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The Archivist and the Revolution, by Autumn Chen

3 of 3 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.

Elvish for Goodbye, by David GŁrÁay-Morris

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Dialogue-heavy and choice-light, but interesting story and very good writing, October 23, 2022
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 1 hour, IF Comp 2022

In this choice-based game, you play a human in a vague, mostly fantasy, but a little steampunk, world. You happen to befriend an elf, perhaps the last elf in the world, one night. The great Elven city disappeared without warning and without a trace when your grandfather was a child. It seems so long ago it might be well be myth. But now you get to hear the account of the great city firsthand!

Where to start with this game? First, let me say that the author is clearly a talented writer. Unfortunately, at least for the first third or so of this piece, he seems to want to show off just how just how lyrical he can be with his prose and it gets to be a bit to thick. Thankfully, he settles down further into the piece and the story moves on elegantly and much more smoothly. Still, there is no doubt he has quite a way with words and I'm eager to see what other works he can produce.

Second, there isn't much interactivity in this story. There are a few choices that allow you to direct the conversation, and I suspect, change the latter story a bit. But I don't think that they make much of a difference in terms of branching narratives. This one feels pretty linear to me. Now that isn't always bad (see Turandot), but for a linear choice-based game to be good I think it needs to offer you lots of choices to express your character's character, to make the PC your own. Here I don't think you had that option.

Finally, I was disappointed with the resolution. For a fair part of the story I didn't think there was enough action, but the more tales the NPC told the more I was able to appreciate it for what it was. That said, I don't think that the ending was as fleshed out as it should have been. I think I understand it after a couple playthroughs, but I wish there had been some more specifics about (Spoiler - click to show)how and why the Elven city disappeared.

Overall, I enjoyed my time with the story, and I hope to see more from this author in the future. This was a good piece, it just could have been a bit better.

The Thirty Nine Steps, by Graham Walmsley

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Spy thriller with some fun mechanics, October 11, 2022
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 1 hour, IF Comp 2022

In this choice-based multimedia game you play a man who wakes up on his last day of vacation in London to find a dead man in his living room and you quickly realize that it is part of some conspiracy and like it or not you are involved. What follows is a cloak-and-dagger chase across the English countryside where you must plan your actions carefully at every step to avoid being caught by your pursuers. Many of your choices will be presented in the context of one of three main strategies: BE OPEN, BE CLEVER or BE BOLD. Choosing one of them will alter the text in future scenes. For example: being clever will mean the text draws more attention to suspicious things, but also means that it might make something seems suspicious that really isnít.

I quite enjoyed the mechanics of this game. Right from your first strategy choice the game tells you what it means to pick a certain path and will let you know when your personality alters later on based on your choices. I also loved that at the end of each chapter the game would give you the option to move on to the next chapter, or replay the chapter you just finished. Frequently, with choice-based games, I found that Iíve learned something for future playthroughs, but I still have to finish the game before I can go back and try the new thing. Sometimes I want to iterate on my path many times and that involves lots of clicking and not much reading. Being to take this game in chunks was lovely and made for a very pleasant replay experience. I also liked that at the beginning of Chapter 2 (Spoiler - click to show)the game told you that the chapter would end if you got caught and you would miss out on some of the story, then when I finished the chapter it let me know that I had seen the whole thing. Finally, I loved that the code in the game is a real cipher that you can decode on your own outside of the game, allowing you to take other productive actions during the game.

The game also has original music by the author, which was a nice touch in certain moments and at the beginning and end of chapters. I would also recommend reading the walkthrough that is available at the end of the game. It lets you in on things youíve missed and also made me realize how impressive the coding was for this game.

The game says that it is adapted from a novel. Iím curious was the novel is like, but I can say that the reason I didnít give this game four stars was the storyline. I just never felt invested in the characters, the plot didnít grip me from the beginning because it all seemed to come out of no where without any context as to why I should care, and I felt like the end came too suddenly and too easily. So, only three stars for this one, but I hope the author writes another game like this with some of the same mechanics, Iíd love to play it.

The Grown-Up Detective Agency, by Brendan Patrick Hennessy

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Two mysteries, and a lot of heart, in one game, October 10, 2022
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 1 hour, IF Comp 2022

This choice-based, multimedia game puts you in the role of 21-year-old Bell Park, a former child-then-teen detective in the Encyclopedia Brown/Veronica Mars mold, now a fully licensed Private Investigator. Already jaded by life despite having achieved her dream job, Bell must confront her past in more ways than one, and in a much more literal sense than most of us ever have. At the same time that her first love and former best friend comes back to ask for her help, her 12-year-old self inexplicably travels through time and lands on her desk. Can she find her friend's missing boyfriend and figure out what to do about her past (and present) self in the process?

This was a very fun story with a cast of colorful characters. The writing is excellent and the dialogue is very snappy. I laughed more than once and was smiling most of the time I was playing. The interface is great, with some artwork to represent the characters appearing on the sides of the dialogue heavy scenes, which read like a screenplay. I felt like the graphical part of the interface was perfect, only adding to the experience, never distracting, and was used very cleverly in one scene in particular.

I will say that the case of the missing boyfriend was a bit disappointing in its resolution, but I was far more interested in what was going on in parallel with that mystery anyway. The banter with adult and kid Bell was witty, they way they worked together and played off each other was endearing, the way they worked through the tough moments was heart warming, and their resolution was everything I hoped for.

I did notice that when we first encounter one of the boys, that he is referred to as "Bald Guy", but his artwork shows a man with hair. A minor nit to pick and quickly forgotten. Also, I think I would have liked to have the dialogue of the Bells subtly color-coded to indicate which one was talking. Something as simple as black and dark grey would have probably been sufficient. Their dialogue was so quick-witted that I didn't want to look at the tags to see who was speaking sometimes, rather I wanted to stay in the flow of the repartee and occasionally that cost me and I lost track of who was talking. I think making Kid Bell's dialogue just slightly different would have helped me stay in the flow.

Overall, I very much enjoyed the game and now I want to go play the earlier games with these characters that I've missed. I came very close to giving this one four stars, only the disappointing end to the main case held me back.

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.

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 faÁade 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.

Universal Hologram, by Kit Riemer

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Multimedia, nonsensical story with few choices and formatting bugs, October 6, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 1 hour

I really feel like there was the seed of a good story here, but I just didn't get it. Most of the time I couldn't tell what was going on. On the one hand it seems like kind of a surreal/trippy story, but on the other there was more than one NPC scream-cussing at me and it definitely took me out of the mood of the story. There were very few choices in this piece, most sections of texted ended with a single hyperlink. In those few places where multiple choices were offered, sometimes the choices were not separated by a blank line, and because other "choices" were often a whole paragraph of text it was hard to tell if this was a really choice or a paragraph of just the next part of the story. I would recommend cleaning up the formatting in that regard so that when the reader gets an authentic choice they know it at a glance. On the plus side, the story had accompanying surreal illustrations and an atmospheric soundtrack.

An Aside About Everything, by Sasha

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Short surreal adventure that lacked something to tie it all together, YMMV, October 5, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 1 hour

I feel like surreal pieces, perhaps always, but especially in the case of this game, are really more about the author expressing something or working through something important to them in a way that only they fully understand. These kinds of stories are like the songs you hear on the radio with a catchy tune and lyrics that you can sing along with, but when you really listen to the words you have no idea what the song is about.

This is a well enough written and implemented, short choice-based piece, but I didn't think there was enough to me to grab on to in the story for me to come away with a lasting impression. I could easily see the characters and bits of conversation having meaning for the author, but I think the average reader will not know what to do with this. Surreal pieces like this need to have very well-defined themes and/or symbolism, punctuated with moments of clarity, so that even though it seems like you've been tossed in the middle of Wonderland, you can still ascertain what the author is trying to say. Perhaps some lines of angry or poignant dialogue that pull together the last few pages of haziness into some philosophical point. For me this piece was lacking enough of those elements to give me something to get out of it.

Mermaids of Ganymede, by Seth Paxton

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Fun story that utilizes multimedia elements to really set the atmosphere, October 3, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 1 hour

If you threw Europa Report, Aquaman, Abyss, The Core and maybe a touch of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets into a witch's cauldron and made it spit out a comic book, you'd have this story. Add in a Myst-like atmospheric soundtrack and you have the game "Mermaids of Ganymede".

You play the commanding officer of a research vessel that crash lands on Ganymede, or rather crashes through the ice layer and sinks to the bottom of the ocean surrounding the core of Ganymede. Soon it becomes clear that you are not alone in the icy depths, and there is a whole world down there that no one knew about. Can you repair your ship and radio for rescue? Or will getting home require a different skill set you never thought you'd need on this mission?

The game is broken up into five chapters. The odd numbered chapters play out much like a traditional choice-based game, with you selecting a story path at various junctures, and making dialogue choices along the way. The even numbered chapters play out much more like puzzle-centric games, reminiscent of "Tavern Crawler" from IFComp 2020. The interface remains the same, but rather than being pushed down the main plot line with some ability to steer, it becomes much more open world, with you able to go to a wide variety of locations, backtrack as much as you'd like and have to solve a puzzle of some kind to be able to reach the next chapter.

I liked the story chapters a lot more than the puzzle chapters. In Chapter Two it took me awhile to realize that was what was going on and it threw me off a bit. Chapter Four (Spoiler - click to show)is a maze that is hard to wrap your head around the geography of given the very brief descriptions. Additionally, you can die (which I did four times before finally figuring out the right order of actions) and have to restart the chapter. That threw me out of the rhythm of the story. I think I would have rather than whole game been like the odd chapters.

The story itself was fun, if a bit cliched and not terribly deep, but I think appropriate to a game of this length. It did feel like the author was throwing every idea they had against the wall to see what would stick. The best part of the game were the multimedia elements and the atmosphere. From the illustrations, to the color of the text, to the background music (different for each chapter), it was easy to really see myself in the world that the author had created and stay immersed in the story.

The game is very polished and well worth your time, a great improvement from the author's entry in IFComp 2020. Given that improvement and all the things that worked well in this game, I'm eager to see what the author comes up with next.

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