Reviews by Rovarsson

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Time: All Things Come to an End, by Andy Phillips

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
I want to see this movie!, May 4, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF, Escape

Really. If there was a blockbuster version of this game starring a young Harrison Ford (or even Nicholas Cage, I've often thought the National Treasure movies were text-adventures in disguise.), I'd be standing in line to get tickets.

Run-down scientist with a time machine! A sinister femme fatale for a nemesis! Aliens mingling in human affairs! World War II!

One of those movies where you get a huge box of popcorn (I don't eat popcorn, but you get the image), set your brain to receive-only mode and just munch away. That could be a great cinematographic experience.
Unfortunately, the only way to get a tiny inkling of this experience in the game Time; All Things Come To An End is to have the walkthrough open and just hammer away at the keyboard.

It does a lot of things right though.

First, there's a ridiculously, comically easy intro-sequence. Really, you are fired when your timetraveling prototype device doesn't work, even after years and years of work. The stacks of notes are on your desk to prove it. And then, oops: (Spoiler - click to show)turns out you forgot to charge the batteries...

So after sorting that out, you decide to give your machine a spin. Whoosh! You are stranded in the future where you stumble upon some sinister conspiracy. With his dying breath, a vaguely familiar man asks for your assistance. Coincidentally, it soon turns out that gettting to the bottom of this conspiracy is also the way to get back to your own timeline.

In a big part of Time; All Things Come To An End, you are being chased by the bad guys. Even in the parts where you are not actively pursued, your nemesis (a delightfully sinister femme fatale) is around somewhere, ready to pounce if you should make a wrong move.

In keeping with this chase-theme, the game plays out on a series of small maps. Your objective is twofold: get the objects or information you need, and escape your pursuers to advance to the next map. This should aid in keeping the game tempo up. There are different modes of transportation between maps, giving a feeling of adventure and real action.

The writing in Time; All Things Come To An End is mostly good. Nice descriptions, well-written (if hardly interactive) dialogue, great cut-scenes (and death-scenes). The author does seem to be under the impression there is some sort of prize to be won for "Most uses of the word 'Evil' in a work of Interactive Fiction." I also think the author got tired near the end. The writing drops noticeably in quality, stock-phrases and clichés start popping up more.

All this could (should) make for a fast-paced chase-game where you feel your pursuers breathe down your neck while you try to figure out each area's puzzle and get to safety in the nick of time.

Alas! Time; All Things Come To An End falls flat in this respect. It fails to tie all the good things together in a fluid, fast-moving game-experience.

Some of you may remember a certain groundbreaking game from the late nineties where you had to move through a very specific sequence of moves to advance. (Spoiler - click to show)Spider and Web. If you deviated too much from this sequence, you failed. But! This particular game was framed in such a way that failing and retrying became an integral part of the experience, adding to the tension and the immersion. It also had the mechanics to back up this fail-and-retry design.

Time; All Things Come To An End is not far removed in time from this game. Here too, the player has to correctly execute a sequence of commands in the right order and , more importantly, in a limited number of turns. However, the only way to eventually get it right is to create tons and tons of save-files and restoring many, many times. These are out-of-game actions, leading to completely non-immersive learn-by-dying gameplay. It would not have been a great leap to add some sort of in-game mechanism to bring the PC back to the start of a challenge, given that the timetravel-premise is already in place.

Lack of time/turns is not the only reason why the player should have numerous save-files on hand. It is exceedingly easy to put the game in an unwinnable state without noticing it until one or more chapters later. Failing to pick up an object, or worse, leaving a seemingly unimportant object behind after a spot of inventory-juggling (yes, there's an inventory limit, at least in the first part of the game) wíll leave you at a dead end many moves later.

Now, after getting savvy to this and accepting that this is just how the game works, I managed to make quite a bit of progress on my own. Playing through a chapter to get the lay of the land and figuring out the death-points, then restoring and doing it right got me a good way into the game. But then the puzzles got in the way. And not in a good way. Many puzzles are extremely obscure, very underclued and with no obvious motivation for the necessary actions. Several times, the key to the solution lay in a location that was wholly unmentioned in any description.

Needless to say that after a few hours of this (this game is big, 2500 moves easy), my motivation waned and I started resorting to the walkthrough more and more.

And here I have to refer back to the beginning of this review: I want to see this movie! The story is great in a suspension-of-disbelief-turned-up-to-eleven kind of way. There are cool twists and turns, great locations in time and space, a real sense of mystery...

It's just not that easily playable as an adventure game.

Despite that, I had a lot of fun, and I recommend playing through it anyhow.


The Hugo Clock, by Jason McWright

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
What are those things outside?, April 23, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF

Hopefully, you will never know. Instead, you run indoors and slam the door behind you.

So, you made your way into Dr.Hugo's (yes, doctor hugo in a hugo game called "the hugo clock"...) research facility. Now for the final part of your assignment. Close the portal.

The way The Hugo Clock drops you in the middle of the story adds a meta-puzzle to the conventional puzzles of the game. Why are you here, who is Dr. Hugo, what were you running from at the start of the game?

Frequent intermezzos with two men, one calm and composed, one frantically pacing, enhance the mystery. The men are talking about your progress, doubting if you will be able to finish the task. (These intermezzos are printed in dark red, adding to the sinister atmosphere of these little exchanges.)

The research facility of Dr. Hugo is small but well described,with a definite creepy atmosphere. There is an exhibition of bizarre artefacts and a room full of contorted skeletons of unknown animals. The main puzzle consists of finding out how to operate a strange machine in the lab. Most of the steps needed are traditional adventure fare, finding and deciphering clues and operating the machine accordingly. There is one delightful (and sad) puzzle which requires you to manipulate a cleaner-automaton into handling part of the preparations for you.

How you execute the machine-operating sequence will determine your fate, and perhaps that of the world...

Short. Not too hard, not too easy. Great fun!


The Duel That Spanned the Ages, by Oliver Ullmann

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Solving puzzles with a gun in your hand., April 22, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF

IF has its fair share of unfinished trilogies and abandoned series.This can be disappointing (or, depending on the quality of the piece, a relief...). Anyhow, it 's a shame to plogger your way through such a work, getting to know the characters and learning the puzzle-saviness you need to end at a brick wall with a sign that says: "No closure to see here. Move along please."

I have found a sure way to avoid the sense of despair that can overwhelm a player's heart when coming across such a piece, whether they notice it during play or beforehand. The player must get into the mindset of the archeologist. He must rejoice at unearthing a rare fragment of text that has survived through the ages to at last land in their hands.

I have unearthed such a magnificent fragment with The Duel That Spanned the Ages. Others have gone before me. I knew from another review that it was an uncomplete adventure, a single chapter of a larger story. Undeterred, I pressed on and found this a true original gem.
(There is an entry in IntroComp 2010 that is set in the same storyline. Since then, all has been quiet about The Duel That Spanned the Ages as far as I know.)

In keeping with the incompleteness of the work, there is a long, mysterious and seemingly disconnected introduction. The game proper puts you in the character of a mercenary on an asteroid in the ass end of space. Soon he is sent on a mission where the rest of his squad is killed and he must fend for himself.

I have never seen an IF-piece that is so chock-full of adrenalin. The player is warned in the ABOUT-text that there are some timed sequences and that it is possible to die. A grave understatement if ever there was one...

Your mercenary finds himself in fast-paced chase scenes and brutal battles. He has to explore an abandoned underground facility while under attack from all sides. If I had tried to explain the game to a friend, they would have wrongly guessed that I had played Doom or one of its offspring.

Despite all this mayhem, the game really tries to be friendly. For example, it allows multiple UNDOs (six in my experience, but the ABOUT-text says this can vary according to interpreter).

The puzzles, while challenging, are not of the endlessly-tinkering-and-experimenting kind. That would hinder the neck-breaking tempo. Still, it takes a good eye, some thorough exploring and some working out the physics of the situation to get at the correct solution. In fact, your mind may be biased toward the wrong kinds of solutions by the action surrounding you, making the puzzles harder.

Fittingly for a fast-paced game such as this, the action takes place on several small straightforward maps. The writing conveys the danger and tension all around. I for one was deep enough into the action that I didn't relax in the knowledge that I had a saved game to fall back on. No, I had to get to that elevator before I ran out of bullets. I was worrying about the damage to my mercenary's body, wondering how long the armour would hold and how long it would take to bleed out.

There are cutscenes where unknown entities talk about our mercenary, wondering if he is up to the greater task. Unfortunately, we will probably never know what task this is or who these entities are.

But do play this piece of an incomplete story. It packs an impressive punch all on its own.


T-Zero, by Dennis Cunningham

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
"Stop the presses! Hold everything!", March 11, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF, Puzzler, Fantasy

[A short bespectacled man runs into the printing press hall. He's frantically waving a crumpled piece of yellowish paper above his head, the static electricity making his hair stand on end.]

-"Where's the boss? Where is the one responsible for reviews? Or better, where is the one who writes all those "Top 100"-lists and those "Best 50"-articles and the Recommended-pages? I need to talk to the one in charge!"

[The boy at the huge black press-machine, his hand still on the big red STOP-button, lifts his cap and scratches his head.]

-"Well sir, I don't know of any boss of the top-lists. I doubt there is such a person. It's all rather more the work of the IF-community as a whole."

-"Now, now, youngun! No need for such foul language! So, I.F. Community, eh? Never heard of him. Or her, for that matter. Strange name, if you ask me.
I suspect Mr. or Mrs. Community is not here? Of course not. Well, you'll have to do. Get your leadtype out, boy, I'll dictate the article. And you make sure this gets on the front page of this Text-Game-gazette or whatever it is you're running here!"

[The boy opens his mouth, trying to clear up the misunderstanding, but the bespectacled man already charges ahead, reading loudly from his crumpled paper.]


T-Zero; A text-adventure for the ages!

A young man wakes up in the dry leaves of the forest floor. Former Librarian and Custodian of the Museum, Count Zero has dismissed him of his duties. He had been snooping around in the vicinity of the restricted areas a little too much lately.
Our protagonist is certain he is on to something however, and he will not give up before he has got to the bottom of it. That his curiosity will lead him through the boundaries of time, he did not expect. Still, courageously he presses onward, determined to set things right.

--"They tirelessly twirl in a circular swirl."--

The writing in T-Zero is exquisite. Poetic, evocative, engaging, the descriptions of locations and actions give the game a rhythm that takes the player from the real and concrete to the dream-like and back without breaking the continuity of the story.
Good writing is indeed of the utmost importance to do justice to this quite intricate story. After the initial exploration of the Museum and its surroundings in the Present, the protagonist gains the means and the knowledge to travel to Past and Future to tweak the outcome of events just so to gain victory over Count Zero's plan to enslave humanity. This involves fiddling with the state of the Past to gain access to puzzle solutions in the Present, which in turn set up the Future for your chance of besting Count Zero, the Time Smith.

To keep up the flow of this excellent writing, the author has opted to leave the exits out of the room description. Instead there is an EXITS-command that will drily list available directions. This command does not take a turn, and I did not mind reflexively typing it as I was mapping the game-area.

The map plays a huge part in the enjoyment of the atmosphere of this game. It is big and readily accessible, except for some well-planned bottlenecks with puzzle-locks to help with the story's pacing and to prevent the story from becoming incomprehensibly befuddling.
Many locations will seem inert at first, having no apparent interactive content or even purpose apart form being an expendable room. Most of these will come into play in the other ages you will visit, becoming an influence that moves through time.

It is a joy to re-explore the map in each era, comparing the different times. The locations and their relations will be subtly different each time, giving a fresh and surprising look at known ground.

While the story and writing of T-Zero are mindboggling in the best sense of the word, some of the puzzles are the opposite.
First: many of the puzzles are standard adventure-fare. They can be obvious or more original, but they stay within the comfortable zone of puzzle-design: the commands necessary to influence the game, the mental picture of possibilities and options to tackle an obstacle.
But then there are the perplexing puzzles. Not because they are difficult in a normal adventuring context, but because they draw on a set of knowledge and inspiration that most IF-players will not access in this context. Some of these puzzles are of the satisfying think-outside-the-box variety. bringing great joy to the player. All of them depend on the player's knowledge of a very English language and popular culture. Joyful as they may be to the player who is in-the-know, in general these are just plain unfair.

Many, if not all, default responses are personalized, most times in a beautifully literate one-sentence gem. In case of an ambiguity between nouns in a command, the game lists all the options in a menu, allowing you to choose the one you meant. Practical, but also evidence of how user-friendly the game desires to be, despite the mindblowing puzzles.
Also very practical are the location-specific hints. They helped me on many occassions with a gentle nudge. On the other hand, there were times when the hints just confirmed I had the right idea, but I still needed a walkthrough to find the proper syntax.

As is to be expected; time plays a very big role in T-Zero. It pervades the entire game. Since time is elapsing and day is followed by night, you can expect some solutions to puzzles also being time-dependent. While most of the time this adds to the anticipation, it can also mean a boring few minutes typing WAIT over and over if you were a few moves late to a specific location and you have to wait an entire day without anything else to do. (This happened to me once, but it was all a result of my own bad timing/planning.)
Tricky: you have to revisit some rooms after your first exploration. Some objects just pop up after a while without there being a reason or an obvious notification from the game about this.

Lastly, I would like to point your attention to the rag man. While he doesn't have much to say, he is a pretty nifty NPC. Without wanting to give too much away, this character teeters constantly on the edge of the game-world and our own. I spent a lot of time musing about the kind of reality he goes to after I type QUIT.

T-Zero is a mindbogglingly good game. Best enjoyed with a walkthrough on the side.


[The short bespectacled man crumples the now sweaty paper in his hands into a ball and throws it in the nearest bin.]

-"You got all that, boy? Make sure it's on this issue's front page, you hear me!? Or else..."

[Before the boy can say anything more, the man leaves the printing hall, contentedly rubbing his hands together. He even hops a little out of joy over a job well done.]


Glowgrass, by Nate Cull

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Nice immersive sci-fi bit., March 2, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF

One of the first IFs I ever played. I then thought it was fantastic. Upon replay, with many more games to compare it to, it can still hold its own.

Spatially, it's a small game. A house, a garage and a garden (where the eponymous Glowgrass grows. Beautiful image.) The feel of the game is larger though, thanks to a sort of VR-device you find in the house. The heart of the story, the backstory of the people who once lived in the house is to be found there.

Not much puzzlewise, nothing that a curious mind can't handle without hints. (and one small how-do-I-phrase-this-so-the-game-understands puzzle).

Good moving story, well recommended.


Trading Punches, by Mike Snyder

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Intercivilizational SF, February 21, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF

You can usually tell the level of my engagement with a game by looking at my notebook. With all the side notes, colored maps, interjections about the story and hypotheses about puzzles and characters, you could say I dove pretty deep into this one.

Trading Punches is a story about two brothers on a turning point of their civilization's history. The protagonist represents humanity (without other reference points, I default to "human" in SF, especially if they're the "good" guys), his brother ends up representing the Sheeear through marriage with the daughter of their ambassador. The relationship between the brothers is reflected in the course of the story on multiple levels: family, society/civilization, even in the creation myth you learn about during the game.

This game is very much a story-centered, narrative one. The puzzles are rather easy, forming no hindrance to the pace of the story.
The structure of the game is also a narrative one: It is divided into chapters.
Each chapter starts with a short dialogue between the protagonist and ... well, that's one of the mysteries of the game. This dialogue serves as a recap for what has come before and as a frame for the upcoming chapter.
Then the chapter proper begins. It is presented as an account of a memory of the protagonist of a turning point in his life, and as such, also a turning point in the relation between the two civilizations.

Now, IF is a tough medium to handle flashbacks elegantly, and Trading Punches only partly succeeds. The general problem with flashbacks in IF is player freedom. How does the author handle the fact that what the PC is doing has already happened, and has a definite outcome? There has to be a way to reign in the player when she deviates too far from the predetermined path. Here, the author does that by confining the action to a tight and focused map per chapter, containing one big puzzle. (This reminds me of Gateway: small map and one puzzle per planet.)
A bigger problem arises when the flashbacks do not take place in the PC's mind, but in a conversation. Whenever I paused mid-chapter and thought about the bigger picture, I felt sorry for my dialogue-partner. What a tedious story it must be to hear an endless list of detailed micro-actions. "And then I looked at the cabinet, and then I looked at the drawer, and then I opened the drawer, and then I found a comb, and then I took the comb, and then I tried combing my hair but it wouldn't work,...)
This is more a recognition of the limits of the IF-medium than a criticism of the game. I think the problem is handled quite well here.
On the other hand, there is a great advantage to using flashbacks. It keeps the attention of the reader on the bigger picture. There is an arc of tension that goes over the flashbacks and grows in the present time of the story. The reader anticipates the story-threads and the consequences of the past actions to come together in the here and now. The game's epilogue does this very well, as well as leaving ample room for the-sequel-that-never-came.

The puzzles are very well clued, even guided. This keeps the focus on the story and keeps it moving forward. However, I do feel that there might be two great logic puzzles lying at the hearts of chapters 1 and 2 that were sacrificed to pacing. It is of course a difficult balancing act.

The writing is no example of efficient IF terseness, rather the opposite.
Long, relaxed and rich paragraphs invite the reader to slow down and enter into the story-world. Together with the background music, this makes for a very immersive experience.
It's also a joy to see the evolution of the characters through the decades that this story describes.

From a technical point of view, I have but a few small nitpicks. A fair number of nouns are unimplemented, something that does break the mood a bit in a game such as this. Some actions could have a wider range of commands to trigger them and some unsuccessful commands could yield a more helpful response instead of a default message. Nothing too serious though.
Overall, Trading Punches is a very fluid playing experience. There is also a very good in-game hint-system on the off chance that you get really stuck.

Recommended for all!


The Light: Shelby's Addendum, by Colm McCarthy

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Saving the world with a single lightbulb.*, January 31, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF

The intro of The Light; Shelby's Addendum pulled me into the game immediately.
In a rather long passage the protagonist, a certain Shelby is hurrying to get to the scientists in the lighthouse when he is engulfed by an almost tangibly dense fog. Forced to take shelter, he falls asleep in a shed and awakens in the middle of the night. Although frightened, he takes his chances with the dark and the mist, only to find the lighthouse complex abandoned. Or so it seems...

Something went very wrong with the experiment. Up to you to find out what and how to fix it.

There are more long non-interactive passages of text like the intro in the game, like cutscenes and a fighting scene between two NPCs. They are well written and do not slow down the pace of the game. The opposite actually, in my experience. They felt more like rewards after a sequence of tasks done correctly, showing you the fruits of your labour quite eloquently.
The room descriptions are also lengthy and detailed, helping to sustain the dim and gloomy mood in the fog-surrounded lighthouse.

The map is seemingly wide open from the start of the game, with just enough locked doors and hints to other areas to keep it interesting. You can explore every nook and cranny to your hearts content at first. However, as you solve puzzles, you trigger some events that speed up the story significantly and take you to other locations completely, where the pressure to act becomes much higher. (I don't think there is an actual timer, but it sure feels like it. Good writing!)

The obstacles are never too hard. Most are lock and key-puzzles, opening up new and/or hidden rooms in the complex. Some are mechanical puzzles, figuring out what button does what and getting a machine to work. It's one of these that pushes up the tempo towards the fast and action-packed endgame.

The story is great if you are willing to let yourself be swept along. In hindsight, there are some gaping holes and improbable situations (No failsafes in a project of this magnitude? Really?). Turn your willing suspension of disbelief up a notch and you'll be fine.

The NPCs were a tad too distant to my liking. I would have liked to see a deeper exploration of the scientist-gone-mad bad guy. As it was, he was a bit of a caricature.

The Light; Shelby's Addendum shines through its fast-moving plot and its consistently gloomy atmosphere. Great game!

* The title of my review is a tip of the hat to the excellent walkthrough by David Welbourn. Use it sparingly, the game is not that difficult, but go over the whole thing after you've finished the game. The work of a true craftsman.


Gateway 2: Homeworld, by Mike Verdu and Glen Dahlgren

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
TransWarp Adventuring., January 26, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF

In your previous Gateway adventure, you saved Earth from the Assassins out of pure altruism. That you also got a gazillion space-dollars for it means that you can now afford comfortably lounging in one of your penthouses on the 300th floor of a San Francisco skyscraper, living the easy life.
But what's this? Suddenly you get a call from the chief of the Corporation. A starship has been sighted on the far edges of the solar system. Because of your previous alien experiences, they want you to train the ambassador for a diplomatic mission.
And what's this? You get a second call warning you that a religious sect has sent a squad to kill you, hoping to sabotage the diplomatic mission and travel to the Artifact (as the alien starship is known) themselves.
From this moment on, you are sucked into a fast and thrilling adventure to save Earth once more, from multiple enemies at the same time.

Gateway 2 - Homeworld is extremely well paced. The first chapter is a race against time and against the terrorists who want to claim the FTL-ship. You have to get your sequence of actions just right while you hear the sect members closing in on your radio. Very gripping.

In the next chapters, the tempo goes down a bit, leaving more breathing space for exploration and wonderment. The driving force of the story remains strong though. I found myself solving puzzles not just "to read/ find out what will happen next", but to genuinely solve a problem and help the NPCs in-game. The motivation came less from being an interested reader and more from being involved in the events in the game-world.

On the surface, the story is an action and adventure-packed SciFi romp. You fly different spacecraft to various alien worlds, solving the problems at hand with a variety of futuristic tech-gadgets.
Somewhat deeper in the game though, through dialogues with and lectures to Heechee NPCs, thoughtprovoking themes come up. There is a philosophical/theological debate about death, resurrection and personhood with a learned alien priest. At a certain point, you are asked to give lectures about Earth to the aliens, and these go into ecological issues like overpopulation and depletion of resources. In another lecture, your character talks about human tribe mentality and nationalism as an obstacle to solving societal problems. All pretty deep.

Don't let this spook you though. The dialogues are all menu-based and the different options mostly don't matter much, making room for some comic relief in your choice of responses. The lectures are cutscenes, so if you get bored, just spacebar them away. Still, I liked the depth of themes and it had me pondering the issues after the play-session.

The core of the game still consists of the "simple" task of exploring strange new worlds and defeating the bad guys by overcoming the obstacles.

Gateway 2 goes even further than the first game in putting you in many different settings: a huge spaceship/zoo (yes, i said "zoo"), an ice world and the Heechee homeworld. While the settings are very diverse, each one of them has a rather small map. This is a great design choice. It helps keep the fast pace of the story going, and it makes for straightforward and tight puzzle spaces.

The puzzles and obstacles all fall on the easier side. They are more entertaining and involving than frustrating. They don't take you out of the story while you're thinking and reasoning about possible solutions. They are all well clued, or as I like to put it: because of the limited number of available objects and the smallish settings, the possibillity-tree is well trimmed.

As in part 1, the pixel art is great and adds a lot to the playing experience. In this part, gameplay does depend a bit more on using the mouse to interact with different keypads, locks, and menus. (Or, if you want, you can busy yourself moving a mouse-cursor with the arrow-buttons on your keyboard. Just saying, the option is there...)

Gateway 2 - Homeworld had me really involved in its SF story for a week. A magnificent otherworldly adventure.


Rimworld, by Russel A. Duderstadt

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Desolate planet, episode umpteen. Prepare dropship crash in 3...2..., January 12, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF

One.

Rimworld is a thoroughly enjoyable though standard SF-adventure.

So, threehundred years ago, during the intergalactic war, the people of Rimworld closed off their planet from the rest of humanity with an impenetrable forcefield to avoid getting involved in the devastating fight. They were never heard from again.

Now, a diplomatic ship has been sent to Rimworld to re-establish communications. Only a one-man dropship can penetrate the atmospheric barrier: your dropship, which crashes upon entry. No help seems to be nearby.

Here we have one of my most beloved SF-tropes: stranded on a desolate planet. The initial game-area is small, simple and orderly. A bit boring even. But once you explore the outer rooms, the game-world quickly expands. Teleportation portals and different types of vehicles bring you to new submaps, some bigger and certainly more challenging than the initial map. Very good use of space and bottlenecks.

The puzzles you encounter are the usual adventuring fare, for the most part. Certainly not bad, but nothing very original either. There are two "action-puzzles", one which involves climbing and one which involves evading and killing enemies. Although there is some logic to them, they are ultimately try-die-repeat puzzles. The final endgame puzzle depends on using an object whose workings are underclued, which is a shame. Aha-moments are not so exhilarating when they are the consequence of "let's just throw the entire inventory at it and see what happens." There has to be some planning and expectation involved to give the player a sense of accomplishment.

I would have happily given this game four stars for entertaining me for a week with its puzzles, the great scenery, the alone-on-the-planet feel, but the outro bummed me out. One, there could have been at least two more playable scenes after the "boss-puzzle". Two, it left me feeling like I had just watched a no-brainer action-flick from the eighties ("The hero has put everything in place, nothing left to see here. Move along folks.") while there was certainly room for some introspection or a hint at a wider meaning. Bummer.

Still, a good adventure. Nothing more, nothing less.


World, by J. D. McDonald

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A Grandiose World, January 4, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF

After a few false starts I have finished the most-impressive World.
Before we turn our attention to the awesomeness of the game, there are a few negatives I should get off my chest:

(I played the DOS version 107)

- It is extremely easy to cut off certain paths of exploration, which means losing points, or to put the game in an unwinnable "walking dead"-state altogether. (On the plus side, you can literally walk around while dead in this game. The game tells you that although you cannot act on your surroundings anymore, you are welcome to keep on exploring if you choose to do so. No practical reason, just... fun?)

-The parser is very picky about what commands it accepts. There are no synonyms for objects, so you are condemned to type "knapsack" over and over. Luckily, "knapsack" is a funny word. The parser does not understand X, so you must LOOK AT or EXAMINE.

-I found four game-crashing bugs, all when pushing buttons. For those who do not enjoy this and would like to know which buttons not to press, open the spoiler: (Spoiler - click to show) Do not push the round button in the control room. (Well, I later learned from the walkthrough that this button makes a nearby star go nova, obliterating everything around it, including you. So maybe it obliterates your gamefile too...) Also do not push any of the buttons in the metal room except the white one.
All the important buttons work though, so this does not stop you from completing the game. (It might make some points unattainable though, but I didn't really care.)

-The version I played has only one save-slot. Once saved, you cannot go back to an earlier point in your playthrough. (DOS version 106 has multiple slots, but they behaved funny. Plus that version was in ugly bright blue instead of the soothing white on matte-black of version 107.)

There. Now that we have that out of the way, let's dive into the sheer awesomeness of World!

This is a huge and diverse and immersive piece of interactive fiction.

After noticing that surface scanners were hindered by a strange forcefield, a landing party was sent down to a mysterious planet and crashed. While the engineers work on getting the dropship operational again, you are appointed planet-explorer on a search for resources that might help them get the job done. After walking some distance from the crash site, you notice that you are caught behind a forcefield not unlike the one the mothership detected from orbit. No way back, so you press on forward. Looking down from the top of a ridge, you see a breathtaking view of various terraformed areas, all with their own vegetation and, perhaps, other life-forms. Just the job for your inner adventurer!

There are multiple locations such as this ridge in the game: on a hilltop or a rocky spire you can see the landscape around and below you. I love this in games. It gives you an exhilarating sense of spaciousness, and it hints at where to go and what you might find there.

From this view it is immediately obvious that this is a large and sprawling game-world. The geographical zones are neatly separated from each other, suggesting that the puzzles will also be contained within their own zones (they are, for the most part). In such a big game, there is no need to camouflage the boundaries of the map. For one, it is large enough as it is without giving the impression that it goes on even further. Secondly, the boundaries flow naturally from the whole concept of having terraformed areas. Anything beyond it is obviously inaccessible because it won't support life.
While the different areas have rather complicated maps with many paths and roads crossing and going over and under each other, the geographical zones are only connected by a few access points, providing clear limits to the puzzle-area you are in.

Puzzlewise, there are two sorts of puzzles in the game that serve different purposes.
-Maybe a bit disrespectfully, I would call the first variety "looting-puzzles". You have to locate important objects, be it for the repairs of the dropship or for the scientific mission your ship was on in the first place. Or because they are worth a lot of money...
These tasks consist of visiting locations, finding and getting objects, using objects in sometimes surprising ways and taking pictures of interesting things you come across. These are mostly limited to the geographical zone you happen to be in.
-The second kind of puzzles revolve around understanding the bigger picture. You'll want to figure out who the builders of this place are, what their intentions are. Also, you need to explore this entire map to find a way to get off this planet.
These puzzles require more technical/engineering skills, finding and combining objects from all over the map. You will also need some leaps of knowledge and insight to reason a few moves ahead and see why you are doing what you are doing. (Solving puzzle X will hopefully get me the information I need to overcome obstacle Y which in turn will tell me what the *snorf* I should do with object Z I've been carrying around since move 9.)

A little reminder: any objects (except one) you use for the puzzles are one-use-only. No take-backsies, no stash somewhere, no market, no helpful NPCs. If you give the peanuts to the elephant, you will have none for the monkey. (There are no elephants, monkeys or peanuts mentioned in this game btw...)

The majority of puzzles is fair and logical. Once you know the properties of the objects and machines and plants and... you encounter, the solutions are difficult but straightforward. (No magical thinking or huge lateral leaps.)
But... To understand the properties of the aformentioned objects, machines, plants,... you will have to experiment. And carelessly experimenting with single-use-only objects leads to...? Walking-dead-syndrome, that's right. So save everytime you think there might possibly be a slim chance of losing an object and only then carry out your experiment. Frustrating? I wouldn't call it that. I'd say it's rather suspenseful.

Since this is a game from 1988, of course there have to be some objects hidden in the most arbitrary places, far from the puzzle they help solve. Are you an explorer or what?

With all these puzzles, it is helpful to keep in mind that this whole world must have been terraformed and built by some intelligent beings. This implies intentionality in how your surroundings work. Things are so-and-so for a reason. (I really like how the author has brought in an extra layer of purposefulness this way, by incorporating in-game creators of your surroundings.)

Now, on to the characters:
-You are an essentialy traitless adventurer. I like that in this sort of game because I can feel directly connected to the adventure. It's me who is exploring this strange world, without having to think about the psychological backstory of my character.
-The NPCs, if you can even call them that, are completely unresponsive (except they kill you when you disturb their hockey game, in one case...). They do have a lot of character though. They clearly have their own objectives and priorities (like hockey, in one case).
-And then there's the robot. The endearing, helpful and a bit sad robot. Pity I couldn't do anything with him except boss him around. I like the robot.
(quick clarification on the syntax of how to boss the robot around: TELL ROBOT, GO NORTH)

The writing overall is good. It serves its purpose without drawing too much attention to itself. Some of the more elaborate descriptions (when you encounter a particularly important species or event) might be a little overdone, but I didn't mind.
The tone of the parser's responses is weirdly mixed: Most of the time it's neutral, as in "You can't go there." Sometimes it's snarky: "Ridiculous." And sometimes it just has to insist it's just a line of computer-generated text in a computer-game: "That word is utterly beyond my limited vocabulary."
Once you have an inkling of what this world you're exploring really is and what steps you have to take to move forward, the suspense takes over and the game drives itself forward, carrying you along with it. That is good writing.

My strongest feeling of this game is one of wonderment. Like watching a long drawn out fireworks show in slow motion: a series of ooh's and aah's with each new discovery. You should really play it.



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