When I first sat down to play A1RL0CK, I made a prediction based on the opening scene: The protagonist is a girl whose parents work in an ocean lab. After an accident damaging the base, her parents managed to leave a recording that tells her to seek safety with the hope to reunite with them. After playing the game straight through, I am amazed at how naïve I was.
Sure, I was in the ballpark for a few parts. But most of it? Not at all.
We do play as a young girl named Chloe. It’s clear that we are in a research base- Oceanus Prime- at the bottom of some unknown ocean. It is also clear that damage to the base has occurred… and that no one else is around. What really baffles us, however, is the sporadic intercom announcement system shouting instructions in ALL CAPS at random intervals. Something seems off. These messages are chaotic and keep telling us to listen to waterfalls, odd instructions for the situation. We do not understand the meaning of this until later.
At first, I felt like I was playing Chlorophyll where you are a humanoid plant girl exploring an unpopulated research station to save your mom after a vehicle accident. Due to these reasons, the protagonist justifies breaking station rules to enter areas that would otherwise be "adults only" out of necessity and/or just because she wants to. When she does something bad, the station's computer responds by informing her IN ALL CAPITALS THAT SHE IS MISBEHAVING. It is considerably more light-hearted than A1RL0CK but there is a similar sense of endangerment and freedom to break the rules.
The gameplay feels like it is split into two parts. The part when you are on the north side of the door, and the part when you reach the south side. If you have tried the game already, you probably know what I mean by “the door.” And I needed hints, available outside the game, for the first half.
This was a game where when I looked at the hints, I saw that I was on the right track most of the time but failed to make the key connections that would translate into progress. Sure, I may have gotten close to opening the door, but ultimately, I never did. That was the general sentiment if you look at my performance in the first half of my first playthrough.
The two bits that I figured out on my own was that the (Spoiler - click to show) disc was magnetic (after I tried to reattach the disc to the value), and that I (Spoiler - click to show) needed some kind of force to fix the dumbwaiter (after shooting it with the stapler). I also had a bunch of half-ideas (shaking the can to build pressure?) that failed to be productive.
Similarly, the game did not let me put the (Spoiler - click to show) meat in the water since that would be feeding the monster. Best save it for when you need to lure out some other creature later in the game. That last part was me overthinking things. I do that a lot. The real answer was much simpler. As nice as these partial insights were, I was stuck.
Everything about the puzzles seems so obvious now, but it felt more confusing than it should have been the first time through. I could be flimsy at solving puzzles, and I recognize that as a factor. Still, I think that the puzzle mechanics could be more polished for clarity and context. For instance, (Spoiler - click to show) the meat in the kitchen seems a little too perfectly placed. As if it were left there solely for the player rather than as a component of the game’s world.
But once I reached the second half of the gameplay, everything was smooth sailing. I did not need hints afterward.
I want to make a note on setting. In this game, we orbit Saturn on Titan, one of its moons. I get excited about these things, so please excuse this tangent.
Titan is the only moon in our solar system with an atmosphere, one that is so thick that we did not have a visual of what existed underneath until we clunked a probe, called Huygens, down onto its surface. It does in fact have oceans. Oceans of liquid methane. Well, lakes of liquid methane that you would see if you were standing on the surface.
That said, Cassini, Huygens’ spacecraft counterpart, did scans that suggested the presence of large bodies of liquid- oceans- under the icier parts of the moon. Could it be water? If so, the probability of life flourishes. As the sentiment typically goes: Where there is water, there is life. Europa, a moon of Jupiter, is a similar candidate for finding life-sustaining environments. Neat stuff if you like astronomy.
Anyway, I’m assuming that the Titan in A1RL0CK is an alternative or at least speculative version of the moon since it features deep and seemingly Earth-like oceans with whales. Now, that would be wild. Complex life in our own solar system. And I thoroughly love the author’s depiction of Titan. Usually when solar system planets get recognized in interactive fiction, Mars gets all the attention. I like how A1RL0CK expands to the other planets, or in this case, a moon.
Who knows, maybe there is life that can be sustained on liquid methane instead of water.
To clarify, Chloe (Spoiler - click to show) is a test subject. Oceanus Prime is a research facility built for the experimentation of (Spoiler - click to show) splicing human biology with aquatic alien DNA. The project is managed by an entity called BioFarm, which seems to be a corporation. It certainly follows the corporate-unethical-research-at-all-costs trope.
BioFarm is messing with serious stuff. Apparently, the result of this research is (Spoiler - click to show) telekinesis: the ability to move objects with your mind. Chloe hardly realizes the extent of her abilities. She’s just tired of the tests and being knocked out when some scientist gets too nervous. Fortunately, she has the added benefit of a (Spoiler - click to show) close psychic connection to the ocean’s whales who sing to her from a distance. Which is a good thing since this (Spoiler - click to show) reckless research on whale-human hybrids is also what dooms Oceanus Prime.
There is talk about proteins. I am not entirely sure of its significance, but it gets a mention in the game’s description, so it must be important. We do get some protein action in the form of computer screens and paperwork.
Something to do with... protein? And other: estrogen, progesterone and testosterone appear often in lists and comparisons.
I do wonder: Are they (Spoiler - click to show) testing proteins on Chloe, or are they seeking to extract them from her body? Or something different altogether?
The story brings up an interesting point: do ethical standards for research on Earth apply to when conducting science on a non-Earth world? You can’t even see the Earth from the moon you are on. Suddenly, Earth protocols seem distant. I thought this was interesting.
This theme is found in (I know it’s a cliché reference, don’t roll your eyes at me) Babel. One of the defining qualities of the research base in Babel is its isolation in the Arctic and how it allows ethical standards to peel away. The base is staffed by a select few, has virtually no contact with the outside world, and was constructed with the unspoken sentiment that any science prohibited elsewhere due to ethical reasons is perfectly fine here.
No rules, regulations, or legal tape. The characters do not even try to dance around that fact. If you’ve reached the point to where you were assigned to this work, you've already learned to not ask questions.
All of this came to mind when the (Spoiler - click to show) “OOJ, A” abbreviation cropped up in A1RL0CK. It stands for (Spoiler - click to show) OUT OF JURISDTICTION, ALLOW. That is, allow for these insane experiments to occur since this place is halfway across the solar system, not on Earth. As Chloe is starting to realize. If being in the Arctic is isolating, imagine what it would be like as a researcher and/or (Spoiler - click to show) test subject on Titan.
You can find this theme across the sci-fi genre, and yet the type of research that occurs can be quite different between games. It always leaves room for interesting discussions.
There is no denying that the game has atmosphere. It has some seriously creepy moments. The big one for me is when you (Spoiler - click to show) make it into the southern complex and go east into the eerie interrogation room (from Chloe’s perspective, “interrogation” would be the right word). The room description reads:
The condensation makes it inscrutable but, through it, it's easy to guess the shape of a human figure. It appears to be levitating, its long arms holding it in mid-air.
I just stopped for a moment. Many things went through my mind. So far, I knew that the base was messing around with life forms, including human life. Clearly this was one of them. Some sort of human hybrid who was probably watching us through the glass.
On the other side of it thick condensation prevents you from seeing through. But the figure that stands out behind it, albeit out of focus, is clear and monstrous: a being of the wrong proportions, with long flaccid arms that whirls sinisterly.
Yeah. I was genuinely afraid to (Spoiler - click to show) cut the glass and see what was on the other side. Would this person attack me? So many unknowns. Turns out, the truth was much different, and sadder: (Spoiler - click to show) Nurse Nelly.
Chloe is the star of the game, but I want to discuss this NPC first. One tidbit I liked in the first half of the gameplay is the foreshadowing of a person named Nelly.
> break mirror
Nelly told you what happens when a mirror breaks.
> drink water
It's salty. Nelly told you what happens if you drink salt water.
> spray can
Nelly has always been clear about what happens to little ones who waste food. Especially cream.
If you found these descriptions like I did, the name “Nelly” circulates through your mind as you play. We sense that she may have a closer, and perhaps positive, relationship to Chloe, but all we have is a name and a few shreds of memory. Sadly, the extent of that memory is revealed when we (Spoiler - click to show) see her strung up by her own life support cables (how did that happen?) on the other side of the glass.
The memories we get are a mix of different things. (Spoiler - click to show) We see the happier- or at least happier given Chloe’s circumstances- moments of Nelly comforting her and treating her like a real human being, but these memories soon tilt to being experimented on by the other scientists and being contained for “safety” reasons. We also learn about Nelly’s death, but I’m not going to spoil everything.
I am at least grateful that the author gives us this:
(Spoiler - click to show)
Doing your best to ignore the massive gash that bisects her face, you give Nelly one last kiss.
It’s a bittersweet outcome.
And on that note, is there a consensus about the (Spoiler - click to show) SUPPOSED INTERCOM ALL CAPS ANOUNCEMENTS that we hear throughout the gameplay? Is that… Nelly’s voice? I would assume the dialog is in Chloe’s head, but given everything that has gone on so far, perhaps the voices are an external extension of her mind. Almost like how we can sense states of existence/awareness in Coloratura that are invisible to the human characters. That’s just me speculating, of course.
When it comes to child protagonists in interactive fiction- and I don’t mean teens- the genre tends to be slice-of-life, sometimes with a mix of fantasy or other genres. But predominantly sci-fi paired with horror undertones? Less common. For me, at least. If anything, the more you play A1RL0CK, the more it slides towards a horror piece. Especially after you (Spoiler - click to show) break the glass wall in the strange room or visit the quarantine area.
One of the strongest aspects of A1RL0CK is that Chloe still feels like Chloe at any part of the gameplay. While we learn some startling things about her, you still feel like you are playing the same character. In other games, you can feel detached from the protagonist after a big reveal, but that was never the case here. What we learn about her feels like a leap in insight rather than a shift in identity. Not Chl03. Chloe.
Even though Chloe’s (Spoiler - click to show) connection with the whales has proven to be dangerous, or at least to Oceanus Prime, she still views all the invasive research and lab coated scientists through a childlike perspective. Of course, it is also refreshing to see her take survival into her own hands.
(Spoiler - click to show) At the same instant you aim the stapler at her. "O-O-J-A, Miss Celyne," you grin, and shoot.
Yep. Chloe is still Chloe.
Also: When you (Spoiler - click to show) win, there's a strong sense of victory that your biology is what saves you in the end. Perhaps a little bit of "I could breathe underwater this entire time?" but you feel thankful for that.
I came extremely close to giving this game five stars. A huge fact is that the game kept urging me to play it again and again. I was not expecting to feel that way, but several times I would be combing through IFDB and suddenly have the urge to revisit A1RL0CK for its atmosphere and unique protagonist.
Still, it has some parts that are not as streamlined as the rest of the game. Particularly the earlier puzzles. Hence the four stars, but it easily has the potential to be worth five. It is a great game with a strong emotional impact. For me, that was its main strength.
Chloe’s predicament as a (Spoiler - click to show) test subject combined with her relatable mannerisms (like goofing around with items clearly not meant for play) make her character one with a distinct sense of identity even as her memory remains murky.
The setting was also memorable. Oceanic research bases are a familiar concept, but A1RL0CK distinguishes Oceanus Prime by placing it on Titan. It does an effective job in increasing the isolation that is already present when the game begins.
I would totally play more games featuring Chloe. She is quite an individual.
(In case anyone wants to humor me: I do have two random questions out of sheer curiosity. (Spoiler - click to show) First, is Chloe really wearing a clothing garment or is the suit fused onto her body? Or is it her skin, skin as part of her genetic cross with the whales? Second, when Celyne stabs you with the needle, the game gives you the *** You have died *** ending. Did that needle kill you right away, or is the game suggesting that in the end, you find death later as a captive?)
Oh, how embarrassing: You're carrying a suit (worn). That answers my question.
For this game, we jump ahead to the year 2055. You are part of a team sent to investigate Neptune Base, a research and mining station at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean that has been the recent site of accidents among its personnel. During the investigation an explosion shakes the base and knocks you unconscious. You wake up in a medical bed with the confirmation that foul play has occurred.
Now that I think about it, Neptune Base does not give the impression of being a mining station. Only for conducting classified research.
Gameplay has nice atmosphere. Escape from the Deep follows the trope of exploring a compromised near NPC-less structure after an unknown accident. You wake up in the medical bay and see carnage but no explanations. Finding answers and survival are intertwined. I have reviewed games like this from the past, and I find them to be tons of fun. Particularly with science fiction.
One thing I really liked is the “use [item]” structure in the gameplay. No need for “unlock door with key,” or- well, I shouldn’t spoil the solutions. Usually, two words is all you need. If you are stuck, you can go room to room using things at random, but the game is designed to still retain a sense of problem solving. After all, you must acquire the item first. There are occasional technicalities that dent the player-friendliness, but ultimately it is designed to keep the player moving forward.
Also: the game sometimes discards items that you no longer need. That was helpful. Especially since there is an inventory limit. Aside from the crowbar, diving attire, and keycards, everything only has one application in the gameplay. The evidence being priceless, of course.
There is a small in-game help system. It provided much appreciated assistance for (Spoiler - click to show) luring out the monster with the food pack. I needed help, and the game provided just that. However, there are puzzles that are equally/if not more technical that have no guidance. It seems like the support system is randomly scattered across the game, as if the author intended to provide an in-depth one but gave up on it halfway through. I am still grateful for it.
The puzzles are fun! Most are intuitive. They felt satisfying and rewarding to solve. However, some could use smoother implementation. Please consider this part as a critique. I hope this does not deter you from playing. If anything, it might guide you.
It took FOREVER figure out how to (Spoiler - click to show) deactivate the laser grid around the strange artifact in the lab. The in-game help system had nothing to say about it. This was the puzzle that was keeping me from finishing the game. I wanted to review this game ever since it appeared on IFDB but could not get past this puzzle. I had to set the game aside and return to it several times before succeeding.
I had the right idea early on. (Spoiler - click to show) The only functioning generator in the other room kept glitching as the water level regularly spilled into its vents. This glitch kept the laser grid from shutting off due to security controls. Covering the vents seemed liked the answer, and it was. But with what? That is where the gameplay stalled for me.
The game needs to make it clearer that you can take a tray from the kitchen. After opening the fridge, "take all" results in picking up the small kettle and food pack.
You can see: Metal Trays, a Small Fridge, an Instruction Sign, a Kitchen Sink, a Small Kettle and a Food Pack.
Attempting the command again results in "There is nothing you can take at the moment." However, the game still responds to "take tray." I understand that it is up to the player to examine the room carefully, but this was one detail that could have been better implemented.
(Spoiler - click to show) To use the metal tray on the generator, you must also have the box of screws and screwdriver in your inventory. Otherwise, "use tray" will simply result in "not right now." No indicator that the player in on the right track. No "the vent is in the way," or "you need to remove the vent, first." Just "not right now." Sometimes, “no need right now.” And that is frustrating since it is a prompt that the game uses every time you try to experiment with your surroundings.
“Not right now” was the bane of this gameplay. In this case, “Not right now” makes sense since you just do not have the materials to complete the task. Generally, however, there is little way of knowing if what you are doing is productive or if you are wasting time because “Not right now” can be either. Sometimes the game will let you know if you are one the right track while messing around, but more often or not it was “Not right now,” when it came to experimentation.
An example of when I wasted time through experimentation was finding a battery for the wetsuit. This occurred when I first tried the game. The description of wetsuit is:
You notice however, the Thermal battery pack is EMPTY! Which makes it uselss in sub-zero waters.
I wondered if the kettle had something to do with it. The description reads:
It's a small kettle...It's cordless with a battery and built in boil function. Handy if there's a power cut or you want to be portable with it.
I figured that I could use the battery in the kettle- which is used for heating purposes- for the wetsuit. Playing around with the kettle to extract or examine the battery was a mix of “not right now” and “no need right now.” The solution lies elsewhere, but in those early stages I could not gauge if I was on the right path.
There are technicalities. Bugs or things that do not hinder the gameplay but make it less immersive.
For example, when you look at the mirror in the crew bathroom for the first time, you catch a glimpse of the creature scampering down the hallway. However, this occurs if you do this after you (Spoiler - click to show) kill it with the expired food.
Or juggling the evidence on your person. Attempting to read the file after assembling and wearing your dive suit, swimming outside, and then returning indoors results in this response:
That is in a secure water proof pounch in you suit. Pulling them out in water will render them useless and any evidence may have had. (There are typos in the game.)
The game insists that you cannot reread materials even if you are nice and dry inside the base. Meanwhile, you can drop the item while swimming around. But that causes them no damage despite that dropping them means separating them from your waterproof pockets.
The story sparks curiosity and offers a nice amount of suspense. The medical bay that you wake up in is trashed. A dead nurse is lying nearby. You have no idea of what happened, and yet it does not resort to the amnesia trope. Clearly something has happened on Neptune Base. Something that is still alive and lurking. And there are signs of it.
You call out, there's no response. You do hear a scurrying movement coming from somewhere. That's unnerving.
With Escape from the Deep, you can kind of see the story coming a mile away, the secrecy behind the research project. It consists of (Spoiler - click to show) sea monster experimentation where a fellow staff member takes one for the team and agrees (the level of consent behind this agreement is never clarified) to become a test subject for unethical science. Or “science” depending on how you look at it.
Escape from the Deep follows a familiar model found in some sci-fi and sci-fi/horror games. Its backstory can be recreated in a few easy steps:
(Spoiler - click to show)
Step 1: Scientists find DNA from an unexplainable life form. Especially one with dangerous attributes.
Step 2: Scientists ask themselves, “what could possibly go wrong?”
Step 3: Scientists combine said strange DNA/alien biology with that of a human. Bonus points if the human is a fellow scientist.
Step 4: You can probably fill in the blanks for this one. Things go wild. Scientists do not stand a chance against their own creation. The PC, regardless, if they are a test subject or a surviving scientist, now has run of the place. Gameplay begins.
This is just a general model. I can tell you now that the protagonist in Escape from the Deep is neither test subject nor scientist. I enjoyed exploring Neptune Base as an outside party. But the science-gone-wrong trope is obvious. That said, even if you have a feeling that you know what is going to happen, you cannot say for sure until you have played the game.
So, what exactly happened? My understanding is that (Spoiler - click to show) researchers found a bizarre creature and merged its DNA with a person- staff member, I assume- named Erik Stratton. The creature, whom we encounter in the first half of the gameplay, was contained in a laboratory tank but somehow escaped and chowed down on your investigation team. As for Stratton… Anyway.
I still want to know more about the explosion that damaged Neptune Base. And where does the (Spoiler - click to show) neolithic doorway fit in with all this? Furthermore, there are additional signs of (Spoiler - click to show) sabotage as you explore. Wide-spread sabotage. Based on the carnage, it seems like it would have required several people to have participated. Surely it wasn’t just Stratton and that other creature skittering around. Hm.
It would been helpful to be able to read the contents on the USB drive after you download them. In sci-fi games I half expect to have story context conveyed through computer files or logs (although games can also overuse it), but some, like Escape from the Deep, chose not to.
Current Drive has 243 Files - 42 Video Clips
Experiment 002 - May 15th 2052
Experiment 003 - June 3rd 2052
(No way would I expect to see 243 individual entries for the player to read. That would be overkill.)
In this case, it would have been an opportunity to fill in any knowledge gaps, though that would mean extra work on top of an already detailed game.
I have a bone to pick with the endings. The game informs you that the ending is graded based on how much evidence you bring back to civilization.
One can imagine what this would entail: Bring back one, people raise their eyebrows but admit something funky must have occurred. Two, people sort of believe you but still have unanswered questions. Three, people believe you but still don’t understand the full story. And if you bring back all four, you change the field of science and become a legend.
That’s not what happens. Not exactly. (Spoiler - click to show) You either get “Fortune and Glory and Fame,” or “A small house in nowhere's ville.” Bringing back 3-4 gets you the former. 1-2, the latter. It is not possible to have 0 since you cannot drop the strange artefact once you pick it up. This made no sense to me. The gradient part, that is. You definitely want to keep the strange artefact.
People act like you have no proof even if you cart back the strange artifact and, say, the vial of the creature’s blood. Seriously? Are you telling me that none of it has any merit? Or the USB flash drive with all the files? If you tack on the flimsy personnel file, suddenly everyone believes you. Any single piece of evidence, I feel, would have merit. The optimal ending conveys that scientists were wowed by the strange artifact. How come that’s not the case when it’s the only thing you bring back?
Also, while Neptune Base is falling apart, it is in the same condition as when you left. With the proper precautions, you can always send people back down there. Is it safe? Heck no. But still feasible. I think the (Spoiler - click to show) creature’s corpse in the lab says a lot about the shenanigans that took place.
(Spoiler - click to show) These two ending outcomes consist of two small paragraphs. In a way, it seemed like the author did not bother or want to write individual outcomes. I know that’s a harsh criticism, but if the player spent all this time carefully collecting this evidence, it would have been nice to see a payoff. Plus, I’m a little curious to know more about society’s reaction to these highly unethical science experiments at the bottom of the ocean.
You did it, you escaped the base and have the evidence to show what happened to you and the crew of that doomed station.
A brief overview to summarize all that we have learned would have also helped in wrapping up an otherwise fun sci-fi horror adventure.
And yet, it was still an exciting story.
This is essentially an NPC-less game. The PC is featureless aside from being a member of the investigation team sent to check out Neptune Base.
The fact that you cannot “x me” struck me as a missed opportunity for character context. If you examine the mirror in the crew quarters, you get a description of the mirror rather than of your appearance. Because of this, I thought something weird may have happened to them after they were knocked out and later brought to the medical bay. What’s the game hiding? Looking back, there is not really anything to suggest that, but that was the state of my brain when I first started playing.
I do like how the protagonist has reactions towards gruesome events, particularly ones having to do with the other people from the investigation team. This adds depth to the scene since its contents are acknowledged and connects back to the protagonist’s ultimate reason for being at Neptune Base to begin with.
Speaking of gruesome: There is gore, but not a lot. A reasonable amount given the circumstances. Instead, the game focuses on a sense of dread which is spiked when you see how “everyone else” died. If the visuals become too much, you can just turn them off.
Not all Adventuron games have graphics, but it seems like most do and Escape from the Deep is one of them. They function as a nice visual aid, particularly for building atmosphere.
I liked how some action scenes had their own brief graphic, such as when you (Spoiler - click to show) poison the creature. When you glance at the monitors the game shows the “image” on the screen of the creature breaking open the vent.
The graphics for the (Spoiler - click to show) inside of moon pool scene were a bit cheesy. The moon pool itself was cool. Overall, the visuals were nicely paired with the gameplay.
Despite some rough areas, this Escape from the Deep is one of the most entertaining Adventuron games I have played so far. You are probably reading this with skepticism given how much I complained, but I say it with productive intentions. I hope it is used that way.
I genuinely had fun with Escape from the Deep. It was one of those games that just comes along at random and appeals to your interests, mine being science fiction. The puzzles in particular offered a stimulating challenge, most being well-clued with creative solutions.
In case you are interested…
If you like the idea of galloping around a failing oceanic research base- especially one with questionable research projects- all (for the most part) by yourself, try A1RL0CK. Chloe, the protagonist, wakes up after an earthquake and gets to go wherever she wants, permitting that there is no locked door in the way. If I recall, the two games were released at around the same time on IFDB and complement each other in certain ways with sci-fi horror themes.
Escape from the Deep also shares similar vibes with The Pool, a Twine game about a marine research center that discarded its ethics for the sake of experimentation. To be frank, The Pool is not a quality game. It’s unpolished. That said, it has some merits, particularly with its distinct atmosphere and sea monster horror movie trope ambience. If you love this aquatic horror genre (a genre I just made up while writing this), The Pool might make a nice excursion.
So warm. How lovely.
Welcome to your cabin.
Please, take a look around.
You find yourself in a cozy cabin surrounded by a winter wonderland. It belongs to you, and only you. It can be customized if you should wish. Just don’t mind me.
(wait a minute…)
Despite the surreal dreaminess that pervades the cabin, you can sense that someone is pulling the strings. And for good reason. I think the game's title gives it away, but I'll put it under spoiler tag anyway: (Spoiler - click to show) Your comfy cozy cabin is a simulation. None of it is real!
The gameplay follows an inconspicuous structure. There is a growing list of activities in the cabin for you to choose from. After three, you grow tired and fall asleep, unless you prolong your energy by drinking coffee (a clever little hack).
What would you like to do?
Watch the fire
Read a book
Each time (or every other time) you wake up, a new activity is listed. Cozy activities. And. Activities that seem a little… out of context for this serene winter setting. For instance, the first new activity added to the list is "Watch the holoscreen." Huh. Seems a bit out of place. Things get weirder.
You also notice that the narrator has a habit of speaking directly to the protagonist. It is obvious that this entity controls the (Spoiler - click to show) simulation (again, I feel compelled to put that under spoilers), but the player feels powerless at interfering with the narrator’s soothing prattle. However, if there is a will there is a way. You have options.
Is possible to get under reality’s skin. The trigger to underscoring the (Spoiler - click to show) simulation is hard to find, and yet so cleverly hidden that I can hardly complain about its difficulty. I was too busy admiring this innovative way of using Twine’s visual features. Some players may find it too well-hidden, which is understandable, but it worked for me. Creativity like that pleases me in choice-based games.
I absolutely love the idea of a surreal game with unreliable layers of reality. That said, it could use a little more structure in its gameplay. There is no real sense of discovery where you are chugging along and stumble across something that tells you hm, this is different. A game that captures this subtly is The Twine Fishing Simulator. It strings you along but ultimately leaves it up to you when making the big discoveries. In COZY SIMULATION 2999, the narrator directly feeds the reveal to you. In fact, the narrator gives the impression of I’m totally not narrating the story! This is still effective, and even humorous, but much of the mystery is lost in the process.
So. How exciting can a winter wonderland be? Well, the story takes off when you fall asleep.
When you fall asleep, the (Spoiler - click to show) simulation reveals its flimsiness. You have memories of (Spoiler - click to show) running through an industrial complex, being chased by unknown pursuers. Contrary to the safeness of your cabin, these dreams are a world of machinery, corridors, sharp edges, grime, and pain. The opposite of soft rugs and hot chocolate. The best part is when the game swaps out a new set of visuals that are FANTASTIC at conveying this change in tone. I’ll discuss that in the next section. FYI: (Spoiler - click to show) Memories can surface elsewhere in the game, but mostly through sleep sequences. That’s why it is important to explore every feature.
You want the truth? (Spoiler - click to show) After stubbornly refusing the help of the narrator, I realized that reality meant an industrial surgical ward operated by angels reminiscent of a Porpentine game. Turns out the angel- the narrator- attached to your body is the one pumping the simulation through your mind. And it means well, too. It was never, “ha-ha, you’re mine!” It wants to help you (sort of), but you can only live in a simulation for so long. Or maybe you can. The choice is yours.
I don’t know if I could go back to having pillow fights in the cabin while knowing that- I’ve spoiled too much. Please play the game for the full experience. There are three endings, and the author has kindly provided a built-in guide for reaching them. The author also says that neither are good or bad, but I suppose depends on your interpretation of quality of existence. Do you (Spoiler - click to show) want to know the truth and suffer or exist blissfully as external reality falls apart?
For those who have played the game: (Spoiler - click to show) What does everyone think? The narrator does not seem maliciously deceptive, only wanting to conceal the truth. Which I assume is that 2999 is a horrible year to live in. I thought the clementine description was an eerie indicator.
Sweet and juicy. A little remainder of what they once called summer.
Think about it.
There is some vagueness about being reborn. It’s something that appears in all three endings that I assume has to do with the shenanigans going on outside of the simulation. My guess is that the shenanigan in question is to integrate people into a hive mind as painfully and soothingly as possible. I suppose that is one way of being reborn.
At first glance, even the game’s appearance oozes coziness.
The tan text is set in an off-white cream text box with a thick tan border. The font is small and delicate, with light tan links. Graphics are included along the text to depict cozy cabin imagery that adds nice polish. Finally, all of this is set against a white backdrop of a snowy tree, blurred enough to minimize distractions while finalizing the appear of a winter landscape.
Imagine my surprise when that changed. (Spoiler - click to show) Once dream-mode kicks in, the entire background goes black with thick dark-grey rounded borders crammed against the edges of the screen. The text is white, and the links are red. If you seek out the truth, some extra background visuals are added. They make you wonder if maybe staying in that warm winter cabin would have been a better idea than look too closely.
This change in atmosphere was perfect. The use of visual elements to signal (Spoiler - click to show) shifts in reality is one of the strongest parts of the game. Visuals have a lot of potential in storytelling, and I am glad that the author tapped into that. Going from a tranquil cabin to a (Spoiler - click to show) dystopian nightmare moment was powerful. That surprise of the screen going (Spoiler - click to show) dark with anxious-looking white and red text replacing the cabin paradise just had the feeling of Whoa. I love that sort of thing in interactive fiction.
The game uses visual effects in other ways to mess with reality. When text tears through the (Spoiler - click to show) simulation, it is shown in different text that makes it clear that you are straying from the program. For instance, consider (Spoiler - click to show) watching the holoscreen.
The new mental rewiring manufactory has reached 300% efficiency levels, according to StrexCo's fourth quarter and fiscal year 2999 financial results—
No, wait. That's not supposed to happen.
Just ignore that. I'm sorry.
Right. Just ignore it.
The first sentence uses a darker, bold text that is a sharp contrast to the rest of the writing. It represents a break from the façade where fragments of the past creep in. Clearly the narrator did not want the protagonist to see this. Naturally, this only makes it more obvious that the narrator is covering up the truth. The bottom two sentences are the standard text associated with cozy cabin land.
Through visuals you can clearly see the tug of war between the (Spoiler - click to show) simulated reality of the cabin and the nightmarish reality of the “outside” world.
COZY SIMULATION 2999 is a great blend of sci-fi + horror hidden behind a seemingly innocent slice-of-life premise. There is a bit of everything! While I wish we could explore the backstory a little more (what is going on in 2999?), it feels like a complete game with a strong atmosphere and lots to offer.
It is also a strong first interactive fiction game. I know the author expressed in the game that they were not particularly confident with it, but heck, I had fun! Part of it does appeal to my love of sci-fi surrealness, but it really does demonstrate creative thinking while integrating story, gameplay mechanics, and visual design to create a piece that leaves you wanting more. And I want more.
(Note for the author: There is one small bug with the (Spoiler - click to show) holoscreen and the artwork activities. If you watch the holoscreen enough times, you run out of prompts and only see “lovely colours.” Similarly, if you keep making artwork, the option to do so is eventually replaced by “I don't like your art anymore.” I thought this was hilarious. The problem is that these remain unchanging when you start a new game. You can never revisit the interesting holoscreen channels or the cool artwork that you can “create.”)
...and found drama instead.
You are BG Jackson, a smuggler in search of valuables. Your next target is an exploration vessel called the Achilles that went missing months ago, and you finally managed to track it down. Signs indicate that it has been abandoned, but experience knows that it is never quite that simple.
Fall of the Achilles features a gameplay structure that I call “free range of movement.” The term is when a Twine game (or other choice-based format) mimics a parser by allowing the player to move throughout a map and interact with items within it at their leisure. In other words, freedom to navigate a space. This game is a perfect example.
It begins upon your arrival at the Achilles. You are in the Corvus, a personal ship run by an AI named Sahil. After docking the two vessels, you explore the abandoned ship while communicating with Sahil. He does everything from friendly reminders to disabling locked doors. The objective is to acquire the code to the massive warp engines aboard the Achilles. Apparently, the code is worth a lot.
The screen is organized so that a list of actions and a list of exits are always neatly displayed on the lower left which enhances the feeling of a parser. You are still clicking on links, but the links are organized to feel like an arsenal of commands that you would otherwise type into a parser game.
—— ACTIONS ——
Look at the bootprints.
Talk to Sahil.
Use your blaster.
——— EXITS ———
North is the Achilles' bridge.
South is your ship, the Corvus.
The room title is listed at the top of the screen while inventory items and health points are shown on the left-side panel. These features create a parser-like Twine game with notable user-friendliness.
Be prepared: There are moments where you must make a judgement call. For example, (Spoiler - click to show) whether to kill Trace so she never poses a threat, or to spare her with the possibility that she will provide help later. I feel that this weighing of the pros and cons is a defining feature of the gameplay.
This game is full of puzzles but not quite a puzzle-fest. I never "needed" a walkthrough (I don't think there is one at this time), but there is enough in-game help to work around parts where I did get stuck. Sahil may not be a fancy AI, but he is quite helpful.
Generally, the puzzles are well-designed with a few exceptions. The puzzles for (Spoiler - click to show) filling the jug* in the mess hall and reaching the console in the warp drive were a bit tedious. You get injured at random and scurry back to the medical bay to heal yourself before trying again. The puzzle in the science lab was cool, though. The goal is to reach the end of the room while the space is influenced by deadly time warping properties. In truth, a mistake only gets you sent back to the front of the room where you started. A reasonably tame “red-light, green-light” game. The warp drive puzzle was a shadow to that.
*But the joke was on me instead: I could have just filled it in my own ship! I did not figure that out until the game lightly suggested that there was an alternate solution.
Also: There was one bug in the gameplay. (Spoiler - click to show) In one case, after I restarted the game, I was able to open the science lab door immediately after defeating Trace. It still had me punch in the password, which I remembered from the previous playthrough, but I don't think that was supposed to happen. I recall only having the password input box appear after you speak with Luisa. A similar thing happened again in another playthrough. Besides that, I did not run into any issues.
About the drama… (Spoiler - click to show) There are two (human) survivors on the ship: Luisa Romero and Elias Zeres. They are on opposite sides of the big controversy that went down on the Achilles months prior. They also control the remaining ship systems. Since the protagonist insists on getting the warp drive code, you must choose to help either Luisa or Elias. Each character functions as a “quest” that shapes the gameplay which adds incentive for replays.
No matter how many questions you ask, there are unknowns about the story. The Achilles was an exploration ship where the crew members lived with their families. (Spoiler - click to show) Upon receiving a strange signal, the ship sent out a probe which came back carrying a strange sphere called the Crux. Everyone on the Achilles split into two factions and- as indicated by the carnage we find- waged war with each other. Embrace the Crux or reject it, those were the sides.
I’m not entirely sure of the dynamics between these two groups. Where did all the violence originate? Dead bodies are everywhere. Were people dragging each other to be thrown into the Crux? Who shot who? We see bodies of Star Patrol officers on the bridge who likely came to investigate. At least we know that they were shot by Trace after she was reprogrammed. The title is Fall of the Achilles. I want more info on the “fall” part. Plus, the ship’s name carries nice symbolism.
Everything accumulates to one key moment: (Spoiler - click to show) Deep in the storage bay, you see a weird probe carrying a sphere, from which voices- people- ask you to join them. There are people in there. Moving closer activates a hologram of someone kneeling before the device only to have their brain lasered in half.
I have to admit, the Crux is not doing a particularly good job at selling itself. Can you trust the voices?
Kneeling before a strange device surrounded by corpses sounds like the most obvious insta-death you-have-lost-in-the-worst-way-possible ending that you just have to be a sucker to fall for… but you'd be surprised……
Someone takes your hand.
......that's all I'm going to say.
(Except that I wish the game gave us long enough to hear what Sahil had to say. I really wanted to hear him finish his sentence. Shame he couldn't come with.)
If anyone is interested in further discussion, see the section after the end of this review.
Fall of the Achilles does not have endings in the form of "Ending 1," "Ending 2," etc. Rather they are general outcomes underscored with secondary events and objectives. These general outcomes are determined by (Spoiler - click to show) whether you sided with Luisa or Elias, of which there are variations. Secondary parts range from (Spoiler - click to show) your success in acquiring the warp drive codes to whether you depart alone. All of this creates additional incentive for multiple playthroughs, especially since it is enticing to mix and match different outcomes.
Now I don’t mean to be morbid, (Spoiler - click to show) but there is a technicality about the fate of Captain Yamashita that kept bothering me. Her body is in a medical capsule designed to heal the patient inside. By default, the end of the game says, “You failed to (mercifully) end Captain Yamashita's life.”
She’s already dead. The medical console reports that "The patient's prognosis is terminal. Brain functions have been inactive for 63 days and are unrecoverable." Sahil summarizes this as brain dead. And therefore, incompatible for the Crux. The capsule is trying to heal a corpse. Opening the capsule to reveal her body (it is not graphic, just sad) is the equivalent to giving her a merciful death, but that seems to have occurred before we even arrive on the ship. A little more explanation would add clarity to this scenario.
I want to quickly acknowledge the writing. Fall of the Achilles is not an eloquent masterpiece, but it has the occasional descriptiveness that enriches the gameplay. My favorite was when (Spoiler - click to show) you are searching the captain’s quarters for a DNA sample.
A quick search seems to turn up nothing—until you find an oiled wooden brush with large, thick tines like a comb’s. A long strand of black hair weaves through it like the solution to a maze.
It’s not, “oh, you found a brush with a strand of hair in it. DNA.” Instead, the captain’s quarters are personalized and goes the extra mile to make the action more meaningful.
Finally, the genre is science fiction, but there are horror elements that come to life partly thanks to the writing. Arguably, the biggest horror moment is (Spoiler - click to show) the cramped (at least in my mind, it is a cramped space) storage bay. It contains stacks of bodies and a weird object. Everything reeks of death. It's probably really hot in there, I imagine. See how easy it is to visualize this scene? "Stacks of bodies" may not impress you, but this scene was genuinely creepy. There's gore in this game, but mild gore that occasionally turns it up a notch for scenes like this. It always felt like there was thought put into it.
The game is not crawling with NPCs, but there are some interesting ones. Let’s explore a few.
Sahil feels like a concrete NPC, although the game keeps his personality mostly neutral. What I love about his character is the convenience he provides for solving puzzles. Some form, a lot of function. He speaks up when something is worth noting and automatically incorporates bits of accumulated info from the gameplay into his explanations. It’s like having a polite notetaker following you around.
The AI’s assistance is streamlined and avoids feeling like, “talk to me for a hint!” I value games that use that approach, I really do, but I sometimes feel like the character is judging me a little when I ask for the answers. Sahil tells me what I need to know without making me feel lame. (But truthfully, I am thankful when authors incorporate in-game hint systems.)
Our first main obstacle in the gameplay is when we tangle with an android named Trace. She is referred to as the "universe's only sentient android.” That surprised me.
Sahil seems sentient. He may be a ship AI, but I feel like an AI could be dumped into an android body, or something to that extent. If the game's world possesses sentient AI technology, I'd think that sentient androids would be more common. I am drawing broad conclusions, but that leads to my next point: I wish there were a little more worldbuilding, particularly with the story’s technology.
I especially want to know more about Trace’s backstory as a sentient android. It is brief. (Spoiler - click to show) Trace was created by the “Sisters of Infinity,” a group of exiled scientists whom she refers to as her “mothers.” Cool! I’d love to explore that character feature. She is also a member of the *Interstellar Patrol with superhuman abilities for combat. We get a glimpse of that firsthand.
When you first try to access the main deck, Trace stands in your way in battle mode. There are two solutions. If you want to skip the frequency puzzle, you can just battle it out. However, the combat mechanics could be a little tighter. It follows a rock-paper-scissors style of combat where you choose between shooting, activating a force shield, or using a physical attack while managing health points. That was cool.
The issue was with trying to gain an advantage. She has more health points than you, although you have the option of sneaking off mid-combat to heal yourself in your ship before running back to resume the fight. That felt comical, and Trace was really testing my rock-paper-scissors abilities. Fight a few turns, run to the bridge, run to my ship, heal, run all the way back. She’s literally standing there saying, “do you want to resume this fight?” She can do this all day long. And she knows it.
I only did this approach to see what outcome it would lead to. I learned this: stick with the frequency puzzle. It'll take her out the same way. Then, you can decide whether to kill her. I don’t see a reason not to spare her, but you will have to see why. Even though the combat was not a highlight of this gameplay, it is always interesting to see how authors implement combat into the Twine format.
(*Just what is the extent of humanity’s space-faring capabilities and technological advances? For instance, the “Interstellar Patrol” implies that humanity has branched out of our solar system. When the game uses phrases akin to “bring the Crux back to human civilization,” I think of Earth. A few extra sentences for context would be welcome.)
Anyway, this section was longer than I planned.
In a nutshell: Ergonomic, standard issue visuals that consist of a black background, white text, and blue links. But slightly different from the “default” Twine appearance of black background, white text, and blue links. I hope readers know which style I am talking about.
It is a super simple look that functions just fine. I want to make a special note about the text which is always well organized. That may seem like a trivial detail, but when text placement is a mess, that’s all you notice. Fortunately, that’s not an issue here. If anything, it sets a good example for text organization in Twine when you have a moderate word count.
The only flair is the helpful map on the panel at the left side of the screen. It’s a nice reference point.
In conclusion, Fall of the Achilles is a potent sci-fi experience about a smuggler who found more than they bargained for. The trope of wandering a spaceship after it was purged of life from an incident is common but never one that grows old for me. I have a feeling that fans of the genre will feel the same way. It’s not perfect, but it is certainly a polished and high-quality piece worth playing multiple times.
I approach it partly as an example of the flexibility of Twine to create parser inspired gameplay even though it is ultimately a choice-based experience. If there are any readers skeptical about Twine’s potential with sci-fi adventures, consider Fall of the Achilles.
If you like the theme of exploring a lost and seemingly lifeless spaceship with a story wrapped around the ethics of mind-blowing technology in the hands of humanity, consider Reclamation. It's an Adventuron game where your task (as a corporate employee, not a smuggler) is to investigate a research vessel that went missing amid a vital experiment. You even get your own AI although he is definitely a different character from Sahil.
(Spoiler - click to show) Time to bring out the big question: The game assumes that the death and violence aboard the Achilles will only spread if Luisa brings the Crux to humanity. Would that happen?
It's not the Crux itself that is dangerous (unless you kneel in front of it, of course). It just sits there. It's not a weapon. What caused all those deaths were the fighting between people about what to do with it. Ideally, if you had it in a nice little area in a garden where people could join if they wanted to or otherwise carry on with their day, things would be fine. But the likelihood of that occurring- if the ship is any indicator- would probably be miniscule. Plus, Luisa does not field this subject well.
Captain Tomomi Yamashita authorized Elias to be the acting captain if something were to happen to everyone in command. Her final instructions are for him to make sure that the Crux never reaches human civilization. Meanwhile, Luisa managed to weasel her way into becoming the acting captain instead, forcing Elias to camp out in the corner of the ship. She also (poorly) preprogrammed Trace against her will. It is kind of established that Luisa is the “villain” in the game. But does that sentiment apply to the Crux as well? Does it bias the player? There is no easy answer.
On a brief side note as I wrap this up: One of the voices coming from the Crux is Elias’ parents wanting you to tell Elias that they want him to join them. It’s painful. I really, really, really wish the player could do that. He probably would not agree, but that’s understandable. When you go back up through the morgue, Elias is waiting in the medical bay. I just wish there were a way of saying, “your parents asked for you, specifically,” and then leave it up to him. Oddly enough, if you join the Crux instead, you have no way of talking to Elias’ mother about him even though she is your tour guide for the rest of the game.
Thank you for reading!
I figured that Fervency would take inspiration from the black plague epidemic during the 14th century in Europe and neighboring areas. It was so devastating that the timespan was called the Black Death. Still exists, but that’s another discussion.
Malignant miasmas have been assaulting your village for almost two weeks now. Pestilent toxins, noxious fluids. Even as you hole yourself up in your own home, you barely dare to breathe, lest the plague is airborne.
The game starts with an intro, during which I made some snap judgements based on what I saw: miasmas/humours + villagers + the dead being carted away + plague + bloodletting = plague years in the Middle Ages. I was hoping for a grimmer and serious game in a loose historical context like that of Vespers and Pilgrimage. I can tell you now that Fervency departs from that.
For a game of this subject matter, it is surprisingly cheery. Has the doom but minimal gloom. Messy but not quite as much (sort of) as the cover art and description suggest. Personally, it did not resonate with me, but it is good that the author decided to take an alternate route with the plague story concept. In terms of quality, Fervency needs some work, though it has strong potential to engage target audiences.
The game, already
The premise is that a plague is ravaging your home village. This is the realm of bird shaped protective masks, shaky beliefs on the origin of disease, and bloodletting. Every medical expert has tried and failed to stop the growing death toll. Daily life is isolation and fear, and you are dying.
Then, from nowhere, a visitor.
A strange woman appears before your deathbed with the promise that she can cure you.
Behind the fog of your dried-out eyes and dried-out mind, she stands there, like the Grim Reaper, or perhaps the Angel of Death. You weren't aware that you had neglected to lock your door - or perhaps you hadn't. Reapers and angels can probably pass through doors with no trouble.
That’s a potent introduction and an intriguing development when you are dying from the plague. Even though it does not explicitly say that she is an angel or reaper, the supernatural- or at least otherworldly- associations are there. Separate from the reality of a dying mortal, especially since she succeeds where all mortals have failed when curing this disease. Meanwhile, I was still glued to my Black Death + Middle Ages impression.
Even though she leaves a note saying she wants to help* the village, I felt that her skill at curing the incurable would not go over well with the village because of how it was conducted. She sneaks in, tells you the game plan, knocks you out, and cures you with some unknown method. Her entrance as a vague embodiment of the Angel of Death still lingered too, adding to the sense that she may have an otherworldliness that would leave the village a little uneasy. *(Spoiler - click to show)No.
The next day, two groups of people have gathered in the village. Healthy-looking ones, and gaunt ones that have been miraculously cured. I was expecting the former to call witchcraft and shun and/or be wary of those revived by some stranger wielding unexplainable magic in the night. Quite the opposite. Instead, everyone was all, “hi how are you?” which set the game into perspective. The final wakeup call that said, “you’re not playing Vespers, so get over it.” But there is more in store when the intro ends.
Kicking off the main gameplay, there is now an understanding that the village population falls into two categories: villagers who never got sick and anemics. Anyone cured by the Physician is an anemic. It is unclear of whether this was a good thing. Upside is that you survived the plague. Downside is that your sense of thirst and appetite are heightened. The game has you choose your type of craving.
I'm famished. A large slab of meat would do me good.
My throat is parched. I'm so thirsty I'm about to swoon.
Hunger or thirst? This decision will sculpt parts of the gameplay later. The big event in the main gameplay is that two nobles in the area are throwing a lavish costume party, inviting a mix of guests.
Now, the villagers and anemics get along quite well. This slowly changes as the anemics realize that the finest food and wine does nothing to dent their appetite. Civilized behavior goes out the window. It is not until (Spoiler - click to show) everyone gets wasted that they stop and ask, “what exactly did the Physician do to us?” Until then, party time.
The gameplay is heavily based on character interactions, mostly dialog for the first part. It follows the structure of talk to Character A about a list of prompts, then talk to Character B about a list of prompts, and so forth. Most of the prompts are the same aside from a few unique to the character. Later, you can choose to dance or interact further with an NPC.
This is not necessarily a negative feature. It is a great choice for players interested in that intimate character one-on-one at a group setting dynamic. Not so much for me, or at least with the writing. I do appreciate how it is not required to go through every prompt or interact with every character, which adds flexibility for players.
On that note, prompts could stand to be refined. Some were just back and forth banter. Are you looking forward to dinner? I’m looking forward to dinner. Do you have cravings? Same here. I like your scent. I skipped past those parts. Consensus: We hunger. If anything, I think the dialog is meant to pave the way for some romance later.
Fervency is not a romance game, but the traits emerge as the party goes on. No means a dating simulator. Just ways of indulging with that casual ooh la la your-costume-is-delectable flirtatiousness at a decadent party without pressuring the player to commit to anything. Again, did not dazzle me personally, but I could see this being a smash hit with some players. Especially the achievements.
I must admit, Fervency does a nice job of conveying the realistic longevity of a polite, refined party when everyone is trying to manage their symptoms while smiling and engaging in idle chatter. Almost like in Finding Nemo where the sharks are having a civilized conversation until someone gets a bloody nose. It is a scenario where (Spoiler - click to show) if one person loses it, everyone loses it as well. Chow down, quench your thirst, it's all on the menu.
An all-you-can-eat menu. Sooner or later, it does gets repetitive. It starts as an interesting ecstasy-ridden snacking free-for-all that drones on as the writing loses its eloquence. It gets to the point where they are devouring each other and I’m skimming through the text looking for something new. It’s more interesting to eat/drink nothing, go home, pat yourself on the back for not caving into your cravings, fall asleep, return to the manor, and see the absolute chaos caused by the previous night’s activities.
This brings us the question: (Spoiler - click to show) Is this really what the Physician intended when she game to “cure” of the plague? First off, the mysteriousness of her character decreases when she (Spoiler - click to show) casually shows up at the party dressed as a swan. Nothing ever she was not a mortal, but she seems more like an average sack of skin, bones, and organs than when she saved you from the plague. And second, (Spoiler - click to show) yes, she did intend for this happen.
To avoid ruining the entire game, I won’t hash out the details behind her healing (or “healing,” depending on your perspective) abilities. All I will say is that it turns people into proto vampires (my words, not the game’s). I’m not against that, but it currently feels undeveloped. This is meant to be feedback, rather than ridicule.
There are some bugs that tripped up the gameplay.
Sometimes the game would keep loading (indicated by an animated status bar appeared at the lower right side of the screen flickering in a universal "loading" message) but would not go to the next scene. I could not do anything else to the game. I ended up refreshing the page and starting over. Oh: The save files would not work either.
Then there are pop-up messages that freeze the game. Messages like “startup line 2518: increasing indent not allowed, expected 0 was 1” or “startup line 125: Achievement fuhrrvent already defined on line 93” that would render the game unresponsive when you clicked on the blue “okay” button to close the box. Again, I had to restart.
I applaud the author for allowing the player to jump ahead in the game to different sections. At the start of the game you can opt for the full meal (starting right from the beginning), the actual feast (party begins), or dessert (things get heated), the last of which is broken into four paths for you to choose from. And no, I’m not being cute with the eating analogies. I took it right from the game.
Point is the game can be buggy, but the author makes a point of accommodating this with ease of accessibility.
I was not sure of how to rate this game. As I’ve said, it did not exactly reach my interests, but I am confident that it will attract an eager audience. Tightening up the writing and pacing would make a difference. Plus, some (just some) bugs are sprinkled about here and there.
However, the game begins with a disclaimer saying that it is still a work in progress. That had a large influence in my rating since I did not want to take everything at face value. I hope this review functions partly as feedback even if reviewing was the main objective of my lengthy (lengthy) discussion.
While some parts, such as the party dialog options, were lengthy and lackluster, they serve as a solid outline. I am glad to see simply that content is there. What matters is that there is structure. The concept is on paper, and that is the first step. In this regard, Fervency is far more than a “first draft.” It is developed but would go further if it were developed a little more.
If you liked Fervency, I highly recommend that you sample The Lady’s Book of Decency. It’s a Twine game about an upper-class girl (and recently turned werewolf) who must prepare to attend a fancy ball during a full moon. It has stats, including one for hunger which matches perfectly with Fervency.
In The Lookout, you play as a man named Adam Katz. Following a major personal tragedy, you have volunteered to staff a fire lookout tower called the North Butte Fire Lookout Tower, smack in the middle of nowhere without electricity or basic modern luxuries. Just enough to survive and do your job. Maybe this will give you a new outlook on life. Maybe.
Believe it or not, this is one of the more suspensful and scary interactive fiction games I have played, making it a perfect entry for EctoComp. By "scary" I mean it gets your heart racing. Horror movie mode. It forces you to deal with the unknown. You slowly find yourself gingerly typing on the keyboard while second guessing whether you truly are prepared to (Spoiler - click to show) tackle the thing stalking your tower. Oh yes. In this game, you are prey. If that last part made you shiver, The Lookout may provide a thrilling experience for you. If not, play it anyway.
I’ll cut to the chase. The gameplay follows your daily upkeep schedule, but it becomes apparent that (Spoiler - click to show) some unknown creature is attacking the fire towers. Initially, we only get little tidbits of what is going on, but by day 3, things start to get extremely dire. Though the story takes place over five days, the gameplay is relatively short.
The gameplay’s map is restricted to the fire tower and nearby surrounding areas. I was partly hoping for more exploration of the landscape, but it does not take long before a (Spoiler - click to show) plot twist limits the player to the first five locations. The goal was probably to further the sense of isolation, of which it does an effective job. This is not a puzzle intensive game. In fact, there is only (Spoiler - click to show) one serious puzzle (making a weapon).
There is some unevenness. The gameplay is richly implemented- I liked the wildflower patch- in some areas, but sparsely in others which can detract from the atmosphere. One of the room locations is “Middle of Ladder” where you are climb up and but if you try “x ladder” you get: You can’t see any such thing. It breaks the moment. You are on the ladder! Or how you cannot examine the tower from the outside. There are also occasional spelling errors.
What exactly makes this adventure so suspensful? It’s a survival story, sure, but the delivery is what gives it potency. I feel that The Lookout is a great example. Note: Part of the magic with suspense is that you have no idea of what will happen, so I encourage you to read the spoilers in this section AFTER you play the game for yourself.
Generally, it uses a familiar feature of horror storytelling: Subtle descriptive details and pacing that keep you second guessing. Half the time, it’s your brain telling the story.
But then you heard it again. A scraping sound.
It’s hard to match the potency of this phrase (shown above) in a review since I am discussing it out of context but understand that its placement was effective at making the player feel cornered. While I would not label this part as “scary,” it sure does a heck of a job at establishing atmosphere.
Horror is gradual and peels off in layers. This is where the suspense (and spoilers) manifests.
First, it starts with inherent vulnerability. You are a lone human in the middle of nowhere. Then, it emphasizes our dependency on single sources technology. The only means of communication is the close-circuit radio used to contact two other towers in the distance. But even then, at least you have a tower with some tech, right? Correct.
(Spoiler - click to show) Until Chester fails to restock your supply cache. Or later when the radio no longer picks up messages, taking the closest thing you have to a human interaction: another human’s voice. What footholds we had are gone. Layers. Peeling away. The game dangles suspenseful bits of information that forces the player to make assumptions, some of which are never fully explained.
On your catwalk stroll you see the familiar light from Mia's lookout, but you notice that there's no light coming from Chester's lookout tonight.
You have all these practical reasons why he failed to restock it. Ran out of time? Forget? Well, then why is his tower dark? This suggests he never made it back. Suddenly those practical reasons slide towards I wonder if that vanishing mangled deer corpse had anything to do with it....
One of the two scariest (= chill inducing) moments for me is when you are forced to talk to Mia via morse code by using a mirror to flash signals. The first thing she says is SOS. And then, ATTACKED. If you ask her about the attacker, the answer is UNKNOWN. Something about that really gave me the chills.
On one hand, you are not alone in the sense that your comrade is also being messed with by some unknown entity. On the other hand, you are being messed with by some unknown entity. The only thing we know about UNKNOWN is that it did a number on a deer corpse like no normal animal could. Morse code is great, but help is a world away.... You are dealing with this alone.
The other case that got me is when you are looking through the cracks between the window shutters and then:
Just as you are about to turn away, a dark figure moves directly in front of the window your face was pressed up against.
Yeesh. Imagine if that were you. Your face mere inches away from this creature scuttling around your tower. It sounds tame in this review, but in the game, you are camped in your tower waiting for night to fall. Stakes are a bit higher here. I really hope you played the game before reading this.
Oddly enough, the fight scene was a smidge underwhelming compared to the suspensful horror experienced up until that point, but I think that demonstrates the potency of its building atmosphere.
Either I’m a chicken, or the horror in this game has something going for it.
The entire experience revolves around Adam Katz’s trauma as revealed in nightmares. Six months ago, (Spoiler - click to show) he was in a car accident with his family and was the only survivor. His passion for writing has waned and being around other humans is just too painful. Powerlessness is a major theme. He feels powerless about the (Spoiler - click to show) semitruck that caused the accident and now he is powerless against (Spoiler - click to show) whatever unknown savage is trying to kill him. Or at least at first.
Fear of the unknown also is a factor. We definitely experience that part in the gameplay. The pinnacle is when Adam feels emboldened to (Spoiler - click to show) not succumb to the creature and to fend it off by any means necessary, especially since it seems to be taunting him by leaving the hiker’s mangled jacket on the ladder.
The game only calls the monster "The Demon." In fact, that's the name of the chapter at the end of day four. Perhaps I'm falling back on clichés, but it seems to embody the notion of "battling one’s own demons," but I argue that it has a point. The violent experience of being hunted by a mutant beast seems to adjust the protagonist’s relationship with his tragedy.
We don’t have the opportunity to see this effect in long run since the game ends when (Spoiler - click to show) a rescue helicopter lands nearby. There are some unanswered questions. Was Chester killed? How about the hiker? Yes, you find her mangled jacket with blood on it, but technically there is no body to confirm- it does it again. Makes you speculate. Hm…
I guess the takeaway message is that sometimes survival is enough.
In a nutshell, The Lookout is a survival horror game that focuses on suspense and pacing. It puts story over puzzles while also providing opportunities to interact with your surroundings. If you are looking for more action you may find the game less exciting, but in terms of atmosphere it excels. Paired with the protagonist’s backstory it becomes a catharsis that makes it more interesting.
Horror with a bite. Poor you.
You share a flat/apartment with friends Kayleigh, Sam, and Meghane. The four of you are discussing plans for later via group chat. Meghane's cousin Chloé is supposed to meet up to join the festivities. Tonight. Her cousin is meeting up with everyone tonight. Problem: Everyone forgot. Exasperated, Meghane goes to add Chloé to the chat...
The mechanics of gameplay are simple. It takes place in a chat group environment where you tap/click the screen to see each text message as they appear in the chat. Sometimes you have opportunities to respond. For these, a menu will appear at the bottom of the screen with a list of responses.
At first all you see is causal, crowded banter. Tap, tap, tap. You are just skimming through the messages while your flatmates argue about cleaning out the fridge. Throughout the game, NPCs will switch between being on and off the chat as they do other things, triggering notifications. It really creates a chat room vibe. Soon, things kick off when Meghane’s cousin is added to the group.
In Chloe Is Home, you are a clueless little player who gets sucked right in the mess. Stay far, far away from this review until you give the game a playthrough. I’m always touchy about “preserving” the suspense, but it’s true. Want the full horror experience that comes with not knowing what is in store for you? Play it first. Otherwise, it will ruin the fun. Don't be all, "oh, reading this review will help me be more informed when I play it." NO. Play the game first.
(Spoiler - click to show) But Meghane's cousin is not the one who joins the chat... Someone else does. Technically, I think the game’s description is a super light spoiler, “A flatmate group chat unknowingly welcomes an uninvited guest into their midst,” although only a stickler will probably feel the same way. No matter. There’s still lots to discover.
Now that the cat is out of the bag, I'll just refer to fake-Chloe as the Stranger or “Chloe” under these spoiler tags. This is the crucial detail: If you take a closer look at the user, it is shown as Chloe not Chloé. See it? It's that little line about the “e.” If you totally missed it, you're not alone. For the first playthrough I assumed it was Meghane’s cousin, although it does not take long for you to have doubts.
Story + Characters
I’m going to use this section to look closer at the story’s pacing and structure which is critical for a horror game. It’s going to be one big spoiler-fest (which I’ll tag), so again, browse wisely.
Pacing is excellent. Mechanically, the game skips pause effects. The rate of text messages is based on however fast the player chooses to tap or click on the screen. And yet, there is a feel of everything speeding up. You feel out of control. The effectiveness of the pacing is achieved through staggering story events.
It closely resembles a horror movie sequence where you know what’s going to happen but see separate shots of Character A being resourceful, Character B cluelessly walking into a trap, the culprit going up the stairs where Character D has just managed to put two and two together. These shots (with other elements) are then woven together to leave you at the edge of the seat in a nervous wreck because you know exactlywhatisgoingtohappen.
Obviously, a Twine game is not going to harness the cinematic techniques used in film, but it manages to recreate this concept closely. (Spoiler - click to show)
The Stranger just keeps getting more unnerving. They inquire about you being home alone and start a game of 20 questions with prompts on your personal information or how you want to die (if you were to, that is). The zinger is when you ask a question about either their pet peeves or whether they are an introvert or extravert. Their act as Meghane’s cousin completely falls apart and they go on a rant of why they hate about people. Then, bam. “Chloe” again.
Oh, and they have your address. You gave it to them, remember?
I'm literally 5 minutes away.
Ha. Ha. Oh no.
The reason behind the Stranger’s presence in the group chat is revealed when Meghane notices that she mistyped Chloé’s (the real Chloé- again, fancy é) number. Which confirms that yes, you’ve been talking to the wrong person, and you warn your flatmates. Meghane adds the real Chloé (whom we briefly meet) and starts searching to kick out “Chloe.” And then:
Chloe changed their name to Chloé.
The Stranger won’t go down so easily. This is where the staggering of events really starts to shine.
It kicks off with the Stranger sending you a picture of the flat before asking Meghane for the code to the door. Now, your friends are a tad sluggish about your warnings because they’ve been on and off the chat for the past half hour. They don’t realize the extent of this mix-up, yet. So, seeing the fancy “e” in the altered username, Meghane assumes that the Stranger was removed from the chat. She happily shares the code.
The code is 3042! 💋
Naturally, she realizes this mistake afterwards. The entire time the player keeps yelling, “don’t do it, don’t do it, just don’t!!!” The suspense is sharpened to a point. The sluggishness of the NPCs only heightens the urgency. Like watching characters in a horror film as they make clueless blunders right when it matters.
Meghane, Kayleigh, and Sam finally get with the program. Pacing intensifies. The Stranger narrates their movements toward the door. Everyone is panicking. One friend is calling the police. One friend is rushing home. One friend is alerting the neighbors. But despite this, you are still the only one at the flat. Then you hear a knocking sound.
An actual knocking sound effect. Followed by someone fidgeting with the door. I often forget/fail to turn on the audio for games. Half the time I don’t even notice they come with sound. But I managed to get the memo this time. It is a basic sound snippet that serves as the finishing atmospheric touch to a chilling horror game.
I’m going to switch things up and chew the fat about the story a little more. Again, more spoilers.
I was hoping for (Spoiler - click to show) more than one ending. After experimenting with multiple playthroughs, I could not find any alternatives. What frustrated me was that there is a pivotal moment in the gameplay that railroads the player into making one choice that ultimately determines the ending. This moment is when “Chloe” asks for the address to the shared flat, claiming that they lost Meghane’s instructions somewhere back in the chat. No matter what, you give it to them. And now they know where you live.
Given the dialog leading up to this point, all (or at least most) of your nerves are whispering stranger danger. Something’s off. The player feels it, and the PC feels it. You can lie about the address, dodge the question, or drag your heels, but this only leads to you having to send the address. Eventually you will.
🗨 Choose a reply
Throughout the game are dialog options that allow the player to tread lightly and approach this “Chloe” with skepticism. The responses involve refusing to dole out information, giving vague answers, or calling out inappropriate statements. The gameplay enables you to read between the lines. So why is it that you are ultimately forced to give out the home address?
What type of ending would I be asking for? It does not have to be a positive ending, just one that recognizes when the player goes the extra mile in assessing the Stranger’s identity. It was clever how you can catch their bluff by claiming that Meghane mentioned that they were going through a tough time without going into specifics. “Chloe” assumes that Meghane was talking about the real cousin and goes along with the charade by making something up. You then respond with skepticism that chips away at their act. I thought that if you pestered them enough, they may reveal their true colours or admit to being someone else. That would probably put the story on a different trajectory.
So… What happens? I think the PC’s chances of survival are not that dire. Then again, a character in a horror movie might say the same thing. The opening words of this game are rather ominous.
Omg, guys kill me. Shanon wants another meeting...
I have always enjoyed Twine or choice-based games that mimic a digital interface, especially personal devices. The idea is cool both visually and in terms of functionality. Sometimes though, there is the risk of this functionality being hindered by design elements like wide margins or awkward scrollbars that do not prevent you from playing but do detract from the polish. Chloe Is Home avoid this. It uses the phone interface idea without overwhelming the player with its features. Note: I love it when authors go wild as long as functionality is preserved.
This game keeps it relatively simple while adding some flair. It tastefully replicates the appearance of a smartphone device with tall but narrow screen dimensions. The borders are purple with shadowed edges that give it a more 3D resemblance. Character text bubbles are colour-coded and set against an off-white screen. A general, strong look.
Plus, some embellishments. Emojis, symbols, and even the occasional GIF!
Yes, I really enjoyed Chloe Is Home. It has a lot of strengths. Pacing, suspense, clever visual design. Players, I think, will get a rush playing it. There is enough variation in the gameplay to encourage multiple playthroughs (plus, it’s a short game), but when it becomes apparent that (Spoiler - click to show) there is only one ending, players may leave it at that. Regardless, it is a high-quality piece that offers an urgency that is hard to capture in a Twine format. Highly recommended for horror fans (especially choice-based horror).
I hope the author(s) continue to produce more work. This was a great first piece.
If you are interested in any more horror chat room stories, I suggest Disharmony, a Twine game about investigating the absence of a member from your friend group via an online messenger platform by the same name. Worth playing with the lights off.
This is a tough game to play. And I don't mean the forgiveness rating, which is Merciful, thank you.
This morning I go on IFDB and see that some new games were posted, two of which are made with a development system that I had never heard before, Construct 3. So, I gave this one a try. You play as Tamsyn Snyder, a god-like being (I think) set on a rampage during a pro-choice rally. Right off the bat, this game heaps on the violence. I was not even sure if I should review it, but I also don’t want to shy away from controversial (I have a feeling this will be a controversial game, not that I am trying to make it as such) games either. I am stepping out of my comfort zone, here.
This is probably the most violent interactive fiction game I have ever played in both written content AND visuals. Especially visuals. I’m used to violence in the text, you know, parser, but Knight of the Living God embraces visual elements to tell this story. The game uses animated pixelated artwork that provide an engaging gameplay experience. I liked the bright colours. The result is a visually interesting game. In this regard, I’d say it showcases the technical potential of Construct 3.
It is straightforward to play. You are traveling down a street with a lot of people walking along the sidewalk. You click and select a person to learn more about them and choose to either spare or kill them by swiping the screen. The only way to make progress is to kill. After enough people have died (I did say this game was violent), the game moves to the next stage which only increases the violence. Just when you think it can’t get more violent, it does.
Knight of the Living God is offensive, gory, and shocking. Hateful, even. But also compelling, bold, with lots to think about. I think. I really don't know how to process it. There is no deny that it is unique. I always try to leave a star rating for my reviews, but quite frankly, I don't know how to rate it. Honestly, my impulse was to give it one star because it seems to be violent for the sake of being violent without a strong structure. At the same time, I wonder if I overlooked any smaller, more meaningful details. I just don’t know. After playing it three times, I have more questions than answers. And I don’t feel like playing it anymore.
Is this supposed to be satire? I can't even pinpoint the author's stance on the subject or the intended audience for this piece. If I were to guess, I’d say that the author is promoting (or at least depicting, which seems clear enough) an anti-abortion perspective. I want to be careful because you don’t want to assume that content in a game is an automatic reflection of the author’s perspectives, but this game seems to be heavily skewered towards one side of a debate. The final stretch of gameplay turns into an (Spoiler - click to show) active shooter with violent statements about religion. In fact, religion is probably the dominant topic. Themes about abortion take center stage, but the gameplay is all over the place.
Do I recommend this game? No. But I would not discourage you from playing it either. That is, unless you are sensitive to its subject matter (abortion, gun violence, depictions of blood, etc.) This game could really use a trigger warning at the beginning. It is an intense game where you have to know your own boundaries. That said, it is always good to see authors who are unafraid of making bold choices in their work. Just... proceed with caution, okay?
From the yellowed plastic windows of Borok Singh's penthouse at the top of the Gardeners' citadel, I can see the whole arc of it. The shanty streets. The corpse-processing factories. The sagging footings of the geodesic dome.
This is the first game published in 2023 that I am reviewing. In The Green, you play as a Gardener named Imrik Tso who lives in the city of Klay. Something happened that made all plant life deadly, a phenomenon simply known as the “Green.” Humanity is left huddled in a barricaded city while scientists and firefighters work to keep the lethal greenery out of city limits.
Lately, Imrik feels like this has all been a band aid. He thinks he may have discovered a real piece of hope: a cure. But this means leaving the city.
The gameplay is ultimately a perilous journey out of the city and into the unknown. The first half is about gathering supplies and finding a discreet way to exit the city, of which there are multiple paths. Some choices are tagged as "risky” or “chancy” which can lead to different outcomes. Saving is advised.
There is some resource management woven in. You begin the game mildly infected. Supplies are meant to stave of the infection’s spread, so it does not kill you before you reach the three towers. Even then, you will be crawling across the finish line. And for good reason. Life is deadly outside of the city. Peach trees and daffodils are replaced by venom roses, choke apples, butcher's bloom, and other botanical monstrosities.
At the top of the text space is a circle depicting a diseased handprint. The circle’s outline gives a quick assessment of your health. As you become more infected, the longer the green border grows. Physical injuries are shown with a red border. Clicking on the handprint provides a description of your state.
Not bad. A few small stains. A tinge of green on the webbing between my fingers.
It's not pretty. This function reminds me of playing Vespers where your body is slowly infected by the plague. Beholding the physical transformation of the PC is all part of the experience.
The stain on my left arm is getting worse.
Every time you move, the green border creeps forward. There’s no stopping it (right?), only delaying the inevitable. It gets the player neurotically checking for increased signs of infection, emphasizing the touchiness of the protagonist's situation.
In the second half, the gameplay gets a little repetitive. When you finally leave the city and enter the wild (Green) yonder, everything is about survival and rationing your supplies when you encounter toxic plant life. Hint: It’s everywhere. In a nutshell it consists of ouch, ouch, ouch, don’t step here, don’t step there, ouch. Do I dodge this field of deadly vines or run right through it?
I liked doing battle with killer shrubbery. But it feels like the game is repeating what we already know: The plants are deadly dangerous. Meanwhile, drastic plot elements are handed to the player, detracting from the more investigative themes we see at the start of the game. I’ll discuss this in the next section.
As you can see, I opened this review with the first passage from the game. It is descriptive, atmospheric. It immediately makes you curious to know more about the game’s world which is a powerful trait to have. For some additional context, Klay is run by Borok Singh- or the High Reaper- who orders Gardeners to develop new ways of combating the Green. Imrik managed to hack together a cure but needs to take it to three towers several miles out of Klay. It is thought that those towers are the origin and source of the Green. Because Singh would never agree to this, Imrik must be sneaky.
No living thing (besides deadly plants) survived the Green. Surviving life resides within the walls of Klay. The turning point is when (Spoiler - click to show) Imrik encounters moths flittering casually amongst the plant life and realizes that he was misled. Instead, the Green appeared to be selective, not this all-encompassing beast that sterilized every ecosystem it touches. He concludes that the Green was a human engineered weapon designed to kill specific targets. Human targets. Seems like it got out of hand. There is some ambiguity here. While (Spoiler - click to show) discovering the moths were a surreal moment and a good opportunity to build the story, the scene lays out the plot twist in one go without the subtlety of the earlier gameplay.
Before, you would learn exposition through small choices, whether it would be opting to go through the tunnels to leave the city or to spend some optional time talking to another Gardener. With this, bits and pieces trickle down to form the post-apocalyptic story. But now, the game gives you the big reveal all in one paragraph that feels like the plot twist is being told instead of shown. It’s a tough balance to explain. I think my reaction is partly towards the differences between the first and second halves of the game. It goes from a light investigative piece to a more linear one.
There are still plenty of subtleties to appreciate. A thoughtful perspective emerges with the protagonist’s observations of the Green as he travels. It appears that the Green becomes (Spoiler - click to show) less aggressive the further you are from Klay. There is a perimeter around the city called the burn-back that marks where humans combat the Green with fire, herbicides, and other weapons. Terse, bitter plant life appear to be chopping at the bit to infiltrate the city. But this becomes more mellow, though still dangerous, as you leave the war zone behind. I feel like this offer commentary on our relationship with the natural world, on how our trying to “control” and refine a landscape can only make it more resilient towards our efforts. While The Green takes this to the extreme, it draws similarities with real-life scenarios.
I only found two endings, not including when you die prematurely from the infection (Spoiler - click to show)(although you ultimately die at the end of the game anyway). I’m still not entirely sure of how the cure works, and honestly, I was left with some unanswered questions about the Green and city of Klay.
For instance, the game is nebulous about Klay. Remind me, is Klay the three towers or the city where the game begins? Both? No one knows? All I know is that I found the two endings. (Spoiler - click to show) One is where you use the cure against the Green, and the other is where you decide not to use the cure and let the Green run its natural course. I was hoping for more answers, but these endings suffice.
This game gets high marks for visual design. It is also another strong example of visual storytelling. I am glad to see Twine authors going the extra mile to offer something new.
Now, go outside and find a dense patch of moss, trace a circle, and then clear away the moss inside of it. That's what the artwork looks like: a slab of moss with a circle for text in the center of the screen. The text margins and scroll feature was a bit of a hindrance, but that can be expected when trying to fit chunks of text into a circular text-"box" space.
The circle is a cream colour that turns pale green when you leave the city and enter the Green. Around it is a faint green shadow that turns red when you are severely injured. The text will sometimes blur to replicate the protagonist’s blurred vision as he is further infected or injured. These surprise splashes of red added nice contrast. The result is an effective visual experience that makes the gameplay more vivid.
Generally, the colour palette for this game is- big surprise- green! Everything in meant to conjure up plants, plants, and more plants. There are also illustrations of your supplies which are shown on the left half of your screen. The game experiments with clickable icons, such as the journal icon that opens to pop-up window with journal entries. This really gave the game a professional look. Even the save menu has greenery growing on it!
These quality visuals make up for some of the gameplay’s deficiencies. Without them, the experience would be less potent. Yes, this sentiment could apply to any Twine game, but some can hold their own with or without special designs. While the overarching story in The Green is strong, there is a lull in the later gameplay. If this game stuck with the generic black screen + white text look, it would not command the effect that it does. Part of what I like about The Green is how it demonstrates the extent visuals can go to make a completed piece into a polished one. All the power to it. Visuals can go a long way.
The Green is a unique and compelling game about sacrificing everything to undo the apocalypse. A one-way trip, so make it count. The gameplay combines two cool elements- survival and resource management- which will likely be a draw for players. If post-apocalyptic games interest you, The Green is worth checking out. Plus, the visuals are fantastic.
If you liked the themes in this game, I highly encourage you to check out the game Calm. It’s an Inform game about apocalyptic spores that, when inhaled, kill people if they fail to remain calm. Calm is not the most polished work out there, but it has a unique appeal. I know I played it longer than I expected to. For more subtle plant dystopian Twine games I recommend Defrosted and The Soft Rumor of Spreading Weeds.
Everyone is on edge aboard the CSS Jonas Salk, a spaceship tasked with astrobiology research to acquire alien life forms and substances to be used in pharmaceuticals on Earth. But the most recent mission has brought some troubling developments. Weird bruises have appeared on the crew’s bodies and, well, two already killed each other in a (Spoiler - click to show) cannibalistic outrage. By the way, you are the captain. Soon, that will mean little.
This is one of those gameplay stories where an infectious agent appears in a closed off area filled with people (ex. spaceship smack in the middle of deep space). The game begins by an inner airlock door where you and two crew members are observing the carnage through the airlock window- no, the SmartGlass* airlock window. You do not have many choices beyond calling for a meeting of all surviving crew. *Corporate (fictional) product placement! Hey, it’s a reoccurring theme in this game.
Gameplay is linear with some flexibility. A notable choice is when deciding to what to grab from your locker. It will be important for resolving (or maybe I should say “resolving” since teamwork has pretty much gone out the window) crew tensions during the meeting.
You hold up the crew manual. Everyone falls silent at the sight of this mystic totem.
(Surely this will work)
The crew rushes you from all sides.
(Tip: (Spoiler - click to show) Pick the gun instead.)
Later, choices boil down to two or three options at a time with fight or flight decision making. Do I try to reason with this crew member who is (Spoiler - click to show) eating his friend, or do I run for it?
A clever design feature for these choices were timed pages that kick in if the player takes too long to respond. The outcome is not favorable. It’s not obvious which ones are timed, and they last for about ten seconds, a reasonable length. Indecisive? This will catch you off-guard, contributing to the chaotic ambience in the gameplay. The message: Stop dawdling while the infection eats through your crew.
There is gore in this story. Not exactly One Eye Open (a personal favorite of mine) gore, but still gore. The gist is that the expedition’s recent target was a planet inhabited by primate-like alien creatures that were deemed perfect for science. The only catch is that the creatures (Spoiler - click to show) were all torn up and mangled. The crew assumed it was a territorial dispute, not some highly infectious pathogen that causes life forms to turn on each other. Needless to say, everyone gets infected, or at least exposed to the infection.
This is where moral decisions come into play: Are you going to return to Earth and risk infecting the planet with, essentially, a (Spoiler - click to show) zombie-like disease? Or are you going to land on a nearby planet and use its resources to address the problem first? Neither are ideal, but the crew 110% wants to return to Earth and deal with it there whereas the protagonist seems inclined to take a cautious route. Sadly, (Spoiler - click to show) the crew is willing to kill to get their way.
There are multiple endings, some of which go on longer that you anticipate which was a nice surprise. You will find some unexpected outcomes that encourage multiple playthroughs.
The weaker part of The Virulence Protocol is, oddly enough, the characters. I don’t mean their change into (Spoiler - click to show) cannibalistic rebels. Instead, their motivations for contradicting the player’s orders seem inconsistent. If anything, only the protagonist has their head on straight, even though they too show signs of the infection.
Everyone wants to go back to Earth to be home again (predominantly for medical care), but there is a segment where their demeanors change to embrace the corporate themes underlying the game. The whole mission is backed by corporations seeking to harvest resources for commodities. This is subtly conveyed through descriptive writing. But its brief manifestation among the crew was awkward.
For a brief moment all the NPCs care about is profit and making money, not whether their infection is going to spread in their bodies and kill them. At the start of the game some characters have distinct personas. It makes sense that they would all succumb to (Spoiler - click to show) zombie-like symptoms from the infection, but I feel like the game dissolves the NPCs’ individual identities for a single scene.
“The only thing we got to protect is our pay day! The gig is to find some alien plant or monkey with mojo that can be turned into medicine with serious worth!”
Next thing you know, it’s all about biolabs and seeing Earth again. There could have been a smoother transition here.
Game uses a default Twine appearance that many players will recognize. Black screen, easy to read white text, blue links that turn purple when you click on them. The game will occasionally throw around different text colours paired with blinking or delayed text effects. A few spelling/dialog formatting issues but otherwise this game feels like a finished piece.
It’s not the best plague-on-a-spaceship game I’ve played but it was certainly intriguing enough to play for several rounds. While characters were meekly implemented, it has its strengths. The horror element was especially well done because it takes an already precarious situation and slowly unfolds it to reveal a horrendous truth about the botched mission: The crew has discovered an infection that turns people into aggressive (Spoiler - click to show) sort-of zombies.
It’s a story where humanity found more than what it bargained for, and The Virulence Protocol conveys that idea with great enthusiasm.