I had a lot of things to do recently and figured that I could get around to some of them now that the stream of new entries on IFDB died down a bit. But then Spring Thing 2023 was like, “actually…”
But nonetheless I was thrilled to see what people have submitted to this lovely event.
I was immediately drawn to this game. The cover art embodies the weirdness I absolutely live for. It reminds me of my favorite playlist of poorly and/or strangely animated YouTube videos that spew absolute nonsense, although I Am Prey is more refined than that in terms of content.
Just a heads up, the author has made it clear that the game’s entry to Spring Thing is experimental and in Beta phase. Consider my rating as a tentative three stars that merely reflect the state of this current version. I hope the author continues to develop the game into its intended final product. Cool stuff.
I Am Prey follows a clone protagonist in an abandoned cloning facility located in who-knows-where. You are a sickly-looking thing reminiscent of an albino lab rat. But you are anything but a lab rat. You are a durable and annoyed clone eager to survive past your first birthday. And you will prove it by escaping this mess of a facility.
By the way, Prey, you are being hunted by the Predator.
The gameplay begins with you catching your balance in a mesh net after being born as a fully grown clone. Happy birthday! Naked, you grab a uniform and marvel at your new existence. It does not take long for reality to kick in. The Predator makes an announcement over the intercom: He is coming for you! Yes, you must run or be killed.
Your only hope is to retrieve seven pieces of a spacesuit-like garment that will allow you to survive in the wasteland outside of the facility which can only be accessed via the emergency airlock.
The key component for strategizing in the gameplay is the sound of the doors while you explore each room. When door slams shut, it alerts the Predator who takes opportunity to announce your mistake over the intercom.
The Predator's voice can be heard over the intercom:
“Sloppy, Prey! You let the door to Lab B slam shut! That means you’re near Lab B, yeah...?”
Of course, you can use this condition to throw him for a loop by slamming a door and then scurrying off to a hallway on the opposite side of the facility like the clever clone you are.
There is high replay value in the sense that you have six modes you can play in. One is a tutorial for players new to interactive fiction, another is for those new to the game, and the remaining four are different difficulty levels depending on the Predator’s mood. This ranges from Easy Mode to Nightmare Mode.
The Predator has had a string of victories, and will go easy on you, mostly for his own entertainment.
The IF beginner tutorial is where you play as the Predator’s cat which on one hand, yay, but on the other, I am not entirely sure of the point. The Predator wants to give you a bath and you want to avoid that outcome by hiding. It is useful for simply scoping at the map, but it did not give me much more insight that I would otherwise have as a fugitive clone running for their life.
My black coat is speckled with streaks of silvery tips. White highlights my chest and paws, like a tuxedo.
Nor was it much of a tutorial for IF. Still, I appreciate the option. The cat’s personality shines through which makes it a humorous diversion. Even if the cat (Spoiler - click to show) only eats human clone flesh as of late.
Do not be afraid to test out the more difficult modes since there were times in the easier ones where it seemed like that the Predator simply forgot about me. He would do the creepy monolog over the intercom to reassure me that I was dead to him, but then this trickled away. I actually went looking for him with little success.
However, there are a several gameplay mechanics that are showcased in the helpful survival guide (provided separately) but never fully used or as dynamic as they sound (so far).
For example, there is the usage of “tricks” to throw off the Predator. These tactics include turning on sinks to distract him with irritating noises or slamming the door in his face to slow him down. Rarely did I ever get the chance to use them. It is easy to forget that they are available. Of course, availability depends on which mode you select at the start of the game.
Slam the exit door?
You have two tricks remaining, which you can spend on slamming the door in his face! This will delay his chase, but will cost one of your tricks!
Y = Slam the door!
L = Leave door open
Unless the game flat out presented me with a trick opportunity (see above), I never used them or even needed them.
The parkour idea is cool but nowhere near as cool it sounds since it consists of jumping onto tables or lockers to reach something on the top shelf. Right now, it is more of a hindrance. The vent shortcuts to other rooms were nice, though.
(JM) JUMP ROUTES:
[**] JUMP ATOP THE WIDE STORAGE CABINET
[**] JUMP ATOP THE SUPPLY CLOSET
[**] JUMP ATOP THE LOCKER
The following surfaces are either in easy reach, or rest on the same surface that I do:
the exit door
First you must find a parkour route in the room for it to be used. Discovering it was a byproduct of the game telling me that [room object name] was too high for me to jump on but [room object name] was, although it often took another [room object name] to reach the unusually tall table. While part of the whole point of parkour is to reach areas by jumping or climbing around, it needs more refinement for it to have the same thrilling effect in the gameplay.
One feature that I did use was the “look [compass direction]” command. It was genuinely helpful in deciding on where to go based on the contents of nearby rooms.
I carefully peek north...
(looking into The Assembly Shop...)
He paces around on the floor, as he watches me!
(returning my attention to The Common Room...)
I better get going, then.
Also, how do you reach the reservoir? The map (separate) shows several locations that seem to be off-limits in the gameplay. These locations are (Spoiler - click to show) Waste Processing, Reservoir Corridor, Reactor Pump Room, Reservoir Control Room, Reservoir, and Utility Access Corridor. A total of five locked doors are also shown on the map. None of these have cat doors.
I am not sure if the game will let you go swimming/exploring in reactor related areas, but the survival guide did say that you could dive into the reservoir to escape. The closest I got to this was a location called (Spoiler - click to show) “The Strainer Stage” where water is separated from kelp with a grate. You cannot enter the grate or swim in the water, leaving you with no choice but to return the way you came.
While flawed and undeveloped in some cases, I still had fun. I’ve already played this game several times.
Story + Characters
So, who is this guy? The Predator, that is.
What we know about the Predator is that (Spoiler - click to show) he’s a mutated clone gone wrong who is now aware of your presence and wants to hunt you down, perhaps as a potential snack. The facility ran out of snacks long ago. The cloning facility was run by non-clone humans and designed to generate a labor source of clones for industrial applications, but some catastrophe happened. This is the Predator’s turf now.
The game ends when you reach the emergency airlock after collecting all seven pieces of your environmental suit. This leads to a scene that seemed like it was supposed to be an emotional moment, but ultimately it did not impact me the way I thought it intended.
(Spoiler - click to show) Both Predator and Prey meet face to face on opposite sides of the airlock where it is obvious that the Prey has won. There is this fellow clone bonding moment where they realize that they are not that different from each other after all. The Prey, knowing that they could never be accepted by humans in the outside world, leaves with the intent of never letting humans get their grubby paws on the facility again.
This is a neat idea in terms of character development, but the writing is lackluster. It also lacks the exposition to make it unfold with any depth. While it could be a meaningful exchange, currently it is not. My response was huh, that’s… nice. I have a feeling that is not the response the author was going for.
Also, I do not mind profanity if it is wielded strategically, which is up to interpretation, but the swearing in this game leaves a weak impression on the player. It does not enhance anything. We know that the Predator is angry that this Prey is running around his abandoned cloning facility. How dare you. How dare you try to escape.
It’s just that the swearing in the dialog in these scenes seemed unoriginal and bland.
The author seems to have a strong grasp of their own boundaries and abilities when making a game under strict time restraints, in this case being submitted to Spring Thing 2023. It seems clear to me that the author focused their efforts on a consistent structural framework so that the game was playable and could be completed from start to finish. Gather seven pieces of a survival suit and escape.
Was it sparse in some areas? Yes. But I would rather have a sparse game with a strong foundational structure than a game with all the fun details that is a nightmare to finish.
Still, details can make or break a game as well. The author has stated that they plan to release a post-comp version, and I look forward to seeing I Am Prey in its full glory. Already it is a fun and unusual game. Three stars for a Beta version is not too bad. And for crying out loud, let me swim in the reservoir.
Truth is, exploring (sorry, being chased around) an abandoned cloning facility is kind of fun.
You are Sebastian, a rat whose baby sister, Wendy, is sick. Resources are limited. Your father is dead. It’s just you and Gurdy, an old family friend who says it’s your job to salvage human medicine for Wendy.
Note: At the time of this review, the game's IFDB posting says that it is made with ChoiceScript. That is false, it is made with Twine.
Gurdy's main task for you is to obtain the Tablet of Well Being. How a rat knows about modern-day human pharmaceuticals is beyond me. This Tablet lies in a human territory called the Porcelain Palace. It’s more like “Tablet-of-Well-Being Thief” rather than Cheese Thief. Food’s a plus if you can find it.
At first glance, there seems to be opportunity for strategizing. You are a rat wearing a backpack on a mission. The first part of the game serves as a training orientation where you learn how to disarm rat traps and mapping out hazards in human households. Gurdy shares his expertise as well before sending you off. Early gameplay consists of navigating passageways while dodging obstacles.
Other giant Knick-Knacks scattered the ground and shelves, much too big to bring back as a present. I also see an entrance to another safe passage across the way but it seems to be blocked by something.
Attempt to Unblock the Entrance
Re-enter Safe Passage 1
But before you know it, the game starts funneling you into making linear choices that take away the sense of the adventure. Many choices just lead to passages without any links that forward the scene. The player ends up clicking on links until something happens. You either die or get shuffled on to the next section to face its “challenges.”
You've been squished!
Try again from Checkpoint
Eventually you will get there. I must applaud the game’s alternate way of (Spoiler - click to show) disabling the rat trap. At least that’s a small puzzle.
Story + Characters
It’s an engaging enough story with a clear objective. It is grim in the sense that Wendy is dying, but sometimes it is unclear if the game is trying to be comical with its seriousness. I think it has to do with Gurdy. Play the intro and you will get a feel for what I am talking about. Regardless of the tone, Wendy’s plight is a worthy motivator that drives the gameplay.
There is also some vague conspiracy theory- a hidden agenda- about Sabastian’s father that the game mentions. Part of it has to do with some secret stash of infinite food which you later find. I think there is more story tied to that (and there is at least one mention of a (Spoiler - click to show) wild dance party), but the narrative is too jumbled to follow any details, especially since exploring the house often only leads to dead ends.
While it ultimately feels like a poorly (I'm sorry) done version of Ratatouille, it still captures a strong perspective of a non-human protagonist in a human oriented environment, particularly with the writing. Humans are Giants, Raised Softlands are human beds, etc. It’s been done many times before but still retains a certain charm.
Basic default Twine appearance of black screen, white text, and blue links. Sometimes colour-coded text was used to emphasize instructions.
Structurally speaking, it’s sloppy. Blaring spelling mistakes are a common sight. There are grammatical errors for dialog, particularly with capitalization and spacing, and at one point the game completely abandons quotation marks. The narrative also bounces between present tense and past tense, sometimes within the same paragraph. Occasionally, it alternates in first person and second person.
The sound of your heartbeat fills my ears as I approach the long dark corridor, the entrance to Safe Passage One.
(You? Me? Whose perspective is this?)
The Twine format features the familiar “undo” arrow at the upper left corner of the text which allows the player to “undo” a move. However, the game uses this as a replacement of a “return” link where the player visits a passage and returns to a previous one, marking it as “visited.” I know, I’m a stickler, but it feels unpolished not to include a return link. If that arrow were not there, it would be considered as broken passage. This occurs everywhere.
Besides the cover art, which appears at the beginning, there are only two visuals in the gameplay. They are horribly done, and I love them. My impression is that they are the type of animated artwork that is purposefully bad, ones that feature poorly designed avatars (if this is not the intended effect, I do apologize). There is an odd appeal to this style. I know of many animated YouTube videos of a similar nature that for some reason, you feel compelled to watch them.
Cheese Thief is not a smooth ride. This feels like a game that was enthusiastically thrown together in a late-night creation binge where the author went straight to publish without any testing or basic proofreading.
Now, the game’s listing says that this is the first in a series. Would I play the next one? I would. But I would rather play a remake of this game in better quality. Something that is more than a first draft. I think then Sabastian’s adventure would have more merit.
I would have loved to see more poorly animated graphics. Those were the best part.
If you are interested in rat protagonists, I recommend The Roscovian Palladium, by Ryan Veeder. You play as a rat navigating a human art museum to complete a mission connected to a famous art piece made by a rat artist. It is made with Inform and has an awesome combat scene near the end.
You are a housecat hungry- no, ravenous- for soft cat food. Usually, you turn to your owner for such things, but he has not been himself recently. It seems like everything annoys him and when he does feed you it is mostly boring dry food. Instead of waiting for him you decide to take initiative and acquire some soft food.
You start the day curled up on the windowsill inside a one-story cottage. Your Provider* is asleep but will move about independently as the day moves on. He is one of a handful of independent NPCs that you will encounter. The initial goal is to satisfy your immediate hunger before addressing your hankering for soft food. The gameplay consists of tiptoeing around the cottage and surrounding forest in search of ways to reach this goal.
The puzzles are not always intuitive. In fact, some of them left me scratching my head. (Spoiler - click to show) Rolling in ash to disguise yourself so you pounce on a bird makes sense. And I liked the puzzle where you wake up the Provider without him knowing that you are trying to do so. But (Spoiler - click to show) tying the shiny egg* to the balloon and releasing it from the roof of the cottage so it could float down to the little boy was something I needed the walkthrough for.
I like how there are (Spoiler - click to show) two solutions for removing the Rival when he comes back for revenge. You can lure him into the road where he gets hit by a car or, and I prefer this one, dump the sack of dry cat food on him so he leaves. Perhaps that way someone will find him and give him a home. But I must say that the author really replicates the finicky nature of cats squabbling over territory (and the preposterousness of sharing a food bowl). Similarly, (Spoiler - click to show) I am glad that it is possible to reach a peaceful resolution with the Provider. He goes from throwing the cat outside to cuddling the cat during excursions in the forest. Both cat and Provider reach a sense of contentedness which made for a satisfying ending.
Though the puzzles can sometimes muddle up the pacing, the game makes up for it by capturing the player's attention with humor and descriptiveness. Take the description of the beast* in the garage as an example: "You've heard such beasts rumble, sigh, bleat, and stampede. This one is quiet, and perhaps ill. He appears to be bleeding from his underside." Through the cat's perspective it takes a cold and static piece of human technology and turns it into something living. A car leaking away in a garage is suddenly a wounded creature biding its time. This formed a more vivid image in my head than if the game simply said, "a human vehicle is in a garage. It is leaking fluid." It adds extra dimension.
This game really does give a cat's-eye-view of a hungry feline in a forest setting. There are so many scents and things to climb. The alarm of encountering a strange cat, the surprise of an unexpected human, and the enticing allure of capturing feathered wildlife. And yet the house is the focal point of your world with its heated rooms and Providers who give you food (Obviously this is not the case for all cats, but the protagonist seems to be a well-adjusted housecat). I think my favorite slice of writing is when (Spoiler - click to show) the cat finally gets to eat the soft food:
A blend of tuna and chicken livers, your entire consciousness swims in its taste, texture, and smell. You lap up its succulent juices, and slaver down every delectable mouthful. After a moment of complete rapture, you find yourself staring into an empty shell, grease dripping from your whiskers.
I can almost image chowing down in bliss the delicious food I waited forever to find. The obsession with soft food is a familiar one for me. I know what it is like to have a cat meowing at you for food and when you put down dry kibble, they look at you as if to say, "what is this garbage? I wanted the stuff from the can."
If you are bored of playing as human protagonists A Day for Soft Food offers a refreshing change in perspective. I recommend it if you want to play a game with an animal protagonist or is you are just looking for something lighthearted and humorous.
Oh, and one last thing...
What is up with (Spoiler - click to show) riding down the river in the basket? Who is that saucy cat? The game describes her as "the most beautiful feline you've ever seen lies languorously on an unreachable limb." Is this a love interest? Apparently, this just earns you a bonus point, but it is certainly a memorable one.
Cat Glossary* (Spoiler - click to show)
-Beast's Cave: Garage
-Billowy wall: Window blinds
-Confusing box: TV
-Food Room: Kitchen
-Jangly ring: Keyring
-Lumpy mountain: Sofa
-Provider: Cat owner
-Shiny metal egg: Can of soft cat food
-Shiny stool: Wheelchair
-Silvery leaves: Keys
-Small white box: Garage opener