with the many robots aboard the Titanic. It's not perfect (your statements will often be misunderstood in unfathomable ways), but it's a nice nod to the days of old. The use of the text parser adds an element of discovery as well: The solutions to otherwise obtuse puzzles will often become apparent through conversation.
But Starship Titanic lacks the one major element that elevated so many text adventures to classic status: a story. There's a slight skeleton of a plot (you must repair a derelict starship), but apart from discovering why the Titanic is in the shape it's in, there's nothing to it. The game does borrow a bit from older adventures (the moody robots bit is almost a direct lift from Steve Meretzky's Stationfall), but it doesn't create enough of a backbone to lend much purpose to your actions.
That's not to say it isn't fun. It is certainly funny - and it's the kind of funny you'd expect from such contributors. The voice acting brings the humor to life (two Monty Python veterans make appearances - Terry Jones brings his talents to the annoying parrot, and John Cleese makes a particularly funny appearance as a bomb), and the graphics are good-looking, Myst-esque fare. All in all, Starship Titanic is an enjoyable tribute to an older era of adventure gaming. It feels a bit empty at times, but Douglas Adams fans and text-adventurers will undoubtedly be able to look past its shortcomings.