I Contain Multitudes is a parser-based game by Wonaglot, published in 2021. You are an engineer on a steam boat. A murder has happened, and the captain covertly enlists you to try to figure out what exactly is going on before the ship reaches its destination.
Being a Quest-game, the gameplay is a type of a hybrid between parser- and choice-based systems. You can move around and do various interactions by either typing or clicking on highlighted objects, and you also have a map. This makes the game quite comfortable to play... at least when it's working as intended.
The game world is like a small sandbox with some timed events as well as characters who move around. Besides basic exploration and information gathering, one major gameplay feature is that you have four different masks which you can wear to subtly influence other characters' reactions. Overall, it's the most complex and ambitious Quest-game I've played so far, and it deserves props for trying to do something unique.
Unfortunately, it could've still used some more polish and testing. The general implementation is spotty: not everything that is critical for completing the game is highlighted, which forces you to keep switching between clicking and typing instead of being able to comfortably choose your playstyle. Some items are unnecessarily difficult to find, for instance (Spoiler - click to show)the metal key inside the Walnut Desk is tricky to notice since the only time the game even mentions it exists is in the room description while the desk is open. Some characters seem to have little dialogue, with nothing to say about some topics that they should know or care about. The entrance to the Bridge is to the west, but you go there by walking east. And so on... In the end, I had to use a walkthrough to figure out some of the game's logic and be able to successfully complete it.
The writing is something of a highlight. It's imaginative and expressive, and it creates a solid 19th century and slightly steampunk-ish feeling. Although, like the gameplay, it too has some unpolished spots here and there, such as a few typos.
As far as the use of multimedia is concerned, (Spoiler - click to show)the game utilizes graphics and audio during the finale sequence in a way that works really well for creating otherworldly suspense.
The game should take at least an hour on your first time through, and the multiple different story outcomes may give it some replay value too. My biggest gripe with it is the slight roughness around the edges, which I hope will be fixed in a post-Comp edition. But even as it is right now, the game should provide some enjoyment for someone with a taste for a mystery/horror game at sea.
What Heart Heard of, Ghost Guessed is a parser-based game by Amanda Walker, published in 2021. It's a kind of a gothic horror adventure that takes place in Goldengrove, a grand old house with some dark secrets of its own.
The game uses a set of unique verbs, which is something explained quite shortly after you begin the game: (Spoiler - click to show)you are a ghost who is unable to interact with the physical world via regular means. However, your strong emotional responses can cause a variety of haunting-like effects ranging from mirror shattering to limited telekinesis. These new verbs give the game a bit of unique flavor and also make the exploration feel more fresh and exciting than in your average parser adventure game.
The overall gameplay feels pleasantly streamlined and accessible both because of the unique set of verbs that can be recalled at any time but also because of the compact world design. The compactness makes the game feel as if you always have some type of an idea on how to progress, even without the prose containing too much blatant hinting or tutorializing at any point. In a word: the design is elegant.
The writing is somewhat terse and possibly slightly more utilitarian than I would've expected in gothic horror, only dispensing enough details to create basic impressions of the scenery and drive the story forward. It's not particularly lavish or indulgent in any way, which I suppose is another thing that contributes to the game's exceedingly neat and elegant air. (Even the cover is elegant!)
The technical quality is fairly good, with almost everything making sense and working as intended. I did notice a few typos, but it's nothing major. The difficulty seems fair, although I did personally resort to using a walkthrough twice since I couldn't figure out how to get past one door and also missed an important semi-hidden object in one of the rooms.
If the game has some real flaw, it's that it's possibly a little bit too neat and compact. For instance, parts of the game world can feel like they're mostly there in service of the puzzles, although to be fair, this is a pretty common thing in adventure games which rely heavily on puzzle solving. Perhaps the subtle dissonance between gameplay and story necessities felt slightly stronger here since the game does bank a lot on an immersive setting and a solid storyline, and so it stands to lose more compared to a more casual adventure-puzzler that doesn't care about story.
Regarding the story, (Spoiler - click to show)the narrative is centered around various types of emotions as you discover the truth about yourself and Goldengrove, but the comparative simplicity of the execution and character motivations, etc. among other small details kept me from fully connecting. Although I found the story tragic and interesting, it didn't grip me on every level that the game's blurb and the prose might have intended.
The estimated play time of around 2 hours seems accurate, at least if you take your time exploring and avoid the temptation of using hints or walkthroughs. Overall, it's a polished and thoughtful parser-based adventure, and probably worth trying out if you like gothic horror.
The Best Man is a choice-based game made by Stephen Bond, published in 2021. The suspenseful cover art and non-existent blurb both give the game quite a secretive first impression. So, what's it about?
You are Aiden, a young man who is asked by his friend Laura to be a best man for her wedding. This involves doing a few simple errands before the wedding begins. The fact that Aiden still has some feelings for Laura complicates things, (Spoiler - click to show)as does the fact that he is an unreliable narrator, and there's a good chance much of the story takes place in his imagination.
The writing is detailed and realistic, and it also has a good pacing as well as some interesting twists and changes of scenery to keep the reader on their toes. I personally found it entertaining from the start to the end.
The choice-based gameplay is fairly simple, as you'd expect. (Spoiler - click to show)The story is essentially linear, without any significant branching paths. However, the creative use of the user interface and text-links - even including an imitation of a breakfast menu in one point in the story - as well as the engrossing writing sometimes create a satisfying illusion of choice, at least.
The game uses a bit of graphics and audio between chapters. The music is sequencer-based, with a slightly cheap sounding quality, but it's not intrusive and helps set the atmosphere.
As for what the game made me feel, (Spoiler - click to show)I think the predominant feeling is slight sadness. There's something a bit wrong with Aiden, what with his tendency to sink into elaborate fantasy, see people as exclusively Good or Bad, not to mention the oddly self-important, nearly religious significance he gives to his forever unrequited love. He talks a lot about self-improvement, but to me it seems like he is stuck in an unhealthy reverie. The epilogue partially reinforces this feeling: a lot of time has passed, but he still seems to frame life in the same terms as during the main story - in Good vs Bad, where people like Laura's husband are still expected to get their comeuppance some time soon. I can't say I fully understand all of the elements of the story, though. For instance, the meaning of the term "fighting the good fight" eludes me. Is he simply referring to living his life the best he can, or could it be a reference to something else?
At its heart, The Best Man is a kind of a character study with some interesting and evocative writing. The story is quite elaborate and lengthy too, and the suggested playtime of 90 minutes seems accurate. Overall, it could be worth a try if you're looking for a well-written, introspective character-driven story in the choice-based format.
Taste of Fingers is a choice-based game by V Dobranov, published in 2021. You are a business man hiding in a cafe somewhere in Hong Kong after something very bad has happened outside.
The gameplay is fairly linear and simple, basically consisting of clicking on text links to unveil optional text or progress reading the story. (Spoiler - click to show)Most of the narrative is focused on exploring your memories, and you have six different memories you can sink into. You only have a limited number of choices regarding which memories to explore, so it's not possible to see all of the game's content on a single playthrough. The game has no branching story paths beyond that, but keeping the player in a passive role makes sense in a story like this which is focused on introspection and fear.
The user interface is quite smooth to both use and look at. It also uses color to create an impression of the weather and time of day inside the story, which works well for setting the mood.
The story successfully creates a feeling of anxiety and hopelessness. It also feels quite topical: (Spoiler - click to show)unrest in East Asia, viruses, isolation, racism, social collapse... a lot of the individual strands of the story here seem to have at least some type of an indirect connection with current events, which gives the story additional dramatic weight as well as potential to depress.
My playthrough of the game took around 20 to 25 minutes, but it does have a bit of replay value if you want to see all of its content. Overall, it's a somewhat short but all the more grim horror story that takes place in a contemporary setting, and it should please those who are looking for one.
Codex Sadistica is a parser-based game by grave snail games, published in 2021. You are Scream, a metal vocalist at a tightly packed metal festival that is held up by a pretentious glam metal band. It's up to you and your bandmates to save the day with the power of real metal.
This is a fairly compact, fairly light-hearted puzzling adventure. It has one quite unique puzzle mechanic: you are able to jam with your band members to produce different type of metal genres. The sheer power of music generates different effects, f.e. (Spoiler - click to show)death metal makes people angrier and sludge metal causes literal sludge to spill out and cover the floor. It's a fun system, although the way it's handled in moment-to-moment gameplay does rely rather heavily on trial-and-error. The game is a little bit short for the complexity of the system too - in a way, I felt like the story ended right around the time when I was coming to grips with all the existing genre combinations.
As an avid metal listener, I found the setting and the writing amusing, although there were a few times I couldn't completely follow the game's humor and logic. For example, glam metal is presented as having fantasy themes and a very slow tempo, which doesn't really resemble any glam I've heard in my life. (Spoiler - click to show)As a side note, Mae's tirade about gatekeeping in metal also rings a little hollow since the entire setup of the game is based around heroically ridding the music festival of lesser metal... but maybe that's a part of the joke?
The implementation is somewhat lacking. Many seemingly important things mentioned in the prose haven't been implemented, and the ones that have been implemented typically have generic descriptions. You can't talk to your bandmates outside scripted moments, random NPC dialogue can be intrusive and repetitive, you can't "listen" to get unique responses even though it's a game about music... and so on. The game generally works and can be played to completion, but this type of mild roughness makes figuring out its logic harder, and it also seems like a missed opportunity for additional jokes and lore.
Still, I can say I had a fairly good time with the game. It could be worth a try if you're looking for a short- to medium-length comedic adventure about the power of metal.
The Last Doctor is a choice-based game by Quirky Bones, published in 2021. You are an impoverished doctor in a conflict-ravaged, ambiguously post-apocalyptic setting. Some patients enter your clinic, you assess them, and you then decide how to use your scant supplies. The story can progress to a few different directions depending on your choices.
The writing style is compact and stylized. It feels like many details about the game's world are obfuscated by the intentionally vague and evocative prose, but it still tells you enough to create interesting mental images and make you care about your choices. (Spoiler - click to show)It's a pity that the game is very short and doesn't build much on its core ideas. You only take care of two patients, and the story ends so soon that it's a bit of an anti-climax.
The game has some brief descriptions of medical procedures and injury, but they aren't very detailed and come across somewhat milder than I'd expected considering both the main character's bloody profession as well as the grim feeling of the setting itself.
The technical quality of the game is decent. The interactivity is simple but functional. I did notice two text mistakes, including a missing word and a typo. It's nothing deal-breaking, though.
The suggested playing time is 30 minutes, although I think my first playthrough was actually closer to 10 minutes. However, the game does have multiple endings which gives it replay value. Overall, it's not a bad title to try out if you want to briefly dip into a dark setting and think about humanity.
The Waiting Room is a choice-based game by Billy Krolick, published in 2021. You are a new employee at the Shady Oaks Nursing Home and you accidentally end up tangled in a supernatural mystery. The game's disclaimer says that it was inspired by "various snippets of true accounts", and it's easy to believe that. (Spoiler - click to show)Besides the supernatural threat, the evil that exists at Shady Oaks is unfortunately all too mundane - basically criminal negligence by the staff.
As usual for a choice-based title, the gameplay mostly consists of reading and clicking various text links. Some meaningful branching paths as well as one slightly puzzley sequence add some intrigue to the otherwise quite straightforward user experience.
The writing is decent. The prose can be slightly inelegant and unpolished, with some occasional typos. Sometimes the game just flat out tells the player what they should feel, which I think is not optimal horror writing. "...all the lights are off. The windows dark and empty. Weird."
The story itself is often eerie and even sad, but I do think it's a bit too fast-paced and compressed for best results. The flow of time is inconsistent and the world building somewhat minimal. Even the main character is just a nameless cipher, which feels off in a story like this where you have extensive social interactions with other characters - you are a nurse, after all. The game gives you enough context to care about the choices you make, but it does sometimes feel a little thin.
Besides that, the story (Spoiler - click to show)seems somewhat unfeasible, with the Back Hall apparently having actual rotting corpses which everyone just decided to hush up before getting back to work. Or are the corpses a hallucination which only appears at night? The game isn't exactly clear on this. Some of the big choices in the game also seem counter-intuitive. For instance, why would anyone cover up for Austin after realizing what he's done? You've spent exactly one work day with him, and this brief encounter shouldn't really inspire the needed camaraderie or attachment that would make the player want to cover up his crimes. This choice seemed to come out of nowhere, in my opinion.
The suggested playing time is around one hour, although I think a single playthrough takes much less than that, possibly around 30 minutes. However, the story does have branching paths and multiple endings which give it replay value.
Overall, I feel like The Waiting Room has a few powerful moments but also some strange design and wasted potential. At the very least, it's a generally functional title which can be worth a try if you want a somewhat eerie and sad visit to a haunted nursing home.
Killing Me Softly is a choice-based game by Fobazi M. Ettarh, published in 2016. It's a type of an educational title; it has a simple story line, but more than anything else, its intention is to illustrate how microaggressions work in practice through simulated examples.
You play as one of two characters: Alex, a white gay male, or Leslie, a black disabled woman. As you attempt to live your everyday life, your co-workers and other random people often say inappropriate things in your vicinity, and you can (typically) choose to either call out this behavior or stay quiet. Some of the choices may become blanked out if you get too stressed from dealing with all the hassle, (Spoiler - click to show)although on my multiple playthroughs I got the impression that this mechanic is mostly an illusion, and that most of these blanked out choices will always be blanked out regardless of your playstyle.
The game has a pretty good presentation. The layout has two parts to it - the left side has options and right side has the story text. The colors and fonts are clean and readable, but there are some things about the technical quality that could be slightly better: some of the writing is a little unpolished, and I found one bug too: (Spoiler - click to show)at one point in Alex's campaign, someone makes a rude comment about you and your Indiana Jones-costume. I then tried to talk to my supervisor, which caused a "Error: bad evaluation" text to appear on the screen.
I can't say the game entirely works as a story-driven experience. The story is short and mostly centered around its educational topic, and so I felt like I didn't really get to understand the two main characters as people - only as identities. But playing the game and reading how the story unfolds does generate some feelings of frustration and bitterness - even if a bit shallow, it does have some type of an impact on the player.
Finally, as you might have guessed from the fact that the topic here is microaggressions, this game is indeed very much rooted in Critical Social Justice, an ideology with a lot of postmodern baggage. If you decide to play it, I recommend keeping an open mind, but do pay attention to the broader implications of what the game is saying. (Spoiler - click to show)In my opinion, the attitude here is rather pessimistic, even infantilising, as it portrays normal adult humans routinely spiralling into depression and sleepless nights by clumsily well-intentioned but rude mannerisms and words.
The game is very linear, with most of the story unfolding the same way regardless of your choices. It takes around 15 minutes to complete the first time around, but it has a bit of extra replay value too if you want to see both Alex's and Leslie's stories. I'm not sure I'd recommend it for either educational purposes or as a fun pastime, but I guess there are worse ways to spend 15 minutes.
Hard Puzzle is a one-room parser-based game by Ade McT, published in 2015. You are a person held in a garage against your will, and you're told that you must assemble a three-legged stool to please your mysterious benefactors, or tormentors, called The Family.
The setting is that of undefined post-apocalyptic sci-fi or horror, with only dramatic proper nouns like The Event hinting at what grave terrors may have occurred in the past. The writing style is terse, which gives the game some sense of mystery - the player doesn't get to learn much about the exact circumstances of the game world, or even what's really at stake with this whole stool assembling operation.
Mystery really is the key thing about Hard Puzzle, and this extends to the gameplay and implementation too. You deal with a lot of different objects during your time in the garage - the stool parts, plus other miscellaneous things you find around the room - and figuring out how to use any of it is, ostensibly, a large part of the gameplay. Many items are discovered by taking apart other items, but the game never explicitly lists what you get when doing this. You have to keep manually checking your inventory, trying to keep a mental track of what is new, what might be useful and how everything connects to everything else. It's all somewhere between engrossing and frustrating.
With the slightly unhelpful and rough implementation, along with certain mechanical quirks that may very well be bugs, the game comes across a bit rough around the edges. Then again, it is said to be a "speed-IF", so maybe this is understandable. Many would even say that the technical shortcomings add to the odd charm of the game.
(Spoiler - click to show)The repetitive nature of trying to assemble the stool eventually makes you question the whole ordeal. You start wondering if, like the intro suggests, there could be a way to escape. As the player is stuck in the minimalistic environment doing the same things over and over again, even the mechanical quirks themselves acquire a significant meaning. For example, I personally started wondering whether the weirdly teleporting assembled stool could be used to leave the room. The way the fourth wall is broken here and there also casts doubt on everything the game claims to be about. Are the apparent implementation flaws a part of the design after all? What parts of Hard Puzzle are red herrings? Is it really a speed-IF? Can you take anything about the game for certain on a meta-level?
(Spoiler - click to show)Hard Puzzle is a trollish meta-game that is veiled in misinformation and deception. It's a puzzle game where the player knows neither the rules or the objective. It's a dysfunctional sandbox with a lot of moving parts that don't connect to each other. It's a contrived enigma. My opinion is that while the meta aspect is clever, it is essentially a game designed to waste the player's time.
The Shadow in the Snow is a choice-based game by Andrew Brown, published in 2020. The game is about getting stranded in some isolated forest area during a snow storm (Spoiler - click to show)and surviving a werewolf attack.
This is one of the first titles I tried during IF Comp 2020, and I ended up playing an early version of the game that had some truly game breaking bugs. For instance, you could softlock the game by simply using a certain text link too many times in a single session. Since then, the developer has fortunately fixed the worst bugs in the game, making it at least playable.
The gameplay consists of clicking text links to move around the area, occasionally examining and picking up things. There is an element of trial-and-error here, since sometimes you have to choose between multiple choices that you can't know in advance which leads to salvation and which does not. Other than that, it's a pretty simple and short game, with a few additional details you can miss during a playthrough if you're not thorough.
The lack of ‘undo’ is an inconvenience - if you get a game over, your only choice is to return all the way back to the beginning of the game. While the lack of ‘undo’ suits horror, in my case it made playing the game feel extra unrewarding since I also encountered those major bugs that forced me to restart several times.
The writing style is simplistic but functional, with short paragraphs and terse descriptions of what’s going on. The brevity keeps the story moving along at a respectable pace while helping to create a somewhat tense, mysterious atmosphere.
The game uses background music. The music track itself is a pleasant if melancholy symphonic piece. It sounds very midi, but it brings to mind a wintry scenery and old video games, so it works quite well for its purpose. The dark presentation and the music together create a strangely cozy atmosphere that makes me like this game more than I probably should.
While flawed, The Shadow in the Snow could still be worth a try for some players. It should only take around 15 - 30 minutes to finish, so feel free to give it a try if you dare.