All these posts will contain spoilers - consider yourself warned.
(Emily Short gave me the idea of changing the settings of my blog so that it will only send a couple of sentences, rather than the whole spoilery post, to sites like Planet IF. So if you are wondering why it's changed: that's why.)
Without further ado, here are my comments on Afflicted by Doug Egan.
What is good?
- Afflicted is an example of a kind of game that is slowly becoming the "standard", replacing the old puzzler. It is not quite puzzleless, not in the sense that Photopia and The Baron are puzzleless (i.e., written with the explicit goal of never having the player get stuck), but it doesn't really contain any puzzles either (it is also not written with the explicit goal of putting challenges in the way of the player). In addition, it is strong on story, and leads to several different endings based on what the player character does during the game, endings which cannot necessarily be ranked as better or worse. I like this overall concept.
- What I found particularly effective was the juxtaposition of two kinds of horror: a pedestrian horror at the uncleanliness of the restaurant, and a more dramatic horror at severed limbs, vampires and gore. The underlying psychology is quite alike, and I thought the game was strengthened by its inclusion of lots of pedestrian horror.
- The routine of checking out everything and noting all the filthy things was a nice way of getting me to explore the entire place with a sense of purpose. It solved the familiar problem of making it plausible that the PC would explore the haunted mansion.
- There were a lot of endings, and they clearly followed from what you did in the final turns. It was interesting to explore the space of possibilities.
- The presentation of information on the screen could be done a bit better. There are some locations, especially the first location in the restaurant, where you get a lot of information in seperate sentences with blank lines between them. This is ugly, and also unnecessary; most of the information could be put in the room description proper.
- The story doesn't make a lot of sense. Why would a vampire grow weak when he has diabetes? Why doesn't Nikolai kill his opponent with the letter opener or some other weapon? (He is surely in the position to do so at will.) Why doesn't Nikolai stop me from entering? Why does he hide the body parts near the dance floor, instead of burning them and then draining the ashes through the plughole? What kind of health inspector am I, that I go on with my researches after I find a severed hand, and even after I lose my own hand?
- The story could have used more depth. Perhaps Angela should have featured more prominently, to give the game more human interest? Or maybe we could have had some meditations on living a life of predation? Anything that would have raised this tale from mere horror to something with a meaning would have been welcome. After all, vampires offer many possibilities. Jeff Koke once wrote (in the introduction to the GURPS version of Vampire: The Masquerade):
Vampires feed our morbid curiosity and trick us into thinking we are observing something alien, when we are truly watching ourselves. Vampires mirror the state of humanity. They are at once beautiful and hideous, vibrant and unliving, powerful and dependent. They are cursed to stare their own evil in the face every single day, despising their thirst for blood, begging for the freedom of death, until the sheer weight of their immortality forces them to rise above their darkness and reach a state of humanity that is more than we can possibly hope to achieve.That's just one interpretation of the theme, of course, but it serves to illustrate that there are many opportunities here for meaningful storytelling.
Certainly; the game is good enough that it deserves a new release with some of the bugs and cosmetic errors ironed out. However, I think that my main points of criticism cannot be addressed in this way: changing the story to make it both believable and compelling would mean rewriting most of the game. These points are perhaps better kept in mind for the author's next game.