Reviews by RadioactiveCrow

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20 Exchange Place, by Sol FC

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Short, non-sensical game about trying to recapture a bank from robbers, October 11, 2023
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 30 minutes, IFComp 2023

In this choice-based game you play as some sort of a cop trying to recapture a Manhattan bank from 6-7 robbers/culprits who have barricaded themselves inside. Even though the blurb talks about hostage negotiation I didn't do any of that, maybe I didn't get far enough in the game, but the PC starts out with no other options other than to plan the infiltration of the banks by "Spec-Ops" guys.

So I played through once and got a bad ending. The thing was that the game gives you absolutely no clues as to how to avoid a bad ending. You aren't given any information, just asked to start making decisions. I briefly went back and played another branch of the game making a different choice for how to breach the bank and got the same ending. I wasn't interested enough to try again.

I feel like the author was trying too hard with some of the wording to make it sound authentically New York, with phrases like "grey-shirts", "silver-badges", and "Spec-Ops", plus at least one "yous guys". But Spec-Ops strikes me as a more military term (though I've only visited NYC so maybe I'm wrong), and the constant use of the terms "robbers" and "culprits" feels real dated for a game set in 2006. There were a number of other well-worn tropes that popped up as well. Finally, 20 Exchange Place in Manhattan is a skyscraper, not a 4-story bank building, and there isn't a Westward street anywhere in the Financial District that I can tell. Just a lot of misplaced steps in this game.

Solid coding. The author's diction and style might make for a good transition to hard-boiled noir fiction. This game was just a miss for me.

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Xanthippe's Last Night with Socrates, by Victor Gijsbers

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
What might it have been like to be married to Socrates?, October 10, 2023
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 1 hour, IFComp 2023

So right off the bat let me tell you that I'm right on the line here between giving this one 3 or 4 stars. To me it does everything well, except provide for much narrative branching or interactivity. The writing is superb and the humor is excellent. As I've said on social media, if Victor were to ever write a novel I'll be first in line to read it. He really is talented. My only complaint is that the story is very linear.

In this game you play as Xanthippe, the wife of Socrates, spending the last 12 hours you have with your husband in his jail cell before he will be forced to drink hemlock as a method of execution. As the author notes, we donít know much about the real Xanthippe, and so the author uses his creative license to reimagine and subvert the very few descriptions that we have of her. And the result is fantastic. This Xanthippe is a character I could easily see myself spending a lot of time with. The game gives you your primary objective on its opening page, (minor content warning) (Spoiler - click to show) you are horny and would like to be intimate with your husband one last time, but he does not seem to be in the mood at the moment. What are the chances that you can talk him into the mood, even if it means going over, or around, some of the baggage that the two of you have with each other. However, even though the game starts you off with that objective, there is so much more ground to cover and more philosophies to delve, both the universal and the personal kind. The piece takes you on a rollercoaster, starting out with the simple (Spoiler - click to show)convince your husband to have sex one last time objective, before exploring why Socrates would choose the path he did, the ways youíve hurt each other, the ways youíve loved each other, all the Athenian ingrates that donít appreciate him (or you), and the way each of you hopes to be remembered.

The author does a good job of using Ink to create some fun and humorous scenarios and reactions (by the game and Socrates) to your choices. The writing is excellent throughout, with flowing dialogue and clever turns of phrase. You could imagine this being part of a Kevin Smith or Quentin Tarantino movie (and I mean that in the best way possible). But, as multiple playthroughs reveal, the amount of choice you actually have as the PC is very limited. Iím not sure you can direct the narrative off of what appear to be its rails. Rather than explore branching narratives, you get to explore the personalities of the characters. And that is enjoyable, but I wonder if I wouldnít have enjoyed it more if the author had picked out his favorite scenes, his best jokes, his optimal route through the game, and published it as a short story. Iíd hate to think Iíve missed out on some of Victorís best writing.

I might reconsider my rating in the future with the perspective of time and revise it, but for now Iíll give it three stars.

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Bali B&B, by Felicity Banks

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Delightful, heart-warming game about running a B&B and/or deciding your own fate, October 6, 2023
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 2 hours, IFComp 2023

For reference, I played this game during the first week of IFComp 2023, but when given the option to play the original IFComp submission or the latest version I choose to play the latest version. Not sure if there was a bug fix or what, but I would recommend this version to all.

In this game you play as the grandchild (you can pick your gender) of a strong-willed woman, who left her native land of Australia as a young adult to move to Bali and turn her in-laws house into a bed and breakfast hotel. You've grown up in Australia, part-Australian, part-Indonesian, and fluent in the languages of both countries. At least once a year you travel to Bali to visit Granny, but this year is different. This year you will not only be unexpectedly thrust into running the B&B, but you will have a chance to decide your own future in a number of ways.

What can I say about this game without giving away some of its best parts, except that the writing is excellent, the characters are the kind that you just want to spend more time with, and it actually got me to care about cats (a minor miracle!). Though getting you to care about cats is definitely a strength of Felicity's as I know from some of her past games. I've only played through once, and I'm reluctant to play it again as the playthrough I got was so lovely, but it feels like there are a number of different ways you can progress through the game. You can jump in headfirst to your duties or you can play the rebel, you can welcome romance or ignore it, you can be a peacemaker or you can choose violence (figuratively!). I thought the choices offered were great, and even for the ones where the difference was subtle I would sometimes agonize over which one to pick as I was shaping my fate.

Truly, the best things I can say about this game is that it really warmed my heart and I read each new passage with enthusiasm and expectation. There was even tension and drama in a few parts that didn't feel out of place in the overall narrative. Stories like this one and the author's most recent IFComp entry make me want to go play all of her games. Highly recommended!

(Also, she is totally right that brushing your teeth ruins the first few bites of your next snack!)

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Detective Osiris, by Adam Burt

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
An ancient Egyptian murder-mystery that blurs the lines between heaven and earth, October 3, 2023
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 2 hours

In this choice-based game written in Ink, you play as Osiris, the recently deceased king (pharaoh?) of Egypt. A post-mortem ritual by your wife and demi-god, Isis, ensures your ascension to godhood. But as a newly christened god, you don't have any assigned duties yet. And all the gods are pretty sure you were murdered, so why not figure out whodunit first, and then you can get on with the whole being-a-god thing.

This is one of those choice-based games that plays a lot like a "parser-on-rails" as I call them. You can move back and forth between different locations, but there aren't really objects to pick up or examine, rather you have a limited number of options in each location (though the number of options may expand with continued exploration), and then it is time to move on. With this game being a murder mystery, your primary actions are to interview a number of different characters who may have either had a part in your death, or have some clue as to who the culprit is. You can visit every location and ask every NPC every question available to you, but then you will need to back track as new knowledge opens up new dialogue with characters you've already talked to.

All my criticisms will need to hide behind a spoiler tag below. But before we get to them, the praises. This game was well-written, with engaging dialogue in most of the scenes and a fairly robust dialogue tree for each NPC. I have a lot of respect for the coding that was required to open up new lines of dialogue with old NPCs only after certain facts were discovered. Also, I appreciated the limited graphics that went along with the text. Many of the names were unfamiliar to me, so having the graphical representation of the character pop up on the side of the screen when you were interacting with them was a nice touch and helpful to keep everyone straight. The credits mentioned music, but while I had my computerís volume up, I never heard it. Perhaps I didnít turn it up high enough.

So, I think a problem I had with the game is (Spoiler - click to show)that it was mislabeled as to the time it takes to play. The IFComp 2023 games listing has it at ďOne hourĒ, but I found that I was much closer to two hours and after ďcompletingĒ the game found that I had probably missed out on a good chunk of the content. Thatís because, having gone back and forth over the geography several times I started to see an option pop up in the dialogue tree to accuse someone of my murder and bring him before the gods for judgment. Given that I was way over the estimated time frame for playing the game I assumed that I had discovered enough clues to accuse this character (who was the obvious candidate from the beginning), and so I did, but I was wrong. I didnít quite have it in me to play through again to see what I missed, so I just went with it. But I was a bit disappointed that I hadnít figured it out on my own, even though it had seemed at that point that I had exhausted all my dialogue tree options (pretty sure that was just laziness on my part). However, I did appreciate that the game didnít just give me a fail-state, but rather revealed the mystery to me and allowed me a satisfactory ending.

Overall, a pretty solid effort, enjoyable for the time it took, but probably not a game I will be coming back to. Still, the author has talent, and I hope to see more from him in the future.

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All Hands Abandon Ship, by David Lee

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Funny, simple puzzler, October 1, 2023
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 30 minutes, IFComp 2023

This is a simple puzzler in the classic fashion. You are a crew member of a space ship. While you are sitting on the toilet an emergency strikes (doesn't that always happen!). You have to figure out a way to abandon ship, but there are a lot of things broken that you might have to fix first.

That's pretty much it, a simple, straight-forward puzzler. You are playing against the clock, so it might require multiple playthroughs to beat the game, learning from the failed playthroughs (much like how I found Zork to be). In the end (Spoiler - click to show)the solution is pretty simple, you just have to know the correct order of operations.

Honestly, the game/puzzle part of this is nothing to write home about, but what I appreciated was everything else that the game was wrapped in. The humor and pop culture refences in the game made me laugh out loud several times. The game's code was very robust and allowed you to do a number of things that didn't matter to solving the main puzzle (sidequests and easter eggs if you will). I also appreciated the author's attempt at making feelies to go with the game (which can be accessed on the game's website) as well as the very polished hints and walkthrough document.

I hope to see more from this author in the future.

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Overboard!, by inkle

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A Whodunnit where Youdunnit! Very fun and replayable game from the masters of IF, August 12, 2023
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 1 hour, replayable

Forgive me, I didn't realize this game was up on IFDB, so this review is coming quite awhile after I initially played the game (also, I totally stole my review title from The Short Game podcast). That said, I might update it in the future, because even after putting 6 hours into a game where a single playthrough takes less than an hour, I still want to play more!

The time frame is pre-World War II. You play as the aptly named Veronica Villensey, a British starlet on her way via boat to America with her husband, whom she promptly pushes overboard to start the game. The deed is done, but can she get away with it?

Though the game has a fun graphical interface that you use to move around the ship, the primary game mechanic is text-based choices and dialogue trees. There are a number of characters on board that you can interact with, some may suspect you, some you might be able to use to cover up your crime. Who is manipulating who? And even if you can avoid prison, can you also collect on your husband's life insurance, and maybe another prize while you are at it?

The writing is excellent, the characters are colorful, and there are so many paths through the game that even after you achieve the "best" ending, you can play again and again to find other, quicker, or more interesting ways to victory. The NPCs have their own goals and move around on their own, and time is ticking while you are playing, so if you want to beat someone to a certain location, make sure that you don't dilly-dally. The game also features as fast forward function, so if you want to get back to a point later in the day to try something different, you don't have to go through each step to get there at normal speed. The game will remember the choices that you made on the last playthrough and let you get through them fast.

All around wonderful game from some of the true masters of the genre. Easily one of my favorites of all time.

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A Dark Room, by Michael Townsend

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A surprisingly deep and evocative resource management game, August 11, 2023
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 2-4 hours

How can you describe A Dark Room? It is truly unlike anything I've played before. The style is simple: black and white screens, all lowercase letters, just text and ASCII maps to move around. But the game designer was able to accomplish so much with those elements and you are drawn into the game so deeply that you feel like you are living it out. The game only takes 2-4 hours to playthrough, depending on the choices that you make, and I remember during my first playthrough being so immersed in the game that I pretty much finished it in one session, all the while my family went about their Saturday morning around me.

You play the main character, who at the beginning of the game wakes up not really remembering how they got there. A friend helps take care of you for a little bit, but shortly you are working together with her, collecting resources, crafting equipment and stepping out of your little camp to explore the world. You can recruit others to help you and you can also find resources out on the map, but you will have to fight your way through monsters and men to get them. The combat is RPG style, with you selecting an attack, then having a cool down period before you can pick another one. There are consequences to dying, but not so severe as to set you back much, rather you will just want to get out there and try again.

I'm struggling with what to write about this game without spoiling portions of it. Also, it is hard to compare it to anything because there is nothing quite like it. I would just recommend playing it for 10-15 minutes and I'm pretty sure you will be hooked after that.

There is some replayability to this game as well, after it is over the game suggests that you try again with a new strategy, one that I didn't even consider on my first run. Doing it this other way yields a very different experience and a different ending as well. Finally, after you beat the game you can read the designers' notes, which provide a lot of insight into what just happened.

This is one I might come back and give 5-stars to at some point, depending on how it grows on me and what it feels like playing it again after awhile.

EDIT 08/11/23: So this is me coming back to give this game 5 stars. It has really stuck with me. While it isn't IF in the traditional parser or choice-based style, I think the foundation and spirit of IF is there, along with some RPG elements. So many great things in this game. Worthy of a Top 50 vote.

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Grooverland, by Mathbrush

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Quintessential medium-length puzzle game, with Groover homages a nice sideshow, August 11, 2023
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 2-3 hours

I have a vague recollection of a Twitter conversation with the esteemed Mathbrush about a year ago regarding this game that was still a work in progress at the time. I don't remember if I was talking to him about it or merely observing a thread he had going with someone else, but what I do remember (which doesn't necessarily make it true) is that he said he was working on a game that combined all of the most popular elements from IFComp winners of years past. That he was making the uber-IFComp game, designed specifically to win the competition in 2021. I'm not sure what happened along the way, but more vague memories of tweet snippets have led me to believe that IFComp needed his help, perhaps behind the scenes, but definitely as the preeminent reviewer and judge of interactive fiction, so he selflessly entered his game in the less prestigious (though still awesome) ParserComp 2021. And it won, defeating a game by another titan of IF, Robin Johnson, along the way. I don't know if it would have won IFComp 2021 (the list of games isn't out yet), but it would have had a great chance.

This is a really good game.

You play the part of Lily, a little girl on her birthday at the eponymous theme park, tasked with gathering five key items from throughout the park in order to enter the castle at the far end of the park and become queen for a day. But all is not as it seems. Strange things are happening in the park, and the longer the day goes the weirder things get.

The game is heavy on puzzles and atmosphere, light on story, but that's just fine. The puzzles are some of the best I've encountered and range from easy and obvious to tricky and hard. I liked the spectrum of puzzle difficulties as well as the variety of types. There are a few find-the-missing-item puzzles that we've all seen a million times, but there were also some truly unique geographic and mechanical puzzles, one of which I will likely nominate for a XYZZY award (see spoilers below). With one exception I thought puzzles were pretty easy to wrap your head around, even if they took a little while to solve, and the clues were ample.

The world is very modest in size and the map laid out very simply, which is great as it makes sure that navigation isn't a frustration. I did draw a small map for one of the puzzles, but moving around the park from attraction to attraction was easy and set in memory pretty quickly. Every location and just about every item was important, with some dependent on others in order to progress, so that if you got stuck somewhere you could just explore and examine some more, or in other areas and usually find something to help you out. There is also an in-game hints system. I didn't have to use it at all (first time in while that has been the case), but I tested it out after I finished the game and the hints for the hardest puzzle are good and dole out the information Invisiclues-style so you get just the push you need.

Overall the writing wasn't anything to write home about, but it usually isn't something that I look for in parser games. However, there were a couple places that had some great writing, one atmospheric (to me reminiscent of the Land of the Dead puzzle from Zork) and one just crazy weird in true Groover fashion. The story is thin, again, pretty normal for puzzle-first parser games, but it is sweet and has a good ending.

Overall, a truly excellent and enjoyable game. This one got close to five stars from me, and I very rarely give those out. (SEE EDIT BELOW)

(Spoiler - click to show)My favorite puzzle was making the Creaky House sing. I think that one should get nominated for best individual puzzle in next year's XYZZY awards.

My least favorite puzzle was the Midnight Laserfight puzzle. The explanation of the mechanics/layout of puzzle went by fast and didn't give me enough to really visualize what was happening. I had to save my game and then restart to go back to the first entrance into that room to get the explanation again and still it took me a while to figure it out. But eventually I did without hints. There were enough clues in the text after you experimented with giving the teams uneven weapons that I knew what my ultimate goal was, and I just missed it a couple times when the hidden room became an option at the controls.


EDIT 08/11/23: With the quadrennial IF Top 50 vote upon us again I'm re-examining many of my old reviews and ratings, much as I did four years ago, to see if anything that I've given 4 stars really deserves that bump up to 5 stars. This one deserves it. It has stuck with me more than most of the other works I've given 4 stars. My mild criticisms of it still stand, but I don't think they should hold it back from being considered one of the 50 greatest IF works of all time (at least in my book, though I still haven't played many of the best loved classics). Over the past 4 years my respect and enjoyment of puzzle-centric games has increased greatly. I still love a good story with deep characters mixed in with my IF, but I really do appreciate games with layers of puzzles in a well-built world just as much too. And this game does that better than almost all (if not all) other games I've played. The puzzles are fun, interesting, and innovative, without being too hard, and that is something I really respect. Add to that the myriad of homages to another IF titan, Chandler Groover, and I think it makes this one a classic that will stand the test of time.

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Babyface, by Mark Sample

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Perhaps the most evocative piece I've played to date, July 14, 2023
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 30 minutes

I struggled with how to rate this game. It is note perfect in so many aspects, from the prose, to the sound, to the pictures, to the interactive elements, and yes, to even the timed text, which I usually hate. My biggest complaint was that (Spoiler - click to show)the plot didn't have enough payoff. But then I decided that wasn't the goal of this piece, that it was mostly about mood and feel, and it absolutely nailed those aspects. So 4-stars instead of three. Bravo!

This is a choice-based piece, with very limited choice. It is pretty much a short story presented with a modicum of interactivity, but it makes the absolute most of those interactive elements. Text changes after you click on it (similar to Will Not Let Me Go). A few pictures and a creepy soundtrack. Even timed text, as I mentioned before, that was timed so well as to leave me in a legitimate state of suspense, but only for a second or two before the story spilled its next secret.

And the writing! Each word is measured to fit its part in the story. Again, other than my one minor complaint above, which is a bit unfair for a story of this length, this is a master class in writing and production.

I don't want to say more as I don't want to spoil anything. I will just say go play this game, it is well worth your time.

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The Archivist and the Revolution, by Autumn Chen

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
It's the end of the world as we know it, and I don't feel fine, October 24, 2022
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 1 hour, IF Comp 2022

In this choice-base game, you play as Em, an archivist in post-apocalyptic world, who just got laid-off. History is a bit unclear, but several hundred years ago there was a war between transhumanists and those that rejected the "enhancements". The war left the earth scarred and base-model humanity seeking the shelter of huge arcologies to survive. But then within your lifetime there has been a breach of the arcology wall with devastating effects, and also an uprising against the Ruling Party that was quickly put down. And to top it all off, your rent is due. How will you navigate this dismal world and find a way to keep a roof over your head? The choice is yours.

I'm of two minds about this piece. On the one hand, the world is interesting and the writing is good. On the other hand, I think there is a war going on inside the piece between the Setting and the Main Idea. The game takes the form of a "simulator" rather than a story. You are presented with stats (money in the bank, days until the rent is due, food in the fridge) and ostensibly tasked with the problem of figuring out how to make rent and stay alive. But then the Main Idea happens, using the futuristic backdrop as a commentary on the issues of today. For awhile I was able to leave the Setting behind and focus on the Main Idea, the interpersonal relationships of the PC, the philosophical and introspective musings on the meaning of identity and belonging. But then the end of the story kind of threw me for a loop again, mixing the Setting/backstory in with the Main Idea in a hurried way that left me unsatisfied with the final outcome. There are 9 endings that you can achieve, and if after one playthrough you aren't interested in playing again, as I was, then the author provides some notes as to the origins of the piece and what all the possible outcomes are.

Interesting piece that was good, but just didn't quite work for me in the end.

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