Reviews by RadioactiveCrow

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The Corsham Witch Trial, by JC Blair

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Heartbreaking tale about protecting children and the failures of bureaucracy, November 9, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 1 hour

In this work you play a junior lawyer, at the office late going over an old case file, while chatting online with a co-worker. As a rite of passage in the law firm, you have read through the notes and testimony of one of the cases most dear to your boss, one he lost, and give him your opinion of it. That's just the set-up though, the entirety of the gameplay is reading the case and chatting with your co-worker about it.

The story definitely pokes you in the feels, breaking your heart before applying a little bit of salve. The writing is very good and the story interesting to follow along with. There is almost no choice involved, and the few choices presented to you I think only change a bit of the dialogue with your co-worker, they don't affect the story itself. Instead, most of the links you find in the story open up the exhibits from the trial in Google Drive. I thought this was a very cool way to relive the trial, as though you are the judge or a member of the jury. I also appreciated the shades of grey present in the story; there is definitely right and wrong presented, but it isn't shining knight against evil villain. You can are able to relate to multiple perspectives. I also appreciated the message about the failures and absurdities of bureaucracy and the need for reform and to not forget the primary mission.

I think it is well worth your time, didn't quite get to the four-star level for me though. Clicking links to pull up documents was something I hadn't seen in IFComp before, but I'm not sure it counts for me as true interactivity.

Weird Grief, by Naomi Norbez

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Sexually explicit game about grief, so I think weird is an appropriate word, November 3, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 30 minutes

While I don't inhabit any of the same communities as the author of this piece, that hasn't stopped me from being touched by their games previously. This one, however, didn't grab me at all and I didn't enjoy it. And the weird thing is that grief is present in my home at this moment unlike it ever has been before. My mother-in-law died recently and from what I've observed of my grief, but mostly of my wife's grief, it looks absolutely nothing like this. That is by no means to say that the grief portrayed in this story is not valid, just that I couldn't relate to it. This story, which is a companion story that features the same characters as the author's other IFComp 2021 game (which I did enjoy), is mostly a cycle of cooking and/or eating, sex, and the more traditional characteristics of grief. And the sex scenes are explicit, which isn't usually something I want to read in any work of IF, but interspersed amongst otherwise crippling grief just felt weird to me. I know the title of the piece is "Weird Grief", but it was just too weird for me. Again, that's my personal take, your mileage may vary.

This piece was written in only three days, which is somewhat impressive, but it also shows. There were numerous typos. Again, despite all of the above I might have given it three stars, but it hardly had any choices to make. That's a big thing for me, even in otherwise very linear games. I can only remember three screens that even had two hyperlinks on them. I also wasn't the biggest fan of the font or the fact that it was centered justified on my tablet, which made it hard to read all the dialogue.

The Dead Account, by Naomi Norbez

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A game about grief, November 2, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 30 minutes

This author knows how to pull at your heartstrings. Once again they use technology and online communities as the backdrop for a very personal and emotional story.

In this game you play a moderator for an online community called HiveKind, tasked with finding and deleting accounts that belong to deceased users. The server AI flags accounts that it thinks might belong to someone who has died and unlocks all their messages for you to read to determine if you agree with that assessment. That's where the core story comes into this game. Reading through those private messages, (Spoiler - click to show)that occur both before and after the account user is killed by a drunk driver, is what delivers both the back story and emotional impact.

The game doesn't really have many choices in it, though one I'm interested to hear about from others who played the game is whether they read the messages in chronological or reverse chronological order in their role as account investigator. The few choices come in at another heart-wrenching part: having to message the closest contacts of the user to get confirmation on whether they are deceased or not. How blunt are you with them about the task at hand? How much are you willing to try to bend the rules?

This game makes heavy use of timed-text. Usually I'm not a fan of it, in this game it was a mixed bag. Generally I thought it worked out okay on the first playthrough (though I encountered several times where I wasn't given enough time to read the messages I was sending to the group, but I got the gist). However, playing through a second time I wished there had been a way to turn it off so I could more easily see how different choices would affect the story. That would be another thing that missed the mark for me a bit: (Spoiler - click to show)on my second playthrough I didn't feel like making a different choice affected anything. The ending was exactly the same and given how different your tone is in the group chat I was hoping for different reactions from the friends of the deceased.

Overall though a game well worth your time.

Fine Felines, by Felicity Banks

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A deeply human story, despite cats outnumbering humans, October 29, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 1 hour

In this game you play someone who just lost their mom after a long illness. After years of selflessly taking care of someone else, you are able to decide what you want to do for yourself again... and you decide what you want to do is breed cats. From there the game takes on a fašade of being a cat breeding simulator (think Kitten Tycoon[TM]), but it is really much deeper than that.

At its core this story is about what makes us human, even as the focus is taking care of animals. This is a story about grief, love, friendship, pain and joy. About caring for others, caring for yourself and letting others care for you. You are faced with periodic business decisions - how much of your small inheritance to spend on various feline infrastructure - and ultimately you learn how profitable (or not) you become in the end. But it is the parts in between that give this game its heart and soul, and primarily the parts where you are interacting with the other humans in the story, making connections and caring for one another.

The PC in the game also struggles with a chronic disease, and I felt like this game really brought home how much something like that can affect your life and force you to make trade-offs that other people don't have to make. This puts a sharp point on seeing beauty and the pain mixed together in a way that I think really illustrates what life is about if we are doing it right.

This author also writes non-interactive fiction and given the quality of the writing in this game I think those books would be worth checking out.

Finally, I can't end the review without mentioning that this game is filled with cute pictures of cats that work as wonderful illustrations to help you connect with your non-human NPCs. And this is coming from someone who tends to be much more affectionate to canines than felines.

Well worth your time.

The Golden Heist, by George Lockett and Rob Thorman

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A heist in the heart of Rome, October 27, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 1 hour

Your father did not die a rich man, despite being a talented architect who worked on building Nero's perfect palace. But he did leave you with something of incredible value: the plans to the palace and the vault hidden inside. Now can you use them to pull off the greatest heist in Roman history?

This choice-based game, written in Ink, takes you from conception, to planning, to execution, and hopefully to escape, of your attempt to rob the emperor blind. Pick your accomplice, your entry point and improvise along the way. I feel like these games where your choices feel like they should matter in the outcome can go either way. Sometimes you will take a path that seemed fine from all the clues you were given (or weren't along the way) and you'll end up dead through no fault of your own and be forced to restart if you want to make it to the end. This game is not one of those. It deftly allows you to make choices that carry a certain level of intensity to them, without (at least in my playthrough) killing you unnecessarily. The game alternates between funny and nail-biting well, while also giving you some genuine emotion too.

While I think this game did what it set out to do very well, there were a few points it could have been a little better. There was one scene transition that I didn't really follow (but you catch up quickly). There was one moment in the (Spoiler - click to show)escape scene that seemed out of place to the point that I was expecting a big surprise that never came. It didn't really fit the mood of the what had just been happening prior and the timing was off. Finally, I think the denouement went on just a touch too long.

However, I loved the humor, made it feel more like an Ocean's 11 style heist, rather than something like The Score. The soundtrack was great as well (highly recommend playing with the sound on) and helped set the mood in each scene. Finally, I loved that authors clearly had a good knowledge of Roman history. There were lots of references thrown in that really helped cement the setting for me.

Very good game, well worth your time. I will probably play it again soon.

The Miller's Garden, by Damon L. Wakes

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Short game where nothing much happens, October 26, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 15 minutes

The IFComp blurb and quotation that displays on the title screen had me interested to play this game, but it greatly disappointed. Unless I missed something significant, rather than examining the impacts that a person can have on a place, in both life and death, and how time can change a landscape, the game is little more than a pacing simulator. You just walk back and forth between a few locations until the sun sets, then you can do it again the next day. I played through three days and didn't really notice any mechanics or philosophical musings. I feel this was a missed opportunity. Pull up the game to enjoy the river soundscape that plays in the background, that was the best part.

My Gender Is a Fish, by Carter Gwertzman

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Short, metaphorical game about finding your identity, October 26, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 15 minutes

In this very short, choice-based game you go wandering in the woods, looking for your gender after a magpie stole it. The game is very straight-forward, with just a few scenes and a few choices. It begins with the aforementioned humorous scenario and ends in a metaphor about how finding your own identity isn't always so simple. The writing was simple, but good. I played through it twice to see how different choices would affect the story. Worth the short time it takes, but not much more than that.

Smart Theory, by AKheon

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Short and funny game about being smart... in theory, October 21, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 15 minutes

In this game you play a student at a university that stumbles into some kind of seminar, revolution and/or cult. Learn all about "Smart Theory" and how it will soon take the nation by storm!

This short game, written in Ink, is pretty funny. There are definitely some laugh-out-loud moments. Enhancing the humor is that you can actually see something like this happening on a college campus today. That said, the whole game, which is very short, is pretty much the same joke played over and over again in different keys, and it grows old about halfway through.

The game is well-implemented, with more than two choices at most junctures and a bit of looping back to give yourself a chance to catch things you missed before if you'd like. There is even an ending that is a bit more earnest than the preceding humor seems to warrant.

Definitely worth a playthrough for the laughs. Not sure if a second playthrough would add anything though.

Enveloping Darkness, by John Muhlhauser, Helen Pluta, and Othniel Aryee

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Short, straight-forward fantasy game with mediocre writing, October 21, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 30 minutes

This game feels like exactly the game I would have written in the 7th or 8th grade. The plot careens down a path that seems to throw in whatever random idea came into the author's head that day. I can see the enthusiasm that went in to making this story thought. In my younger days of writing short stories, I too would have a fun idea pop into my head and then shoehorn it into the story I was currently working on.

I only noticed one error in the implementation, but the interface was about as simple as it gets: black text on a white background with at most two choices at each junction. Then the ending came very abruptly and without much payoff. A decent enough first effort/test game, but not quite up to the standards of IFComp.

Cyborg Arena, by John Ayliff

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Combat simulator with a slick interface and blunt political message, October 20, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 30 minutes

In this game you play a cyborg, forced into pugilistic slavery by dastardly conservative lawmakers and corporations. You life involves fighting other cyborgs in an arena - "To the repair!", rather than to the death - for the amusement of the populace. Half the game is backstory on how you ended up in this particular fight, and the other half is a combat simulator employing a rock-paper-scissors like rubric for deciding if you or your opponent takes damage and how much.

The interface is well implemented, with bar chart stats, life gauges a la Mortal Kombat, and colorfully highlighted dialogue for the different characters. I also enjoyed how the fight interface was pushed to the background, but not eliminated, during the flashback scenes. However, there were some issues with the text. At times both "you" and your opponents name would appear right next to each other as if the game couldn't figure out who was performing the following action. Also, there were continuity errors regarding which weapon your opponent was wielding.
Text based choose-your-own-combat scenes grow stale very quickly, and this one was no exception. You are provided with some incentive to choreograph your combat in a particular manner, but in my multiple playthroughs I couldn't determine how that made much of a difference on the ending.

The background information and flashbacks I felt had the seed of a good story in them, but they were applied like a plank of wood to the face: lacking depth and unnecessarily blunt. I had just started to care about the characters when the story came to what felt like a premature end without the payoff that I was expecting. Also, I couldn't determine much of a political message other than Conservatives Are Bad. I'm fine with political messages in my stories and games, even ones that I disagree with, but there has to be some substance to the argument, some allegory to modern life, and some solution to the problem. I didn't feel like I got any of that in this story other than a generic rise-up-against-your-oppressors vibe.

I hope the author tries again with another IFComp entry next year. I feel there is potential here, but it didn't manifest in this game.

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