Loom is a graphical adventure by LucasFilm Games (the former name of Lucas Arts).
It was first released on floppies and dates back to 1989. It came with 16 color EGA graphics, no audible speech (just on-screen text) and music via the PC's internal speaker.
I played this game from a Lucas Arts collection box. I liked it quite a lot, but it did not make an unforgettable impression. What could one expect from a 1989 game? What could one expect from 16-color pictures? And... well, what could one expect from music from the one-tone PC internal speaker? (which you can't turn lower or connect to a set of headphones. My wife got dead nervous from it.)
On the other hand, most adventures in those days were controlled by text input (e.g. the latest Infocom games, King's Quest 4, the earliest Legend games). Loom is not. It is completely mouse or joystick driven. As such, it is certainly way ahead of its time.
Only after I searched the net for information about Loom, I found out that a later version had been released on CD in 1992. I managed to buy a copy via eBay and played the game again. This version contains 256-color VGA graphics, digitised speech and orchestrated music. The cutscenes and dialogs are somewhat different as well. Both versions play the same in terms of puzzles and story, but yet they feel a lot different.
Talking about puzzles: they are not Loom's most interesting aspect. If all you want is decent puzzles that keep you busy for a long time... Loom may not be your cup of tea. As a game, Loom is short and simple.
But this weakness is compensated by a great story, great graphics and great music.
First, let's have a look at the story.
The people of Loom are divided in a number of Guilds. You play Bobbin Threadbare, a young boy from the Weaver Guild. Of course weavers are first of all skilled at making clothes. Some of them also know the secret of weaving spells using musical notes. And if that were not enough, the weavers guard a great Loom containing the 'patterns of reality'.
Because of your apparent spell weaving powers you are considered a danger for the Elders of your Guild. But before they can cope with you, they are magically turned into swans and fly out.
So you go off to find out what happened and get back to your people. On your quest, you will meet people from other Guilds: shepherds, glass makers, clerics, etc. You increase your magical powers needed to perform various tasks. And then you find traces of a conspiracy that endangers the world itself...
Loom's visuals are very rich and colorful. Each Guild has its own characteristic living place. E.g. the glass makers live in a complex glass city, and the blacksmiths live in a massive anvil-shaped building. And if that were not enough, you will visit other exotic places as well, such as a dragon home in a volcano top.
The plot and the environments are fairy-like to say the least. But they are not childish at all. The story is full of unexpected twists and mature themes (revenge, lust of power, orphanhood, death and resurrection, to name a few).
Loom's music consists of parts from Tchaikovski's ballet Swan Lake. I love classical music and Russian romantic composers in particular, so I had a great time listening to it. Every time I reloaded the game, I went through the whole introduction scene just to hear the wonderful music. It really fits the setting, both in atmosphere and in subject: swans play a key role in the story, and you even get to visit a real swan lake.
It is a pity though that the music does not repeat. So you hear a piece of music, and when it's over, it's over, until you get to the next environment or cutscene. When you're stuck, you may walk around in full silence for a long time.
The game contains some sound effects (even in the original version) but they are scarce. Don't expect the sound of blowing wind or murmuring water.
Voice acting is very good, with a few exceptions. As far as I could hear, all accents are British (not American), which I consider remarkable for a US company. I was very disappointed by the voice of the dragon: she sounds like an elderly woman... well, nothing wrong with a female dragon, and old she is, as you learn from the conversations with her... but the effect is more ridiculous than scary.
The shepherds have Scottish accents. A bit clichéd, I would say. (Also sailors are always Scots... why is that? No shepherds or sailors in England or in the States?)
Loom is very original in gameplay too. You have NO inventory at all. That can't even be said of Myst, in which you have to carry a few book pages around and use them somewhere.
The only object you ever pick up in Loom is a distaff. But you will never use it in the traditional way. Instead, you use it to play four-note tunes to weave a spell. For example, early in the game you will learn the 'Open' spell, consisting of the notes E-C-E-D. You can replay this sequence to open doors, boxes etc.
Sometimes you can interact with your environment by just double-clicking on an object. You never know for sure what will happen then: sometimes the object does something, sometimes Bobbin does something with the object, sometimes the object reveals another tune which you can use later in your quest.
Once you are used to the distaff the interface is very simple. Again, the conclusion is that the game is very modern.
One of the goals of the game seems to be to collect the available spells. To aid with this, the game comes with a pattern book listing all known spells. It is up to you to fill the corresponding four-note sequences. I found it odd (and somewhat disappointing) that about a third of the spells in the pattern book is never revealed in the game.
One could get the impression that the game is not for the tone-deaf. But that is not true: when you start the game, you can choose from three play options: Expert, Standard or Practice. Your experience as adventurer is not important here; it is your ability to recognize tone sequences that matters. In Expert mode, all you get is exactly that: a sequence of tones. Memorize or write them down and play them back wherever appropriate. In Standard mode, you see an additional staff showing the notes while they are played. In Practice mode, the four notes are displayed as letters in an extra box. No problem for the tone-deaf and even not for the hearing-impaired (although those will of course miss Loom's beautiful music).
Loom is more a game of exploration than a puzzle game. You can rush to the end game, but then you will miss a lot. Many side-paths are possible, adding a lot to the enjoyment of the game. But they are never very long. Overall, the story plays very linear. That gives room to a strong plot, but it also makes the game simple and straightforward. You always have just a few places available to go and a few objects to interact with, so you will never search long to solve a puzzle or advance the story.
But above all, Loom is a game of atmosphere. Usually I tend to say that good puzzles are the only aspect that matters for an adventure game. I make an exception for Loom. In my opinion, every serious adventure player should give Loom a try because it is such a unique and charming game.
PS Some interesting websites providing some background material on Loom: Mix'n'Mojo site
and Another mix'n'mojo site