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1-10 of 22 | Next | Show All


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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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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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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Elvish for Goodbye, by David GŁrÁay-Morris

2 of 2 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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