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Showing posts from October, 2010

[IF Comp] Under, in Erebus

I had a hard time getting into this game, for two reasons. First, it was set in an apparently illogical after- or underworld, and recent experiences made me unenthusiastic about such a setting. But really, are underworlds the new dungeons and mansion, places where you can just put whatever you think of without having to respect any narrative logic? Second, the game gave very little direction, which wasn;t exactly encouraging. I started up and then quickly quitted Under, in Erebus three or four times.

But, when I finally persevered, I found a game that wasn't bad. I'm not sure I would have figured out how to use those booths without using some help, but once I understood how they worked, the game started to be fun. Or rather, the game started to be fun once I had understood how the booths worked and I had found out that my ideas about how to pronounce "ewe" were completely wrong. English pronunciation is evil.

So, I quickly made a couple of useful objects, and solved …

[IF Comp] A Quiet Evening at Home

If you want to impress me, make sure my first exchange with the game is not:
> enter house
That’s not something you can enter.

you’ve got to use the restroom!My second exchange was me discovering that "about" was not implemented. One then soon finds out that the author didn't bother to describe the directions of exits, and that we are not given any clear goal either.

Right. I'm not going to play this game. That also means I'm not going to rate it. I believe judges should aim to give as objective an assessment of a game's overall quality as possible in their rating, and you simply cannot do that if you don't play the game quite a bit longer than I have played this game.

[IF Comp] Death off the Cuff

Poirot. He may be called differently, but this is in fact Poirot; and I seem to recall that something close to this game's situation was used at one time in a Poirot book or movie... I might be mistaken, though. Perhaps this situation, where you are the detective who doesn't really know anything but just bluffs his way through the case and gets everyone to confess, is just so natural given the genre that one has the feeling that is must always already have been part of it.

Which brings me to my first pronouncement: Death off the Cuff gets very high points for situation. Very well done. Just the kind of situation you would want a good detective game to explore.

But is it a good detective game? Here I am less impressed. One proceeds by examining everything and talking about absolutely everything. Fair enough. But then some descriptions may change, and you need to examine everything again. And again. And again. And once more. And another time. This is boring. It is also really we…

[IF Comp] Oxygen

Oxygen is a compact puzzle game set in a space station that is, even galactically speaking, in the middle of nowhere. The intro talks about the Galactic Empire, which made me think first of Asimov and then of Star Wars -- so it was a relief to find that this was not a piece of fanfic featuring Hari Seldon or Jabba the Hutt. (That Spaceballs joke about Pizza the Hutt was just too easy, wasn't it?)

Rather, Oxygen puts you into a situation where, as the on-duty technician of the space station, you must regulate the airflow from the leaking central oxygen tank to two smaller oxygen tanks. Doing this isn't terribly difficult, because the console has only four possible states, and you are provided with a useful chart detailing the effects of these states. But things are spiced up by the fact that the two oxygen tanks are attached to different parts of the space station, one of which is taken over by striking miners; and those miners also control part of the air flow regulation syste…

[IF Comp] Rogue of the Multiverse

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Having played eight games, approximately 30 percent of all entries, I am positive about this competition. Five of them were different shades of good, one has the distinct possibility of becoming good in a future release, and the other two, while not good, were far from disastrous. The game I'm going to review now is one of the five good ones.

Rogue of the Multiverse -- it sounds like a randomised fighting game. And in a sense, it is, but the ties with Rogue are very thin indeed. Since the player character doesn't seem to be much of a rogue either (more an unwilling thief), one wonders where the title comes from. Anyway, let's go on to more important things.

This game is fun. From the zany interview to the running banana joke, from the motorbike action sequence to the weird array of useless junk you can buy to liven up your prison cell, everything has been put together to entertain the player. The game is very polished (although I would "enter" and "get in&quo…

[IF Comp] Divis Mortis

There are three joys in playing the IF Comp. Joy one: playing a game. Joy two: reading a new review of a game you have already played. Joy three: reading all the reviews already published of the game you have just finished playing. Of course, that first joy depends on the quality of the games, and the other two upon either the wit or the wisdom of the reviewers -- but I'm not complaining.

I'm not going to complain (much) about Divis Mortis either. What was the probability of me playing two zombie games in a row? And yet, they could hardly be more different. Where that other game (name omitted because I wouldn't want to spoil it) steered clear of the dominant zombie genre, Divis Mortis embraces its genre roots. There is some narrative here, including a Plot Twist and a Ridiculously Tacked On Romance, but in the end the game is mostly what you get when you turn Left4Dead into an adventure game. A lonely hospital filled with zombies that must be shot down, with food, drink an…

[IF Comp] The 12:54 to Asgard

"The 12:54 to Asgard" -- that could have been a Viking-themed version of Harry Potter, but luckily, it is not. The player character is a grumpy studio technician who is called in the middle of the night to fix a leaking roof before all the expensive equipment short-circuits. Sounds like a bad job? It is a bad job.

The first thing I noticed when I started playing this game was the incredible amount of objects scattered around the studio. I felt my enthusiasm for the game diminish very rapidly. Solving puzzles is OK, but I want to be introduced to the game gently. Do not give me twenty objects and four puzzles in the first five minutes, because this discourages me.

Anyway, as I went on playing it slowly dawned on me that I had misunderstood the game. Most of these objects were just there for me to be grumpy about, and all I had to do with them was put them away. I found a roof tile, some nails, a hammer -- this was going to be easy. And the title of the game combined with the …

[IF Comp] Gris et Jaune

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After looking at the title of the game and the "handbill" that it comes with, I had a pretty good idea of what Gris et Jaune was going to be about: a fair, probably in London, lots of variety artists with weird names, perhaps a Blavatsky-like medium, and of course the approaching horrors of the Second World War.

But when I started playing the game, these expectations were quickly changed. Was I a pig, being fattened for the slaughter? No, wait, this was an interactive fiction adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau! But -- perhaps, after all, it was a zombie slasher?

As you can see, it took me quite a while to understand that this was a game set in New Orleans and concerned with Voodoo. If you know a little about Voodoo, I'm sure the names of the handbill would have tipped you off immediately, but I didn't, so they did not me. (I wonder whether that sentence is grammatically incorrect or only pragmatically awkward.) From that point on, I spent a lot of time reading Wi…

[IF Comp] East Grove Hills

A socially awkward male teenager in the company of a somewhat less socially awkward girl he probably secretly likes? Right, let's choose MC Frontalot's Goth Girls as background music... and let's then become aware of the obvious truth that you cannot listen to rap music and play interactive fiction at the same time. "I avail myself of the local cafe, light a clove up, / thumb through Camus (in French, which I can’t read, but so what)." Okay, song over, I put on some instrumental music (Vivaldi), and finish this spoiler space paragraph. How informative!

Ahem. East Grove Hills is a game about a socially awkward male teenager who experience a school shooting -- which reminds me of another rap song, even though I am not into rap all that much... "When a dude's gettin bullied and shoots up his school / And they blame it on Marilyn". (You know that rapper. He's a tiny bit more famous than Frontalot.)

Uh, anyway. A socially awkward male teenager who ex…

[IF Comp] Sons of the Cherry

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Sons of the Cherry is a multiple-choice game. (Let's all agree that that is a better name than "Choose Your Own Adventure", shall we? It's more descriptive, and less tied to a specific series of game books from already half-forgotten history.) It is set during the U.S. war of independence, and casts the player as a young occultist who quickly gets into trouble with the Christian authorities for being a witch. Perhaps I am mistaken, but this seems to me to conflate two parts of history that are separated by almost a century: the witch hunts in the second half of the seventeenth century, and the war of independence in the second half of the eighteenth century.

Whatever the historical accuracy of the narrative, Alex Livingston quickly moves us forward from scene to scene, with every few paragraphs being followed by a multiple-choice question that allows you to choose what you want to do next. Points for good narrative flow.

Unfortunately, this interactivity is a fa├žade …

[IF Comp] The 12:54 to Asgard - help needed

Okay, this is not a review, it is a call for help. It does contain some spoilers, so only read it if you have played this game.

Which means that I do have to put some spoiler space here, I guess. Which means that I do have to put some spoiler space here, I guess. Which means that I do have to put some spoiler space here, I guess. Which means that I do have to put some spoiler space here, I guess.

I haven't timed it very exactly, but I suspect that I am already nearing the two-hour time limit for this game. I played through the first part at my leisure. I understood it. I enjoyed it, especially once I figured out that I could just fool around, try some things, and then have it all escalate.

But after that -- WTF? I have absolutely no idea what I am supposed to be doing. I get into a couple of weird worlds where I cannot really do anything. I escaped from the world with the grain, but I seem to have lost Polly on the way. The quizmaster gave me a list of objects to look for, but I d…

[IF Comp] Flight of the Hummingbird

Flight of the Hummingbird is a super heroes game. Now you should know that I hate superheroes. Not that I've ever read any super hero comics (these seem to be a predominantly American phenomenon), but I have seen some super hero movies. I tried two of those recent Spiderman movies, but stopped both long before the end. A couple of years ago, friends made me watch all of X-men 2, which gets a respectable 7.8 at the IMDB. I found it incomprehensible and utterly boring.*

Does that mean I hate Flight of the Hummingbird? No. Sure, it has a really bad story, as predictable as possible with characters made out of the thinnest cardboard the author could buy. But while this would be fatal to a movie (although as far as I could tell X-men 2 didn't even have a plot), it isn't much of a problem when you are playing a short and polished puzzle game. That is what this game is, and it doesn't pretend to be anything else. The story and the characters are so obviously only there to pro…

[IF Comp] The Blind House

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It's that time of the year again: the interactive fiction competition has arrived. Two announcements. First, all my reviews contain as many spoilers as I want to use. Second, no first paragraph contains any spoilers -- it can therefore serve as "spoiler space" for the blog aggregates and so on.

The Blind House by Maude Overton is named after a song by Porcupine Tree, the author tells us. Since I had just gotten some Porcupine Tree albums to check out from a friend, I put The Incident (which contains the song in question) on repeat while I played this game. Not exactly the soundtrack I would have chosen for it, I think -- it's all relatively sane -- but good music nevertheless. It sounds a bit like Dream Theater meets Opeth, if somewhat softer. (If this comparison makes the Porcupine Tree fans angry, feel free to complain.)

The game itself, then, is mad, and not mad in a funny "mad hatter" way, but mad in an unpleasant, disturbing way. It's not quite Jack…