When East Met West: The Pact of Steel
When East Met West: The Pact of Steel is a historical spy thriller set near the end of World War II, after the fall of Nazi Germany, that starts with the leading research scientist on the United States' atomic bomb project attempting to defect to the Soviet Union with his research plans. He is assassinated before he can, but the plans go missing, so now the player character, a British agent, must race against time to recover them before the Soviets do. This is innovative all by itself, as this marks the first serious attempt to create historical fiction within the ZZT engine, and in particular a work of historical fiction set in an era still in living memory at the time of its release.
However, it also instills a sense of excitement like a real thriller should, with multiple action set pieces, dramatic moments and plot twists that drive the player forward on the quest for answers, take them all over Europe between the United Kingdom and the U.S.S.R., and ultimately leave them with a different understanding of what's going on than they had when the game started. As can be expected from a community that consisted mainly of young creators at the time, of course, the story becomes increasingly over-the-top and ahistorical as it progresses. In particular, the eponymous "Pact of Steel" revealed near the end is wildly unlikely given the parties to the pact were enemies in real life, unlike those of the historical Pact of Steel. Still, the overall result reads like a well-written piece of pulp fiction that never stops delivering thrilling action and political intrigue, and leaves the player wanting to know what happens next.
The game also uses a strong STK graphical style that is only matched or beaten by the Interactive Fantasies games released at the time such as King's Quest ZZT. In particular, the game uses blends implying colors not normally possible in MS-DOS' text mode to suggest more realistic places than usual, alongside beautiful art boards serving occasionally as establishing shots, and powerful ending scenes that include a unique use of red slime to indicate growing Soviet dominance over the globe (should you fail in your mission). This realism does break down at times, however: at one point, you visit Lenin's Mausoleum, where you discover that he was apparently a giant. Later on, there's a pair of staircases drawn similarly out of scale compared to your character, at a perspective resulting in you having to climb the banisters of the stairs instead of the stairs themselves. Despite this, the effort at graphical realism is noticeable in an era where most creators did not attempt realistic settings to begin with.
Nothing is perfect, though, and this game is no exception. First, the dialog includes numerous typos that are not all attributable to the creator being British and writing in British English (unlike what Upload.txt says), and a "Haggling Shop Owner" in Madrid who speaks in a ridiculous dialect that more closely resembles gibberish. Second and most important, however, the game is incredibly buggy. Every single board allows for shooting, including scenes of drama where no shooting is expected, and the frequent use of breakables as structure means the player can frequently take unintended shortcuts. None of the choice prompts are looped, which means pressing Enter without picking a choice can sometimes softlock the game. Other ZZT-OOP errors allow you to softlock it in ways such as interrupting animations while they're playing, not waiting a few seconds after piloting a robot southward to use it to push boulders (or not killing guards before piloting it), or letting someone run up to you in the wrong spot on the board. All of these issues can be circumvented, but some thorough playtesting would have helped to make this game more polished.
Taken as a complete package, When East Met West: The Pact of Steel is an enjoyable and exciting affair that will last you for the half-hour it may take to finish it. Try it as soon as you can! Just be very careful when the game is doing anything more complex than dialog scenes, and don't touch a tea kettle when it's warming up.
Simply one of the most original and fun games ZZT has to offer. Fun and varied spy type gameplay combined with strong polt-oriented action makes for a very enjoyable game that makes you want to play through to the end. The graphics range from glorious (Atomic blast, various cities) to aburdly not grounded in reality (Lenin's body is huge! and you climb the banister of the profile of stairs.) All of the buildings you walk around at drawn completely from the top down, giving no element of 3-d. This really only looks odd because of the wide varity of colours used and it seems like it would be more condusive to graphics with depth. Still, a wonderful game that grabs you and pulls you into it's atmosphere. Top notch!