A series of awkward guess-the-verb puzzles punctuated by amusing, well-written cutscenes. A walkthrough would make this into a light read. Only recommended if you are willing to guess the verb in return for a story about a High School boy who wants his peers to think he is hardcore.
A cute, graceful post-apocalyptic mute gay cowboy romance shooter. The game flows smoothly through a series of pleasantly campy shooting puzzles in which your only options are to shoot and take cover. This works better than one might think; the lack of obstruction provides very mild challenges, but does not distract from solid writing that sparkles with beautiful flourishes. Don't expect length or difficulty - this is worth a couple of plays to see and do everything, but it could be drained dry in half an hour. Compares favorably to the sillier and slightly more difficult Attack of the Yeti Robot Zombies.
This is not really IF (in the sense of an adventure or story) but rather an inversion of the usual cave crawl into a single, elaborately coded dungeon design puzzle with some droll atmospheric text.
I found the game slightly marred by a quirky interface and a lack of systematicity in the puzzle, which seemed to demand a large number of trial-and-error restarts to reach the "magic" configuration to end the game. As such, this might have been stronger if the player had been exposed to a more logical system over a series of stages.
However, it is perfectly good for an hour or so of light entertainment as-is, just don't expect anything other than a find-the-configuration puzzle.
Galatea is an intricately detailed work of high concept. I wanted to like it - I can't get enough NPC interaction, and this has somehow acquired a reputation as the best NPC out there. Despite this, I found this to be deeply flawed and ultimately unsatisfying, both as a character and as a work of IF.
There is really nothing to interact with except for Galatea herself. Her presentation as an animate statue is a clever vehicle for metatextual commentary, but it is also a bit of Turing-camouflage. This is just fine; it comes with the territory. But I found that it gave me little motivation to interact with Galatea except to test her repertoire and see what the fuss was about. Unfortunately, I felt that my options were limited (once I had guessed that they were possible) and that Galatea's repertoire - though larger than perhaps any other NPC I have encountered in a game - often felt canned.
That may be why I began to find it more satisfying to treat the whole thing as a story than to talk to Galatea as such. So I began to look for interesting endings. This was tedious because it required me to explore an apparently tractless space of possible conversations with few-to-no systematic clues. And this tedium was amplified by the amount of repetitive manipulation required to move Galatea's meters around to get into new combinations. These issues might have been addressed by a shallower conversation-tree, requiring fewer moves to get to endings, or by more systematic relationships between available actions and where they sent the game; either one amounts to handing over more control over where the game goes in the end. But this is also contrary to what I've gathered to be the basic philosophy of the game - to be deep and unpredictable, not to yield up all the endings. Beyond relatively unimportant bits like poor information on my options, I think it is this mismatch which made my response to Galatea so tepid.
Nonetheless, I doubt this would have become a factor if I had not felt that the process of talking with Galatea was only instrumentally worthwhile, as a way of getting paths through a game. Context - to be specific, the lack of it - may be part of that problem. I felt a nearly equivalent impact from Bob in She's Got a Thing for Spring even though his "mind" must be far smaller and less complex than Galatea's. Seen critically Bob is a largely unresponsive scriptoid, absent-minded and repetitive. But he has things he does, even if only in fiction; he lives somewhere, walks around, owns things, asks and offers, and speaks just enough of a social past to be a person rather than a a book. As a result, one is inclined to think that his mind is (or was). In the harsh spotlight, Galatea's glitches and her total absorption in her own memories make her more of an object than even a fictional and manufactured person.
By turns funny, affecting, and disturbing, this one-move game hits hard with the help of great writing, intense themes and unparalleled freedom.
This is head and shoulders above anything I have played in terms of the number of ways in which the player can logically and significantly affect the world. The necessary tradeoff is that there is only one decision to make, after which the game ends.
Aisle is outstanding on its own terms; if I had to name a flaw, I would say only that it can be hard to put the pieces that the game gives you together into a clear picture.
In this light and slightly sloppy puzzler (and possible first effort) you have to dispose of the seven mortal sins in Satan's new mall in order to get the girl. The puzzles are not bad, mostly running along the standard lines of taking everything which isn't bolted down and strategically relocating it. The tone is humorous, though a fair amount is both juvenile and unsuitable for children (Pride has a small penis, Lust has a misfire in his pants, etc.) I did not find it particularly worthwhile, but this might be interesting to devoted puzzle fans who can forgive a number of flaws in implementation.
I wanted to like this technically outstanding and "romantic" character study, but I couldn't. I know Grant Stern, and I don't like him. The game is a pretty convincing simulation of a coffee date, but I hate coffee dates. I simply don't want to be in this dismal café having a dismal coffee date with this dismal person.
So for me it is a fatal blow to this game that it makes Grant effectively the only interactable in the world, then refuses me any real freedom to change his course. Nonverbals aside, options are plentiful and cover a gamut which is entirely believable for the protagonist. But in a few playthroughs I could not see any way to significantly affect the course of the interaction - even at the extremes of iciness, silliness, and fawning. The personal minutiae which become preternaturally fascinating when you have the hots for someone take on the appeal of last week's leftovers when that heat is missing. Despite all his efforts to be interesting, I find Grant neither likable nor capable of surprising, and I could not find any outlet for a protagonist gone cold.
I found Rameses and Short's Glass delightful despite (and at times because of) their intense constraints on player freedom. Best of Three, however, only left me with a dysthymic queasiness. That could be because it is unpleasant to realize how lame one's past crushes are - or to realize how similar you must be to this budding blowhard across the table at the coffee-house. But it could also be because, as with Galatea and unlike Glass, I somehow acquired expectations that were impossible to fulfill. Grant and Galatea are well-rendered and have plenty to say, but they are also self-absorbed narcissists divorced of any real context. If you do not love them, you have nothing in common with them. Paradoxical as it might sound, you may not find them worth the time even if they are among the best NPC portrayals in IF.
As a bird in a cage witnessing the resolution of "Cinderella," the player is an observer with very limited control over unfolding events.
For me, the sidelining of the player and the corresponding independence of conversation created a potent illusion of a deep world. Beyond this, the game was made enjoyable by clear options, a good set of endings, the ability to mess with the characters, and wickedly droll humor. But these are just good craftsmanship, and icing on the cake; there really isn't much to Glass beyond a little experimental envelope-pushing with the player's role and choices. For players, this is maybe thirty minutes of entertainment, light as meringue.
For authors, it may be something more. Limiting the player's control of events is not new (cf. Rameses), but I believe that the illusion of depth produced here is a significant technical breakthrough for NPC interaction complementary to those explored in Short's Galatea (and faintly reminiscent of what was so successful about Bob in She's Got a Thing for Spring).
In any case, this little game is as gratifyingly virtuosic as it is trivial.
This short, stylized and evocative "in your apartment" game is carried by technical merit and an effective surprise turn in the plot(Spoiler - click to show) -- a bizarre and horrifying disintegration of reality which reminded me of Philip K. Dick's oeuvre (e.g. Ubik, Electric Ant).
Shade is, however, marred by a few superficial defects. Being constrained to the apartment and an inexorably linear plot contributes to the game's feeling of airless claustrophobia, making it easy to excuse its minimal setting and choices. Gameplay generally flows well and is polite to the player; I only got stuck a few times, briefly, and never irreparably. But when I did get stuck, advancing the plot was often tedious, requiring systematic sweeps of the apartment to find the next trigger. For me, this compromised the effectiveness of the work by slowing the pace and focusing my attention on the manipulation of the parser.
I also felt that Shade would have been more effective and satisfying if the surreal plot, and particularly the ending, had sustained explanation more clearly than it did. As it stood, the events seemed arbitrary most of the way through, and I came away feeling that a lot of technical ability and conceptual cleverness had been deployed for no very compelling narrative purpose.
For me, the game's principal virtue was to demonstrate innovative tricks in the medium. But I think it is likely that readers' tastes will differ. Fans of mind games and psychological horror will find the game worthwhile for its craftsmanship and verve - and, in any case, Shade is so short and widely admired that most readers will find it worthwhile.
A short prologue indicates that the coalition has a terrorist in their 'clutches' who has been sent here to be '"questioned"' (for which read 'tortured'). The player is then permitted to brainstorm abuse verbs to apply to the various parts of a rag-doll in a bare room. Nothing else is possible, except to consult a poorly-written memo which instructs the player to limit repetitions of an abuse verb.
In any other context, players would quit and pan such a game as boring and meritless. Under the heading of protest, it elicits partisan scuffles and elaborate rationalizations. What all this controversy over the nominal premise conceals is the artistic and political failure of the work.
My reaction was not one of shock, horror or outrage, only disappointment and a sense of tedium. That is not because I disagree with the author's political views; it is because the author has passed up an opportunity not only to write a competent game, but to make an insightful or at least politically effective statement on an important issue.
No attention is paid to place, plot, or characterization. Given that interrogation under torture is one of the most dramatic situations available, it is remarkable that none of this emotional power has been harnessed. Andrew Plotkin's seminal Spider & Web centered on an incandescent interrogation scene to great artistic effect, while George Orwell's 1984 used character and a horrific interrogation scene to drive home a political point. rendition does not give us a chance to understand or empathize with any of the characters. Nor does it draw our attention to any dimension of the actual problem. No attention is paid to the psychology of evil, the moral and personal dilemmas of war, or the social pathologies which allow institutionalized torture to happen. We are only given blithely one-dimensional stereotypes which dictate exactly what we should think:
'It [the door] seals your activities from the prying eyes and ears of do-gooders.'
'an operative may choose to proceed for as long as he or she wishes.'
'Yes the Geneva convention is a pain in the backside isn't it?'
'His foreskin appears undamaged.'
'Having filled yourself up with beer several hours earlier, you have no difficulty bending over and pissing all over his left thumb. Abdul screams in horror.'
The result is inept propaganda which can only preach to the choir. That is a profound failure of execution. But there is an incredibly rich vein here for a sensitive author who can attend to the details - emotionally intense, thought-provoking, relevant, and convincing. I hope that we will see some thought-out and researched games which attempt to cast real light on this and similar issues of social justice.