Reviews by MathBrush

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For a Dream of Innocence, by Nigel Evans, Failbetter Games

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A darker story about Rubbery Men and an experiment gone wrong., May 19, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is an Exceptional Story for Fallen London. In this exceptional story, you are drawn into the story of a scientist experimenting with the rubbery form. This draws unwanted attention for them, and you have to track them down.

There's plenty of new background material for rubbery men here. Rubbery men in general have always served as a sort of allegory for different types of discrimination, although they are also used just as an example of 'cool weird being'. This story stands in stark contrast to their more recent 'advances' in Fallen London society, where a rubbery man ran for mayor, several have nice stalls at the bone market, and options to be violent towards rubbery men have been reduced, all seemingly stepping away from the 'rubbery men represent oppressed minorities'.

This story emphasizes the 'otherness' of rubbery men. They stink, they gurgle horribly, you feel uneasy around them. It felt weird to me, to be honest.

The main story has some surprises I won't go into, but much of your time is spent in a kind of homeless rubbery camp under a railway bridge. The mechanics here are unusual but work once you experiment for a while with passing time. You learn more about the rubberies and their ancient ancestry, and have a difficult choice to make at the end.

Overall, the writing and mechanics here are interesting, but a few things took me out of the story, such as the more grim depiction of rubbery men.


Medicum Veloctic, by Lawrence M Marable

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A gay love story between superhero and doctor, April 15, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This game is primarily about the romantic relationship between two men, a superhero and the doctor boyfriend that patches him up all night. It focuses on feelings, passion, includes photographic images of the main characters kissing.

It's quite long, and has a recurring mechanic where you have to select the correct option for treating your boyfriend out of a dropdown menu, using a medical guide you wrote yourself for guidance.

The interactivity is pretty great in this game. The main mechanic mostly worked for me; if you get it wrong, it just sends you back.

The writing was pretty lush (I don't know if that's the right phrase), almost over-the-top. In general, with the plot and writing, it felt like a light romance novel in a dark and gritty setting. Your boyfriend is tormented by the fact that he violently attacks criminals and puts them in the hospital, but feels morally obligated to do so.

There were enough typos that it was a noticeable problem, although many pages had no errors and most that did only had one.

This is one of the longer games in the comp. Interestingly enough, the longest game in the comp is also a gritty doctor-themed romance. Here's my rating:

-Polished: Looks great visually but needs another pass with editing.
+Descriptiveness: Very descriptive, grounded, uses various sense.
+Interactivity: I liked the doctor mechanic.
+Emotional impact: It didn't completely grip me, but I was invested in the characters.
+Would I play again? I might check to see if there's another ending.


The Frequently Deceased, by Emily Short, Failbetter Games

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Search for a governess who has repeatedly died, April 14, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This was a great Exceptional Story by Fallen London.

When I first wrote reviews, I wrote a lot of dumb things (a habit I have kept to this day). When I first reviewed Bee, I think I wrote that 'Short doesn't write choice games as well as those like Porpentine who exclusively write choice-based games'. (I've since removed it).

The thing is, by now Emily Short is one of the most experienced people out there in Choice-based narratives, and quality-based narratives. This exceptional story, written a few years after Bee, shows complete control and artistry with the medium.

Your character is asked to investigate the disappearance of a governess who had been killed three times already (death being a relatively minor inconvenience in the setting of Fallen London). To learn more about her, you go an a quest across all the main areas of Fallen London, learning more about how servants in every area live and providing insight into a class of people often overlooked in these games.

In addition, the story has very nuanced characters with individual narrative arcs, like the children and the governess herself.

There was a Flash Lay (a randomized pursuit) in the middle of the story which is a mechanic that I think is independent of the main story in terms of content; I found that a little slow and not as interesting as the rest, but I don't think it was developed directly as part of this story.

A fascinating character study and a satisfying mystery.


Eleanor, by Rob

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Custom windows executable parser surreal game, April 14, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This game has many flaws, but I like the heart beating underneath them.

Where to begin with the problems? It's windows only; it requires installing a program on your computer; it is a custom parser that doesn't recognize very many things; it's a game where the game itself is unsolvable without hints but the hints themselves are puzzles; it has a timer that kills you repeatedly (but you can reset the timer by moving up or down, but if you die it doesn't matter because typing in the wrong filename for the 'restore' option brings you back to the moment you died); the INSTRUCTIONS command gives a list of commands, none of which actually are useful in the game except maybe 1 or 2; the game has popups which use pixelart cursive text, perhaps the most unreadable choice of font I have seen; it employs voice acting that sounds like it belongs to a very different kind of game; there are numerous typos and getting the right answer depends on using non-idiomatic English; etc.

Behind all of that, I found the game fun on two levels. One being the surreal setting. Exploring a dream world while in a coma is an old trope in IF, but I always have fun with it.
Second, the game being so difficult to parse out almost made solving it more fun since it gains a second layer of puzzliness, the two layers being 1. figuring out what the solution should be, and 2. figuring out how the author wanted it written.

I only scored 10/18 points, so if anyone figures out how to open the door in the hourglass room, let me know (I already dealt with the hourglass itself).


Creatures Such As We, by Lynnea Glasser

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Long choice based game about escapism, choice, and the moon, March 26, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

I've often pondered on my reasons for reading novels, playing IF, reading stories online, etc. I've talked to my family about it, and my answers to why we escape and whether it is good changes fairly often. I also was oncea professional video game developer.

This game, then, drew me in completely. This is a choice-based game about someone who is trying to understand escapism, its role in life, its benefits and drawbacks, the meaning of art, etc.

It was fun to play the character as myself, giving the answers and reactions I would. I was happy with my ending.

It was funny to play this game after Ultra Business Tycoon III,and reading online debates over whether that game is winnable, and what it would mean if it is not winnable. I don't necessarily recommend playing that game first (Porpentine has better games, like Howling Dogs), but it was interesting.

Lynnea Glasser tends to make very good games. I didn't like Tenth Plague on philosophical grounds, but Coloratura was fantastic.

This game contains several instances of strong profanity near the beginning.


The Thing That Came In From The Fog, by Harry Tuffs, Failbetter Games

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A charming story of mist and mystery, March 25, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This Fallen London exceptional story is pretty good.

Fog has encroached on London, and out of it steps a bizarre foggy figure that walks around your house, using your stuff and playing chess a lot.

As you investigate this disturbance, you learn more about a cult and a conspiracy that draws in some of the strangest features of Fallen London: (mild spoiler) (Spoiler - click to show)unusual biology and the Elder continent. Emotionally, this game deals well with a certain kind of loss without becoming too maudlin.

Unlike most exceptional stories, this has some very different endings that can be hard to achieve. If you're really invested in one outcome and don't want to pay money for a reset, it's worth looking up or getting advice online.


Grand Academy II: Attack of the Sequel, by Katherine Nehring

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An entertaining sequel focused on a school competition, March 24, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

Grand Academy of Villains is a game I first played years ago. I found the writing funny and the class interesting, but I wasn't satisfied with the ending because I found it abrupt.

Now, after playing through essentially every Choicescript game, I realize how high-quality the first Grand Academy game is in general, with lots of valid choices and good writing. I still think the ending has some issues (with some stat checks that are too high, imo), but overall it's one of the better games.

This game builds on that, but in a way some people disliked. Grand Academy 1 had very different endings depending on your choices, but this game funnels all of those towards one 'main' choice.

I know several people were unhappy with this choice, but I saw the complaints before I played, and wasn't surprised or, really, disappointed, since this game is all about multiverses and changes in reality.

Anyway, this game was fun for me. There is a big competition all year between houses (Thriller, Horror, Sci-fi and Fantasy), overseen by an outside group. In addition, a powerful new student with destiny enters the school.

The writing in this series is exceptionally funny (if you're into parodies of both academia and writing tropes), and stats are generally clear. I do think, though, that the game suffers a bit from stat checks that become progressively more difficult, meaning that the chance of you failing during the finale is high.

Another small problem is that, due to numerous options, each option gets less time. At one point I had a choice to impress people with my grades despite never going to class and not having any grades (i.e. my grades were listed as 'unknown'). I had plenty of time to spend with my 'nemesis' (this game has both normal romances and nemesis similar to romance but with hatred, kind of like that homestuck thing), and my current romance. But everything else seemed fairly stretched or thin. Again, though, this was only due to the large variability in the game.

Some people have said in reviews that 'your choices don't matter' which isn't really true, the writing is extremely variable. However, there's an art to making it clear in writing that your choices aren't important, and I think that wasn't communicated properly here.

Overall, very glad to have played the series, and would rank it in the top 20 at least.


Grand Academy for Future Villains, by Katherine Nehring

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
An epic meta-narrative tale about a villain, March 23, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This game was a fun ride. You play as a new villain in a school for villains.

Everything is very self-aware; there are villains from every genre, and you study plot-twists and narrative arcs. Henchmen are trained on how to miss the heroes when shooting, etc.

What I think this game did exceptionally well was balancing your choices: there are 2-3 major things I wanted that I just couldn't do all at once (especially pleasing mom and becoming a monster).

I'm giving it four stars instead of five because I felt like the denouement was a bit rushed and I didn't feel properly satisfied at the end. However, I've had that feeling before with a few Choice of Games games (like The Sea Eternal), and usually I find a more satisfying ending on replay.

This game would make a great introduction to Choice of Games for people new to the company.

Disclaimer: I have worked for Choice of Games and received a free copy of this game.

Edit: Now that I've played through all the choicescript games, this one is high on my list for voice and character. I've bumped it up to 5 stars.


The Hero Project: Open Season, by Zachary Sergi

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
The conclusion of the Hero Project. More policy than power, March 22, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This game is the end of the Hero Project duology, which comes after the Heroes Rise trilogy (and has connections to (Spoiler - click to show)the author's Versus series).

I've really enjoyed Zachary's other games, but felt that the last game, Redemption season, was a bit more constrained. This game takes that further.

In this game, you take on the final episodes of the Hero Project reality show while dealing with a new independent city-state in the wilderness made up of former enemies trying to make a home for minority superheros.

I had an experience early on which really soured me on the game. In the previous game, (Spoiler - click to show)I followed Loa's instructions to the hilt, believing that she could save us. But she had said before that if I didn't win the Hero Project, the earth would be doomed. And the game also likes you to be consistent and to help your sister. So I had to choose between helping my sister and losing the project (thus dooming mankind). It felt pretty harsh. I tried to get some insights from reading the choice of game forums to see if there was a way to still win, but I couldn't find anything helpful.

Beyond that, though, (an issue which probably would have been just fine in the long run), this game feels like 80% reaction, 20% action. Over and over again, you're told what your hero does, and what other heroes do, then you're asked:
Did that make you feel:
-excited?
-scared?
-determined?

Or, someone will give a speech, and then the game will say:
In your heart, you think:
-All superheros should work together
-My type of superhero is persecuted, so we should stick together
-I don't care, as long as my sister is safe.

And these two interactions are what most of the game is. What drew me to Sergi's earlier games was the exact opposite: more action, more dramatic-feeling choices.

The high points of the game for me were seeing my old main character as a respected and powerful superhero, and the last chapter. I enjoy the character of your sister, Jelly Kelly, quite a bit, and your main character's power set is pretty cool.

Overall, I wouldn't have finished playing this one if it weren't connected to the overall Sergiverse. But it's one I wouldn't skip if you have played the other games, as it ties up a lot of loose ends.


The Hero Project: Redemption Season, by Zachary Sergi

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A strong superhero story with restricted interactivity, March 20, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

This is a somewhat controversial game, but it was only able to achieve that controversy by being popular in the first place.

The author had an earlier 3-part series called Heroes Rise, that focuses on a superhero getting powers, beating their first enemy, going on a reality show, then becoming an influence on the whole nation.

This game is a side story with a new protagonist, a hero with a very clever power: you are an animal/human hybrid, but the animal you're mixed with changes every day.

The focus of this game is different from the earlier series. Your character is a representative of several persecuted minority groups (the animal hybrids, those with uncontrollable powers, and another one I can't remember). The main themes of the game revolve around the treatment of these minority groups. Also, your sister's powers are killing her, and a mysterious benefactor has offered to cure her in return for several unnamed favours, to be collected.

The focus on the minority groups has led to a lot of reviews and forum posts describing the game as having 'too much politics', which is usually a dogwhistle for alt-right people who don't like LGBT representation (which exists in this game; there are trans and non-binary main characters).

However, I feel like there are some issues here, but not with the content itself, rather how it's presented. The first Heroes Rise games were all about action, but this game is largely about reaction. Instead of picking what you do, frequently you're told what you or others do and then given the choice of how you feel about it. Quite frequently choices are forced on you, and you can go several pages without a choice, more often than the earlier games.

I believe that if the game had been rewritten to feature more action and choice that the number of negative reviews would have gone down a lot (except for virulently anti-LGBT people), because a well-written game can handle all sorts of diverse politics. For instance, the Heart of the House prominently features a nonbinary main NPC with non-standard pronouns, but you see a lot fewer negative comments about it.

The Sea Eternal had a similar issue, I believe, where you were frequently told what you were doing and what you thought, and I think that it just doesn't make for an enjoyable game experience. And I think it's possible to have games with strong pro-LGBT messages that give you freedom of action and feeling: Howling Dogs, Birdland, With Those We Love Alive, and Tally Ho come to mind.

Another thing that may have dinged this game's popularity (although it's still a very popular game, just not as much as the other games by this author) is having forced failures. There are situations in the game where you have to pick between 2 very bad outcomes, and Choicescript games that do that tend to suffer.

However, I've noticed that those same ingredients that are drawbacks as games (reduced interactivity and forced failures) can also help make your overall story better. It's no coincidence that the Nebula writing award nominated games tend to sell poorly: they all tend to have tight, railroaded stories with lots of failures to build up a big character arc.

Anyway, I did like the overall story of this game, I'm glad I played it, and I look forward to the next game and the eventual crossover with the author's other series.



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