Reviews by autumnc

ifcomp 2020

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Ulterior Spirits, by E.J. Holcomb

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Great art and visual design, but it was difficult to get into the story, October 12, 2020
by autumnc
Related reviews: ifcomp 2020

I wanted to like this game more than I did. It was clear that much effort went into building the custom UI, worldbuilding, and so on, but I feel like the story didn't quite live up to what I expected based on the blurb.

The blurb describes it as Mass Effect meets A Christmas Carol, and in broad strokes, it's kind of accurate. The protagonist is an admiral for the Coalition who fought in a war against an alien race, and now the Coalition is sanctioning the aliens. The admiral is pushing for harder sanctions. Then an infiltrator hacks her computer and showing her images of the past, present, and future, possibly in an attempt to convince her to vote against sanctions.

As usual in stories with tons of Worldbuilding, the sci-fi jargon and alien species got kind of overwhelming, and even with the pop-up hints (which were a great effect), it was difficult to keep up. It was difficult to get invested in the story; Mass Effect gave us dozens of hours to establish the world and why we should care about these people/aliens, while this is a one-hour game. At the end I didn't know what to think about the aliens or whether sanctions were good or bad (and the player doesn't explicitly make that choice anyway).

I liked that the protagonist was an older woman and a mother. These traits are still uncommon for video games protagonists. And I liked her relationship with her son.

In the end, the visions were all for nothing; the admiral voted for harder sanctions. Maybe there are routes that are different?

The game was created in Unity, and the art and interface are superb. I didn't like the slowness of clicking through; there was too much friction with the animations and having to click to advance every block of text. It discourages me from playing a second time, which I now really want to do to see if there are different possible outcomes, and to see if understanding the world makes the story easier to follow.


Sense of Harmony, by Scenario World

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A humane cyberpunk-esque story, October 11, 2020
by autumnc
Related reviews: ifcomp 2020

I am a big fan of cyberpunk, and I feel like "Sense of Harmony" is an excellent example of the genre (or is it post-cyberpunk? I don't know). The writing was great, especially the characterization, and the choice structure serves the story well.

In terms of structure, this is a twine story with two types of links: "digression" and "advancement". Each in-text "digression" link is an invocation of the protagonist's cybernetic abilities: hyper-senses, memory lookup, and so on. These links are color-coded by ability. Sometimes these links will reveal new "advancement" links at the bottom of the page, as if the protagonist is changing her actions based on new information. I felt like this was a really cool mechanic; it's a way of showing how the protagonist's enhanced mind works. The interface was also visually really attractive, with nice icons and layouts.

One of my favorite things about the story is how down-to-earth and humane it is. It never sensationalizes sex work or cybernetic enhancements. Insofar that the cybernetic enhancements are bad, they are bad for the same reasons that cell phones are bad (fortunately there's no suggestion that implants are dehumanizing or anything like that, unlike so many other cyberpunk products). Similarly, sex work is treated here like any other job; the protagonist's main problem with it is that she can get emotionally attached to the clients (who are mostly ordinary people with ordinary problems). The protagonist is just someone who's trying to get by; there's not much about her that is actually "punk".

The only reason I'm taking a star off is because the story is unfinished. It stops at what seems like the Act 1 climax. The protagonist makes some potentially major choices in the story, but the consequences are never shown. Nevertheless, "Sense of Harmony" is very worth reading.



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