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.

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.

Universal Hologram, by Kit Riemer

1 of 3 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

6 of 6 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.

extraordinary_fandoms.exe, by Storysinger Presents

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Linear game about how quickly strangers can become friends online, October 2, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 1 hour

This piece strikes me as a very personal story from the author. Nothing at all like their entry in last year's IFComp (which I very much enjoyed). Kind of a journal entry and therapy session played out in the creation of this work of Twine. I'm not sure if the author explicitly said so in the blurb or intro to the piece, but it feels like this is a slightly fictionalized re-telling of things that actually happened to them. I hope that they have been able to heal a bit by sharing their story with others.

Perhaps because I haven't shared any of the experiences in the story it was hard for me to relate to this piece. I think I'm just not the target audience. The story is extremely (maybe completely) linear, where the few choices that you are given are often just different ways to say the same thing. I've found that if you aren't given enough agency to choose the personality of the character you are playing, then if you don't relate to that character sometimes the game just misses you. That was the case here. The short sections alternate between fandom discussions of anime, programming a website, online SFW role playing and discussions of the main characters home woes. The only sections I was really interested in were the last kind, and they seemed infrequent and over quickly. Again, because I'm pretty sure these were real experiences it makes sense to switch back and forth between these scenes in this way, just not sure it makes for the best story structure.

Honestly, my enjoyment of this game was closer to the two-star level, but because I know the game was important for the author to make and will hopefully be important for some others to read, and because I do want others to play it in case it does speak to you, I gave it three stars.

Sting, by Mike Russo

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Auto-biographical parser game that should have been a choice-based game, October 2, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 1 hour

First let me say that this game would have been much better if it had been a choice-based game. I think the author learned Inform 7 to make "The Eleusinian Miseries", his IFComp entry in 2020 (my personal favorite from that comp and one of the best first games ever), and just stuck with it for this game. Sadly, I think making this a parser game detracted from it overall. That said, it doesn't take long to play and is still worth your time.

The game is a combination of personal memoir, tribute to the author's twin sister, and diatribe against bees (preach!). It is broken up into six vignettes, all personal experiences of the author, each punctuated by a bee sting (or twenty).

The second section (and to a lesser extent the fourth section) frustrated me greatly as I couldn't find a rhythm with the parser. It seemed like I was always getting scolded for either waiting or trying to talk, and in the meantime a lot of sailing jargon was being thrown at me and it was up to me to guess which words of that mumbo jumbo (land-locked pleb here) I was supposed to parrot back to the parser to get the game to progress. My advice to future players would be to just fight through that second section in whatever way possible to get to the rest of the game, which is much better.

In the end the game becomes a story of love, both the romantic and sibling variety, where it was found and where it was missed. All the while getting stung by bees (what rotten luck!).

Halfway through the second segment this felt like a two-star game, but at the end it felt closer to four stars. I'll settle in the middle with three with the knowledge that this game will probably stick with me a lot longer than other three star games.

(Spoiler - click to show)My sincere congratulations and condolences to the author. I hope you keep making games, Mike. F--k bees and f--k cancer. Prayers and best wishes.

Lore Distance Relationship, by Naomi "Bez" Norbez

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Tore my heart in two and then put it back together, December 3, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 1 hour

In this choice-based work you play as a kid who, in order to escape a bad situation at home, goes to a Neopets-like website called Ruffians and makes a friend named BusyAsABee. The game plays out over the course of 11 chapters and 11 years (you start as an eight-year-old and get one year older each chapter). The game primarily plays out through the chat function on the Ruffians website, though in the interludes there is some conversation with your sister (including voice-overs). Over the years you have the choice of how to develop your friendship (or romance) with Bee and how much to reveal about your troubled home life.

The middle part of this game is rough, with the player-character experiencing (Spoiler - click to show)maternal abuse and ridicule at school. Some of the scenes and conversations are heart-breaking. But thankfully, in the end there is still hope and things are looking up. Depending on how warm you've been in your conversations with Bee, the ending scenes can be beautiful in how much trust and love has grown between the two of you. I played through the game twice to try some of the other options. It is possible to get an aborted game if you don't want to open up to Bee at all in the beginning, and some of the best stuff is cut if you are more aloof towards the end. So in this game, as in life, it seems best to open yourself up to those that love you to get the best experience.

I thought this game did many things well, including a realistic portrayal of a now decades-old messaging system, and the speech patterns, cadence and abbreviations of kids chatting with each other online from elementary school age through college. The images of the Ruffians website were also great to help set the mood. I also thought the voice acting was very strong and really added something to the game. I loved the character of Rachel and her relationship with the player character. Finally, I had a huge smile break out across my face when the game ended with some music, a la the credits scene in a movie. It was a great song for the occasion and I let it play to the end.

The few things that I didn't like were the parts of the game where the audio looped until a part of a scene finished. Purposefully, the audio is intrusive to match what is happening in the scene. But the more it repeated the harder it became to focus on the text. I'd recommend the audio fading out or stopping after 2-3 loops. Also, sometimes the text and graphics were so big that I had to scroll to find the right place to click to continue the story, and I think that could be polished a bit to make it more compact.

Well worth your time!

Vampire Ltd, by Alex Harby

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
This appears to be the author's first game and it feels like it, November 29, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 1 hour

According to IFDB as best as I can tell this is the author's first game, and it definitely feels like the game you'd write based off of half an idea just to see if you can make a functional game. That said, it is a pretty good first effort, lacking depth and in need of polish, but showing potential.

You play as a vampire businessman, bent on getting revenge on your chief rival, another vampire businessman. You have to infiltrate his headquarters and destroy the latest project he is working on to ruin his reputation and his company. The parser was pretty well implemented and I only had to fight it a little, but there were a few hiccups that threw me off. The game bills itself as a comedy, but I think the hardest I laughed was reading the introductory blurb. That line was genuinely funny, but much of the rest of the game is only barely grin-worthy. The puzzles are lacking too, feeling either nonsensical, or telegraphed (again, like this game is a test run). However, I did enjoy the climatic scene and thought the solution to that, once I figured it out, was very clever.

The map is mercifully small and depending on how much time you spend reading the extra content (i.e. all the possible dialogue choices) can easily be completed in under an hour. A good first effort and I hope to see more from the author in the future.

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