Play it if: you want a difficult, voice-heavy playing experience in the tradition of Varicella.
Don't play it if: you'd prefer something more in the vein of Anchorhead, which sacrifices some challenge for ensuring greater flow in the player's experience.
It's a small shame that the most interesting aspects of Make it Good are not ones it can advertise openly. As such, the blurb suffers a little from being a bit too parodied: a very conventional preview to a rather unconventional game.
Make it Good is an impressive piece of detective fiction, not just in the sense of trying to figure out who the killer is, (Spoiler - click to show)but of course in trying to figure out what you evidence you need to destroy and plant to shift the blame from yourself. The moment you understand the big picture of what's going on is a shiver-inducing moment like something out of Spider and Web(Spoiler - click to show) - though in gameplay terms I do think this is a more complete, if not as unconventional, exploration of the narrative twist. It is written with the economy characteristic of any good mystery: no object, character, or detail is truly superfluous. It pulls off a rather neat trick, as well: details which I thought were minor bugs actually turned out not to be!
In structural terms, this feels much better than All Roads, which in my opinion was a more disorganized experiment in this sort of basic story idea which ended up being more of a noble failure.
Smoothing out the gameplay experience is a generally good sense for synonyms (the game doesn't call for too many exotic actions in any case), a TOPICS command to make dialogue as painless as possible, and a GO TO command to assist with navigation, which is welcome if not strictly necessary for a map of this size.
There are flaws, though. The first is the voice. I got the strong impression that this was a story set in the US, yet for a pulp noir protagonist, our hero uses a hell of a lot of Britishisms. Was this a calculated effect? Did I misinterpret the setting? We may never know. But it did feel jarring, and this is coming from me, a multi-national English speaker with little intuitive sense of dialect. It's a stylistic complaint, but there you go.
Second is the mid-game. Rarely have I felt more at a loss for what to do. Chalk it up to my non-puzzle-expert mind, but while I had a fairly straightforward idea of the goal I needed to accomplish, I had absolutely no idea of how to go about it. One of the problems with something like detective fiction this detailed is that you find yourself over-thinking the effects even mundane actions will have, only to miss a fairly obvious opportunity. The cruelty of the game demands a number of re-plays to compound this difficulty. It simultaneously feels fair - because of the detail-oriented nature of this sort of plot - and unfair, because we don't necessarily know as much as we have a right to. I still haven't made up my mind about this sort of gameplay being requested of players. Time will tell.
Even with these frustrations, though, it's a fantastically engaging game. It really does succeed in delivering the sort of excitement and challenge you'd get from investigating a mystery in the tradition of Agatha Christie or Columbo. Just don't expect it to feel particularly fair.
Play it if: you love the mindscrew genre, because this more than qualifies, or you prefer largely puzzle-less, narrative-heavy IF.
Don't play it if: you want to see the gameplay tie in with or match the bizarre narrative satisfactorily; if you prefer not to get involved in stories which tread the line between depth and obscurantism.
It's a shame that I couldn't give All Roads a higher score, because there are a lot of ideas here to like. Unfortunately, they're not organized particularly well, leaving me feeling rather frustrated at the end of the game.
Part of the problem is in implementing the main theme as expressed in the title. As with the old saying, Jon Ingold seems to want all choices and actions to converge on one inescapable ending. Which is fine if properly done. But here, the game is not capable of subtly prodding the player into committing the necessary deeds or providing the logic for this convergence. It has to actively force you, the player, to play out its desires, either through making the protagonist do things for unclear reasons (Spoiler - click to show)such as having to sign the guestbook or take the ring from the desk or making the protagonist carry out certain actions without duly reporting them to the player (Spoiler - click to show)(such as signing the guestbook incorrectly). The most irritating sequence in this regard comes (Spoiler - click to show)during the second visit to the Denizen, where the game loses all interactivity instead of finding some way of convincing the player to repeat his or her actions.
The story as a whole is a little too confusing for my tastes. The withholding of certain details, such as any real response to the "x me" command, felt like the game was trying to force mystery where it shouldn't have existed. In Adam Cadre's 9:05, this worked because the game conditioned the player from turn one not to expect...the thing that they weren't supposed to expect. Here, though, the game is explicitly a mystery, and a really good mystery works not by withholding information, but by withholding the key to how that information fits together.
Basically, it feels like the game needs to blatantly cheat its player to get its story across; and I'll take the cruelty of old Infocom over that feeling any day.
Again, it's a real shame I can't really recommend this game much, because it has a lot of positives: the tight prose, the reasonably well-rendered setting, and some core ideas that could have gone a long way if marshaled correctly. (Spoiler - click to show)I guess I'm just still holding out for a game that can enforce the Novikov Self-Consistency Principle without brute force. Ah well. Better luck next time in the genre.