Reviews by Rovarsson
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Your rescue-pod crashed. The Ensign is dead. Your Lieutenant is wounded, near comatose. Survive.
The urgency of the situation is pressed upon you immediately. There are no McGuffins, there is no time for distractions and herrings of any colour would not survive in this atmospher.
Your pod has crashed on an unknown planet. Your crewmates are incapacitated. Survive.
This is the immediate urgency Distress puts you in. No promises, no McGuffins. Survive, without even any herrings to eat.
There's a very cramped, dark atmosphere to this game. the contrast between the wide open yet inaccessible desert landscape around your tiny circle of light makes it truly unnerving to leave the initial crash site.
You have a wounded crewmate who needs care and protection, but you know that you have to leave to search rescue.
I was torn by this situation, truly feeling the dilemma as the player. I scuttled around the crash site for many turns and tried to leave everything as safe as I could before venturing out toward...?
All the way along this grim adventure, things keep happening that are outside of your control. When played according to the game's standards (instead of following a walkthrough), this means losing (dying) more than once. I very strongly recommend doing it this way. Each playthrough will give you new information, be it on the background of the mission, or just on the timing of events. It's worth at least one or two playthroughs to get the details on your spacecraft's unexpected detour into this planetary system.
While on this topic: it's also worth taking your time out-of-game to search for the names of your crewmates in an encyclopaedia of your choosing, and then running to the nearest library...
The biggest difficulty with the puzzles is that the entire game is timed. SAVE on important breakthroughs and expect to run through a few times. RESTORE or (preferably) RESTART gives you the peace of mind to experience the story to the fullest. I still recommend that you play the game straight through a few times, regardless of the outcome.
A very immersive scifi thriller.
(Nothing in this review gives away solutions to puzzles or tells you what choices to make. However, if you want to experience the contents with a completely open mind, skip this and play first.)
The Colonist's homeworld faces an imminent global freeze-over. The High Company back on Earth, in its benign and charitable friendliness, extends a helping hand.
For a price.
The Ambassador on the Colony has been removed from his duties. He had gotten a little too friendly with the natives to the Company's liking. You are to replace him and negotiate a satisfactory agreement about the evacuation of the Colonists and their resettlement on Earth. You have received rather precise instructions as to what kind of deal is acceptible to the High Company and how to get the message across.
Of course, you are on a planet orbiting a distant sun. Back on Earth, they might have taken you for an easily manipulated handpuppet, but there is not much the Company can do to keep you from investigating alternative options...
You start off exploring an overwhelmingly beautiful world. The natural splendor of your landing spot gradually gives way to a once magnificent city, now rapidly falling to ruins. The descriptions reflect the breathtaking surroundings without lapsing into purple prose.
During this first exploration you are nudged along to find your quarters at the embassy and perform some official duties there. Once you have done those, you can take all the time you want to wander around.
Apart from the readily accessible and very clear instructions from your superiors from the High Company, you can find out the opinions of other people about what should be done with the Colonists. Finding out these alternate opinions constitutes the only real puzzle-solving in the game.
This is necessary if you want to have a full understanding of the situation to base your decision on, but you do not need to solve any to get to an ending.
Your diplomatic decision is to be made on Gift Day, a ceremony of exchanging symbolic gifts. Because of the language barrier, the only means available to you to communicate your chosen agreement is through a combination of the clothes you choose to wear and the object you wish to present as gift.
There are notes and recordings to be found that can inform you about the meaning of the clothes and the gifts. The end-puzzle therefore is not a puzzle at all, but a well-considered choice on your part.
I followed my ideals on the first try and got a bittersweet epilogue, that I have to admit is more realistic than the happy ending I had in mind.
The same goes for the other endings you can reach through different choices of gift and apparel. This made me very aware of the ethical repercussions of my choices as ambassador to all involved, my superiors at the High Company, my fellow humans back on Earth, the Colonists in need of help whom I've gotten to know, and my own conscience and ideals. Each choice can be argued for with strong arguments, even though some may run counter to impulsive feelings of empathy or self-defense.
The ethical consequences of the game's choices could spark a night-long philosophical debate in the real world about humanity, identity, refugees, personal responsability, climate change and how to face it,...
Or one can just savor the experience of dressing up as a sci-fi diplomate and enjoy the delightful writing and surroundings.
Either way, a magnificent game.
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.
Entering into the world of Andromeda Awakening the player's freedom is purposefully overridden by the urgency of the protagonist's mission. This did not feel like railroading by the author, it genuinely felt like the commands that did not move toward the PC's goal entered into his mind as distractions and were then ignored. This was really helpful in alligning my focus with the protagonist's.
Yes, that road into the city looks inviting, but there are more pressing matters to attend to first. These secret documents must be brought to the attention of the Council first.
It's only when a literal trainwreck spoils the protagonist's goal that protagonist and player are set free in a hellish undergound area, left on the edge of a magma-filled chasm. Every few turns short bits of text remind you that the earth is still settling in the aftermath of the earthquake that demolished the train tracks.
Exploring the map is a great joy. There are not that many locations, but the many hidden passages and the sudden open halls make the game feel very spacious. There is a great balance between the rocky, rubble-filled natural caves and the human(?)-made constructions under the half-molten icy planet crust.
Yes, the half-molten ice crust. The worldbuilding in Andromeda Awakening is sketchy but very evocative. To pull you even deeper into this strange planet's geography and history you are provided with a handheld computer to LOOK UP details about many of the strange devices and constructions you encounter.
The story hints at a much greater and older world than you can experience within the boundaries of this game alone. There are ancient devices, a secret scientific research facility, hints of a thousand-year-old civilisation that came before... The writing succeeds very well at painting a big, almost overwhelming picture.
It does lack clarity in the descriptions of the immediate surroundings. I believe this is partly a conscious decision to make the player experience the same confusion as the protagonist when first seeing these otherworldly sights. Indeed, if you LOOK again, many times the room-description is more condensed and it becomes easier to select the nouns that are actually important to the game.
The other part of the unclear descriptions however is due to the fact that the author is not entirely fluent in English. There are many grating sentences that are hard to parse, and many words that seemed to be picked from a dictionary of synonyms without the necessary feel for nuances in meaning.
As a result of this, I found one of the central puzzles ((Spoiler - click to show)copying the cylinder-pattern onto the soap) very hard to visualize. Because of this, I couldn't figure out what commands to direct at which objects, even though I did feel I knew what had to be done (a look at the walkthrough confirmed this).
Despite this, Andromeda Awakening is impressive in its wide, possibly universe-spanning scope. It can be read as an open-ended story in itself, but I am very curious to see where the author takes it in the sequel.
When a science fiction story makes you think of how the movie Prometheus attempted to tie the Human/Alien mythos together, that says a lot about how ambitious it is. Andromeda Awakening fulfills enough of that ambition to be a great, if not fantastic, scifi-game.
Founder's Mercy is very unclear about its backstory, but there are some hints to be gleaned from a Holy Book left on an altar, some personal memories of the protagonist upon entering locations and examining the surroundings.
You're on a generation ship sent out to the Lagrange 5 parking spot trailing earth in its orbit. (For those interested: Lagrange points are fascinating. The next huge space telescope will also be parked on one of them.) Your ancestors hoped to bring a civilization to fruition on this ship according to their godly laws. It didn't turn out that way and now you're the last one left.
Food and water are getting scarce and the life support machinery is slowly breaking down. Plus, you're yearning for human contact.
Founder's Mercy takes place on a very small map. Too small perhaps to give an accurate impression of the game world. It's only when you have the opportunity to look at the entire ship from a vantage point that you get an impression of how enormous it is.
Since you're on a wheel-shaped spaceship, directions are not the default N,E,S,W, but rather SpinWard, AntiSpinWard, Starboard and Port. This doesn't lead to any confusion however. The map is small, almost straight and circular. You can find whichever location you need by going SpinWard the required number of turns.
Like the backstory, the surroundings are not given a lot of attention. It's clear that the game wants to focus your attention on the puzzles.
The obstacles are quite easy to overcome. There was one that took a little bit of thinking around the corner, but it's mostly find-object-use-object stuff.
A nice and short diversion.
As I was reading the lengthy and funny prologue to Dr. Dumont's P.A.R.T.I. I was quickly drawn into the backstory to this game. Allthough it's a fairly traditional comic/surreal puzzle romp, the fact that the weirdness is explained in-game put the entire experience in a whole other light.
Our protagonist is an accidental guinea pig trying out the newest particle accelerator in the university lab. The A.I. controlling this advanced particle detection machine needs genuine creative input from a human mind to teach it how and where to look for the elusive particle X. In order to get this input, the computer generates a metaphorical world in which the human subject must solve puzzles for the computer to learn from.
With this in the back of my mind, there were many instances where I could relate the superficial silliness of the puzzles and their solutions to my limited layman's knowledge of actual scientifically demonstrated properties of the subatomic world. ((Spoiler - click to show)the golfball, the bubble wand,...)
It's certainly a welcome change from getting lost in a magical realm as an explanation for unbridled silliness. When push comes to shove, that is exactly what this physics-themed adventure is: a stack of bizarre, weird and silly circumstances with their own internal consistence, strung together for the player to test her wits against.
After a bit of just wandering around enjoying the views, I did have some trouble to find an appropriate starting point to the game proper. The map has a spoked hub-structure with each spoke open to exploration from the moment you find the central hub. I assumed that each spoke would be its own self-contained puzzle area, independent of the others until I had gathered everything needed for the endgame. I found out this was a wrong assumption after bashing my head against a timed puzzle in the first spoke I tried. It turns out that although the spokes are freely accessible from the get go, they have to be entered and solved in a particular order to solve the game, each game area building on objects or clues you got in the previous one.
Once this was clear however, I had a very enjoyable time finding my way through the many locations. The puzzles were just right for my skill- and knowledge-level. Most are common sense physics/mechanics puzzles with enough of a twist to keep them from being overly obvious. There is also a tip of the hat to a quite common link between quantum physics and Zen meditation (nature of reality stuff...) that appears in many layman's books about particle physics. Suffice it to say that you have to MEDITATE ON some topics to get the insight needed to find the solution to a puzzle.
The writing is consistently funny, the humour ranging from slapstick to surreal, interspersed with small in-jokes for the subatomically in-the-know. A lot of the comedy comes from the descriptions, behaviour and conversations of the NPCs, who all seem to be the same guy in various transparent disguises.
Gameplay-wise, Dr. Dumont's P.A.R.T.I. is very much a classic puzzle-heavy text adventure. The quirky humour and the quantum-physics background does set it apart from others of its kind.
Not too hard, lots of laughs, lots of fun. Chucklingly recommended.
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.
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!
[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.]
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.
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