Given its name and December 1999 release, it would be easy to chalk up Y2K: the Game as the brainchild of some shameless marketing-department executive that was rushed onto shelves in a last-minute bid to cash in on everyone's obsession with the ubiquitous computer glitch. I certainly had suspicions along those lines - suspicions that were strengthened after I loaded the game and was treated to a hiccuping audio track and multiple skips in animation during the expository opening sequence. And after a couple hours of wandering around the same two locations, as my frustration began to reach the boiling point, I became convinced that the only thing that worked in this graphic adventure was the blinking LED on the front of the box.
But I stuck with it, and after finally solving the first significant puzzle - a tricky affair involving scores of potential number combinations - I found myself enjoying a nice little adventure game. In fact, I began having so much fun that I actually felt sorry that Interplay made the decision to slap the notorious "year 2000" acronym on the box: Given that everyone considers Y2K a nonevent, it's reasonable to expect that a lot of potential customers will let their gaze slide right by the title.
As you might expect, Y2K: The Game is set on the first day of the year 2000. You play as Buster Everman, a nebbish accountant at Dharke Electronics, a company founded by gothic horror writer Aleister Dharke that's now involved in robotics and artificial-intelligence technology. After Dharke's death, the company used his mansion as a testing ground for creating a computerized home management system, complete with robotic servants controlled by a master computer. When Dharke decided to nix some of its more "radical" research projects, the company put Dharke Mansion up for sale - at just about the time that Buster won the lottery and went house shopping.
Buster got a good deal all right, but in his eagerness he decided to move in before the house was ready, so he could celebrate New Year's Eve in his new palace. Of course, just about every function in the house is controlled by some type of microchip - and the vast majority aren't Y2K-compliant. When he awakes after a night of revelry, the main computer warns him of an intruder in one of the rooms - and then it locks him inside when he enters to investigate. Fortunately, Buster wasn't partying alone: His girlfriend Candace joined him to ring in the new year, and even more fortunately, she's developed an upgrade for the house's computer system that'll put everything back in working order. Now Buster's got to find a way out of that room, explore the house, find Candace, and implement the upgrade.Though you control Buster from a third-person perspective, the movement interface is essentially the same as in a score of other adventure games: You move between a series of hot spots in each room, and once on one of the hot spots you can pan your view all over the room in search of objects to pick up or use. Such a system has its problems - Buster travels to the closest hot spot before moving on to the next rather than simply going where you want him to, and for some reason he can examine some objects at a distance but not others. But these problems could be overlooked if he'd just pick up his feet and move a little faster. Buster might be the slowest-moving character ever to star in an adventure game, and his leaden pace is exacerbated by constant loading screens - just looking closely at an object in a room leads to a big yellow "loading" sign being plastered in the middle of your monitor.
That might sound like nit-picking, but once you solve a few puzzles where the requisite objects are very close by, you'll have to roam all over the mansion in search of clues and objects, and the sheer time it takes to do so is likely to make some gamers give up on the whole affair just as things are getting interesting (a fair amount of disc-swapping doesn't help matters either). And there are some other aspects of Y2K that'll grind on your nerves: They're simple things like the fact that the Interplay and Runecraft animated logos can't be bypassed when you load the game, the way Buster freezes in midstep the moment he reaches a hot spot, the choppy frame rate when more than a single object or character is animated, and the lack of options to adjust graphical detail to improve performance (don't even think of running the game on the minimum system). Such problems, in addition to the tedious pace of the game, play a major role in keeping it from being much more enjoyable.
Its technical problems are a real shame, because when it comes to every other aspect of game design, Y2K is actually quite good. The inventory interface is efficient and simple to use; the plot gives you enough information so that you're never left wondering what to do next; and the good voice acting is made even better by some of the funny dialogue. The computer's taunts keep getting funnier, and Buster comes up with some pretty clever lines of his own ("I hate to quote Prom Night, but I would love to be able to see what's in those drawers!") that are all delivered with energy and style. And the dialogue between Buster and Candace is first-rate. With the exception of the first, the game's puzzles generally start out on an elementary-school level, but things get considerably more interesting when Buster finally learns where Candace is trapped.
You won't need to put down much dough to give Y2K a try. It's only $19.95 direct from Interplay, and there's a good chance it'll be marked down even lower soon enough. If you're the patient type - the extremely patient type - and have been searching for something new from the adventure game genre, then Y2K's a good way to start the new year.