Reviews by Sam Kabo Ashwell
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Related reviews: vampire, dracula, horror, genre, train, setting, Victorian, oldschool, minicomp, speedif, ectocomp
1899: a train is trapped by snow, and a murder has been committed; but you are Count Dracula, and identifying the murderer is only one part of the more pressing objective of getting some blood.
Written in 3 hours for Ectocomp, in which it placed 1st of 8, this is essentially a speedIF. That considered, it's an impressive piece of work, if not a hugely distinctive one. It's designed along unadventurous but very solid lines; gather some inventory, assess the situation, solve a straightforward puzzle. The map is well-organised, the puzzles are easy to pick up without being obvious, and you are deftly turned away from red herrings. The terse efficiency failed me at (Spoiler - click to show)lighting the stove, where failure responses don't really signal the correct action; otherwise, for a game written this quickly it's remarkably robust.
Genuinely horrific effects take time to build and a lot of fine-tuning, and few Ectocomp games really attempt to create them; Bloodless is no exception, and mostly feels like a neutral-affect oldschool piece. It does, however, manage to develop a strong, atmospheric setting in a few minimalist strokes; I got a good impression of the creaky, dimly-lit, narrow environment of the train carriages.
At first glance, this looks like a big pile of crap-IF tropes: a squalid apartment, a detective-type PC, and a narrative voice that lampshades crap-IF tropes and the game's own half-assedness. On closer inspection, the writing turns out to be actually funny a reasonable proportion of the time.
As the titular slob hero, you're tasked with uncovering a busybody conspiracy against Halloween chocolate in a small American town. Sometimes you encourage delinquency and attack fun-hating prigs, but as often you disrupt The Kids instead: the general tone is one of sociopathy born of slacker incompetence. The design approach aims for scale at the expense of detail and smooth play: characters are thrown in and out with wild abandon, a classic adventure-game jump-between-different-areas map is delivered as a high-speed sketch. The gleefully irresponsible action is sort of charming, although it doesn't quite overcome the game's overstretched design.
The main problem with the thing is gameplay, which is at the lower end of speedIF quality. Crucial exits are never mentioned, read-author's-mind abounds, and there's nothing really resembling direction. At times play flows very fast, at others it flounders. There's an in-game walkthrough, however, and not all of the evidence-gathering seems to be strictly necessary.
An entry in the horror-themed EctoComp, which requires games to be written within a three-hour limit. The usual SpeedIF qualities apply: synonyms are largely absent, the writing could do with a little editing, and the one puzzle suffers from guess-the-phrasing. Keep the walkthrough handy.
Blue avoids SpeedIF wackiness, aiming for a sweeping SF plot -- a hazily-defined plague of worm-like parasites collapses human civilisation, but the protagonist has managed to lay hands on a rare, stupendously expensive android. He could upload himself into it, or use it to save his infected girlfriend. (Spoiler - click to show)If he saves himself, it turns out that the rest of humaity chose a different way to save themselves. There are some minor obstacles to this, but it's essentially a grim-choice kind of game.
The game tries to avoid Usual SpeedIF Wackiness in favour of grim survival-horror and dark irony. (There are strong overtones of Vonnegut.) It's not wholly successful at this: the writing veers into the vague and overwrought a little too much to be really convincing, and there's so much crammed into a rather limited space that some crucial elements lack the time to breathe. Still, a good attempt at a difficult proposition.
The best SpeedIFs are usually examples of mad genius; solid, appropriate, non-boring design is rare. The Twelve Heads of John the Baptist, by contrast, is a straightforward process-of-elimination puzzle, like 69,105 Keys writ small. It's notable, however, for meshing a sensible puzzle mechanic with entertaining content in a way that doesn't feel forced; and it has a good feel for one of the key pleasures of IF: the joy of a rich inventory listing, packed full of interesting and picturesque objects.
So, nothing extraordinary here, but a good eye for combining strong, established design elements; and enjoyable to play, however briefly.
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