Reviews by AKheon
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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.
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.
Minor Arcana is a choice-based fantasy game by Jack Sanderson Thwaite, published in 2020. You are a sentient Tarot deck with a long, grimy history and an air of misfortune about you. The story consists of a loosely structured series of recollections, some of which can be explored through your choices.
The game features bits of real life Tarot-traditions mixed in with some dark fantasy and fatalistic drama. The writing is of high quality, and it has a foreboding, mysterious tone that makes it quite interesting to read.
The story has a few different branches to explore, and (Spoiler - click to show)it seems that some of the content can only be seen while replaying. The design gives the game a secretive air - even after multiple playthroughs I was left curious about the game's story and setting, wondering if there were still any important details or additional closure to find.
It’s a fairly short game, only taking around 30 minutes even if you replay it a few times. It should be worth it if you’re looking for something otherworldly and ominous. Personally, the game consistently held my focus due to its slightly unique format and esoteric storyline.
Phantom is a choice-based game by Peter Eastman, published in 2020. It’s a story-driven 30-minute experience about an aspiring opera singer who meets the Phantom (of the Opera).
The game begins with some discussion about the tropes pertaining to this classic horror character. On my first playthrough, I assumed the purpose of this was to refresh the player's memory and ease them into the setting. (Spoiler - click to show)You could argue the whole game largely *is* a character study of Phantom; in some ways this idea even eclipses the rather low-key main story line.
The writing is generally good. It has enough detail to create a convincing image of the main character and her aspiring opera singer ways. The overall pace of the story is quite fast, though, and towards the end characters are introduced and plot developments happen so fast that not all of it has the weight it deserves. (Spoiler - click to show)The biggest twist here is that the protagonist is also villainous, so it’s not a clear-cut “beauty and the beast” tale this time around.
Your choices during the game (Spoiler - click to show)are less significant than you'd hope. Act III changes depending on what you picked earlier on, but not by too much. For example, I think that even if you choose classic Phantom, he is still a master of using modern technology and cameras for some reason.
The game has multimedia. There’s a background image of red curtains that creates a nice stage for the story, although when I was playing on Chrome, the lowest part of the graphic sometimes cut off to white instead of black, which looked a bit glitchy. The game also uses some background music. The snippets of classical and opera music work well in the context, but some of the public domain samples suffer from the limitations of their day, making the game feel a bit anachronistic. The story is supposed to take place in the modern day, but the audio quality brings to mind the 40s.
Overall, Phantom is not perfect, but it should offer an interesting time if you enjoy any media related to this classic horror character.
The Turnip is a choice-based fantasy game by Joseph Pentangelo, published in 2020. It features a story about a mysterious turnip a man finds on a field while working.
The gameplay is simple and linear, and the presentation neat. The real draw here is the eccentric story, which at first feels a bit like a slice-of-life story from somewhere in the 18th or 19th century, but turns into something more surreal in short order.
I think the writing is good. It’s economical with words, but it creates lively imagery and dispenses fantastic and weird details at just the right pace to keep the reader guessing. The story is very short, though - I would’ve liked seeing even more of the world where the game takes place in.
The game is worth setting aside 15 minutes for if you like well-written, strange tales.
The Place is a choice-based game by Ima, published in 2020. The game features (Spoiler - click to show)a poetic, flighty description of a young woman known by the narrator, although you wouldn’t know it from the bizarre game blurb that directly addresses the player, talking about fate, choices and meaninglessness.
The story is short and relatively linear. The gameplay consists of clicking text links while trying to make sense of what’s going on; slightly annoying pop-up messages are also used to make the player choose between options and name some things inside the game. Having the player give custom names to things might be a good way to make them feel more invested in a story in some cases, but here the pop-ups often felt like an interruption. Also, since the blurb flat out states that your choices are meaningless, and there’s a quite a number of these pop-ups, I felt like there wasn’t much incentive to play along and name things the way the game would want you to.
Presentation-wise the game is fairly ordinary, although small things like timed text, changing text and background images are used in moderation to add some variety. Everything seems to work as intended, although the writing could have used some more polish as it has some rough spots and typos here and there.
I’m not sure what the game made me feel, if anything at all. I didn’t become immersed in it very well due to the unfocused expectations set by the blurb as well as the frequent pop-ups. It might be worth a try if you want to set aside 15 minutes for something original but confusing.
You Couldn't Have Done That is a choice-based game by Ann Hugo, published in 2020. You play as an autistic teenager who starts a job at a clothing store.
The gameplay is quite linear. You have the occasional choice in what to do or say, but it usually doesn't make more than a minor difference in the following story text. However, (Spoiler - click to show)there is a reason for this - the main character finds herself unable to do certain things when stressed out; that's where the title of the game "You Couldn't Have Done That" becomes significant.
The story is written with just enough detail that it's light to read, but it also illustrates quite well what challenges there might be in retail work for an autistic person. The writing is believable, and I like the main character too - she has her uncertainties, but she's still willing to face her fears and earnestly try doing her new job. The way the color of the background changes to illustrate her anxiety is a nice touch; together with the changing background music it made (Spoiler - click to show)the encounter with Janice feel quite oppressive.
As for the level of polish, there are a few typos like "ettiquete", and the second music track with piano sounds a bit off, as if it doesn't loop properly. But still, the game generally works and does its job. It's worth a try for a short but emotional story-driven experience.
I Hunger is a choice-based horror game by David Yates, published in 2015. You play as a mysterious God-like being who observes humans from inside a volcano and regularly demands sacrifices... or else!
The gameplay consists of making a choice of what sacrifice you desire each cycle. There are four different types of sacrifices, and your choice (Spoiler - click to show)impacts how the nearby human society will develop. Your role is a bit like natural selection; the humans will adapt in response to your cruel demands. There are also multiple endings, and the way you reach them makes sense in the context of the gameplay. If you (Spoiler - click to show)only demand one single thing over and over again, it usually results in a bad ending. For instance, demanding gold over and over again causes resources to deplete and the remaining humans will simply choose to escape your wrath. Playing smart on the other hand allows humanity to prosper, which lets you prolong the cycle of sacrifices indefinitely.
The writing is in first-person and it has a detached and grandiose style, as you would expect from some ageless being that expects worship. The tone of the game is not scary, per se, but it is fairly dark. The main character is an amoral glutton without real redeeming qualities, but the humans at his whim are also cast in a somewhat bad light as they (Spoiler - click to show)will rob and enslave people from nearby regions to placate your needs without having to sacrifice their own kin. However, it's also true that moderate expansionism can lead to one of the happier ending paths with humanity flourishing in long term. It seems that regular moral judgments become harder when you're dealing with a massive time scale, like in this story.
The level of polish is generally good, but I did notice one typo and one missing message: (Spoiler - click to show)you get a blank screen after you observe humans if demanding knowledge is your first sacrifice.
I Hunger features a thought-provoking concept and a compact, mostly functional execution. It's a very short game, but the multiple endings add a bit of replay value to it. It could be worth spending some 15 minutes with if you wish to step into the shoes of a mildly genocidal God.
Blind Date from Hell is a choice-based horror game by rook, published in 2017. The first part of the game is about going on a blind date, the second is about (Spoiler - click to show)getting violently murdered and/or raped in somewhat unlikely fantasy circumstances; the scenarios involve, among other things, black magic, shapeshifting and tentacles.
The game is conceptually pretty one-note. But... should I really be surprised? The game does market itself as an adult IF; even the introduction says it's for "getting-off purposes".
For what it's worth, the writing is proficient and descriptive. The game manages to create a contrast between the romantic start and the later half where the "from Hell" part of the title comes into play. There is also a fairly wide variety of grotesque or sadistic situations you can end up in. Considering all this, I believe Blind Date from Hell is a success in its own terms, at least.
As a casual horror fan possessing a particularly morbid curiosity, I can appreciate the game for its sheer shock value. But shock value alone doesn't necessarily get you very far. It's the same deal as with many extreme metal bands that believe that 230 bpm speed and harrowing screaming is a meaningful end in itself. Even if well-executed, it's mostly a cheap thrill if there's nothing beyond it.
And I may have missed the point already by starting to criticize the depth of an adult IF.
Anyway, if your interest was piqued by anything I wrote above, you already know whether you should try out Blind Date from Hell. It's simply a... very specialized affair...
Saint City Sinners is a choice-based comedy IF by dgallagher, published in 2019. It's essentially a 50's film noir detective story, only exaggerated to absurdist comedy degrees.
The main character is a gritty vigilante detective with a dark past who has even named his own fists Truth and Justice. He proclaims himself to be "the only barrier between innocence and corruption" in Saint City. He's here to kick ass and ponder gloomy analogies about crime, and he's not about to run out of those analogies any time soon.
The humor is the best part of the game. Nonsensical and often comically serious, the jokes keep on coming at a very rapid pace. Fortunately more of it is hit than miss, at least personally.
The story is fairly short - you could reasonably get through it in under 20 minutes, although it does have extra branching paths and things to discover if you want to go around clicking all the options. You can even have the main character (Spoiler - click to show)go back to school, momentarily turning the game into a college simulator. Just don't try shooting the dean with a harpoon...
The game uses some light jazz music in the background to really get you in the film noir mood. It's a nice addition that complements the game's idea quite well.
Unfortunately, Saint City Sinners is not without its flaws. It could have used some more polish, as there is the occasional typo, and one of the prompts to return to last checkpoint instead sends you to a screen that says "Double-click this passage to edit it". It's slightly immersion breaking.
Overall, it's a fun and short romp. I would generally recommend it for anyone who likes this type of comedy.
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