Curses is the first game I think of when I think of interactive fiction, together with Anchorhead. Sprawling, light-hearted, with a compelling backstory and cast of supporting characters.
For me, the beauty of the game is in the development of the plot, with a continually increasing sense of wonder. Another wonderful aspect is the open sandbox feel; this is a very non-linear game.
Although the game is very difficult (I've played through it three times, and had to resort to a walkthrough every time), there are so many puzzles that you will still solve quite a few on your own. Many puzzles have multiple solutions, or can be bypassed completely.
*Amusing things: There are three characters that have interesting reactions to all ten of the (Spoiler - click to show)rods. Those characters are (Spoiler - click to show)yourself, the knight, and Austin.
This is a Christmas-themed game with the same gameplay style as Curses or Zork. The character explores a very large shopping mall after hours, trying to get a Christmas present. The feeling of loneliness mixed with wonder gives a nice atmosphere to the game.
The puzzles range in difficulty from very easy to very hard. You should assume you will use the hint system, which is wonderful. Puzzles include mindbenders, find-object-use-object, and some big mazes.
I enjoy games that are too difficult to completely beat on your own, but are large enough and non-linear enough to give even casual players hours of entertainment before turning to hints. This is such a game.
The endgame puzzles are frankly too difficult with too little reward. The game was very fun right up to the time you get (Spoiler - click to show)a ball from Santa. Everything after that felt like work. It may be because I relied so heavily on the walkthrough at this point.
Great game for someone who like Curses and wants a similar experience.
Until last week, I had no idea that Infocom games were still available on current platforms. After downloading an iPad app, I had the pleasure of trying my first commercial game after 5 years of free interactive fiction.
The manual and feelies were great, and the parser was very smooth, with great runtime. I missed several of Inform's features, especially when killing enemies. Overall, the game felt thoroughly tested, and a large number of the annoying features of MIT Zork were removed. Examples include a better coal maze, some of the smug writing, and better correlation between exits and etrances of nearby rooms.
I thought at first it was silly to split up the game into three, but having started Zork II, I am really enjoying the expanded versions. Very few of the free games I have played rival this kind of polished game, with Curses! and Anchorhead as my main examples of great gameplay.
Adventure was the very first text adventure of all time. It inspired the genre and its name.
The point of the game is to gather a variety of treasures and bring them back to a small building. The game is pretty accurately based on the Mammoth Caves, which explains the mazes and the fact that exits and entrances sometimes don't match up exactly (i.e. going west and then east may not leave you where you started).
For me, the most enjoyable way to play this game was to keep it at a slow pace, going back to it time and again while playing other games. I kept a numbered list of every room with all of its exits to other rooms. This made the game much easier. After several weeks, I got to a point where I couldn't get any further for several days. I finally looked up a walkthrough for the last three or four puzzles.
Once you get all the treasures, there is an endgame that is surprisingly good; it seems more like a modern deconstruction of the game than the very first game of all.
I played the 350 point version, and I found the game incredibly enjoyable. I admit that I used the wicker cage bug (as mentioned in another review), where you can carry everything in the wicker cage. To get full points, you must remove the items from the cage outside of the building before placing them in there.
Every Interactive Fiction player should play this game because so many other games reference it heavily.
This game is by Inkle, a studio that has made numerous interactive fiction games. While this game has many non-textual elements, the text is a very important part of the gameplay and the core mechanic is a large textual language puzzle. It took me 16 hours for one playthrough, according to Steam.
The main idea is that you, in an fictional futuristic setting, are an archaeologist exploring an ancient, highly-advanced civilization. They settled a nebula with 'moons' connected by jets of water that are navigable by boat. The main thread throughout the civilizations' history is the use of a language: ancient. This is presented as a series of sigils, usually ran together, that you at first guess and then eventually become certain of (through a mechanic where the game tells you if you got it right after you use it a few times in a row). No spaces are used in most words, making finding where words start and stop the hardest part later on.
I'd like to split up this review a bit into different categories, starting with what was, for me, the weakest part:
3d Navigation and pacing
I bounced off this game at first because of this. One thing that a lot of commercial IF games lean into, especially ones by authors transitioning from indie to AAA-adjacent, is to bulk up the play time, is splitting up stories with long sections of travel. This is done in 80 Days, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, Sunless Sea, Sunless Skies, and here, too. This leads to a lot of very dull moments. 80 days helped make up for it with quick transit animations and making the movement part of the overall puzzle, while in most of these other games it's just dead air.
This game splits up content in two different ways. Large chunks each take place on different worlds, split up by ship travel, which has no hazards and no decision making outside of binary choice points and occasional random treasure. The smaller chunks on each world are split up by 3d motion. This uses invisible hitboxes that don't always line up with what you can see; this is especially apparent in 'open worlds' that look easily navigable but are secretly linear. I found myself frequently running into walls and getting stuck. Amusingly, I realized that the space part and the 3d part were very similar to Kingdom Hearts 1, just without the enemies.
Conversations happen in real-time. Speed is adjustable in the menu, but there is no scroll-back and pausing is difficult. I generally like text games because they can be picked up and put down, minimized, multitasked, and easily played around others without being intrusive. For this game, I had to give complete attention at pretty much all times, and even then I missed quite a bit of dialog looking away to itch a scratch or to answer my kids' questions.
Continuing on my scale of not liking to liking are things that I liked a lot but don't really factor into my rating:
Graphics and audio
I think they did a great job here. Voiceover is really lovely, the music is heartrending and sci-fi feeling. The art looks a lot better than most 3d games, and loads well on my potato laptop. The artists and sound designers really did well.
Character and Plot
This is generally very good, with some slight caveats. Characters are very distinctive and mostly memorable. The protagonist has a rich past interconnected with many corners of the Nebula. The plot contains multiple independent strands circling the big mystery: where did these civilizations come from, why is everyone here, and what's going to happen to them?
Our main character is kind of a jerk. I know subconsciously it can be easy to perceive strong female characters as aggressive when compared to similar male protagonists, but I believe our character has attributes would be jerky for men as well, especially in regards to her interaction with the robot Six. It was actually refreshing in a lot of ways, but I think 'jerk with a heart of gold' interests me more than 'jerk with a heart of jerk'. The strong personality does lend to some fun role-playing through.
The plot threads were very intriguing, including the mysterious workings of your home city, the cryptic machinations of you employer, some kids trying to find their place in the world, etc, as well as your progressive discovery of the ancient world.
I felt like the ending in my playthrough came at a time where I had a lot of loose ends, and not a lot of choice to go back and work on them. And the final reveal, while visually stunning, left quite a bit unresolved as well, especially given how much build up there was. I know that it can be hard to simultaneously give people choice as well as a satisfying plot structure (which is one reason, I speculate, that a lot of Choice of Games with award-winning stories often don't sell as well as those with straightforward power fantasies), but I've seen a few people do a great job of this, such as the 'Truth' ambition in Sunless Skies. That game separates your quests into different categories and has clear victory conditions, so you know if you're going to leave threads unfinished. It also provides a very weighty, powerful, and conclusive finish to the final story. I feel like Sorcery! 4 also had a very satisfying ending. This game, Heaven's Vault, was not bad at all with its ending, better than average for sure, but could have been amazing.
I really enjoy languages. I've studied French, German, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Greek, Latin, Japanese and a little Hebrew, some more than others. So I was definitely up for a challenge here.
As someone who has struggled with many languages, I have to say that the experience in this game is much less like learning an actual language and much more like learning a code alphabet for English. Emily Short, in her review, said "a great deal of Ancient is English in a chiffon-sheer disguise", and I have to agree.
However, this isn't necessarily a negative. Language take forever to learn. I've been studying written Japanese for 3-4 months now and still struggle with basic pronunciation. For the average English-speaking player, learning an actual non-English language would be far too difficult.
So the game simplifies it. 'Ancient' has none of those bizarre ultra-common connector words that can mean so many things (like 'zwar' in German or '就' in Mandarin). Most sentences, especially early ones, follow simple noun-verb-object patterns, with some light prepositions added in later.
Most words are ones that can be easily identified with pictographs. Themes of light, travel, people, fire, water, air, earth, plant and metal dominate the vocabulary. In another distinction between in-game and real-life pictographic languages, there is not a significant 'drift', where everyday words have bizarre derivations based on non-written considerations (like the fact that 'mother' in chinese is woman-horse due to homonyms). Interestingly, the pictograph for 'man' is the same in 'Ancient' and Chinese, although I don't know if that's a coincidence.
Some features are distinctly English, such as the way that past and future tense are conjugated and the use of helper verbs. The game uses symbols that directly derive from modern earth culture, like (Spoiler - click to show)question marks and x's
These features make word-solving easier. Even then, it would be impossible to just begin with a blank slate, make guesses, and hope you're right later. It'd be the worlds' hardest cryptogram and sudoku, a big pile of guesses waiting to collapse. Instead, the game gives you a huge leg up over real-life translators by giving you four options to guess from, 1 of which is always correct. Which every one you pick is indicated by a ? in future uses. Once it's used 3 or 4 times, the game confirms your translation or denies it through your robot or your own intuition. This is probably the main feature that makes the game far easier than learning a real-life language, and it is, in my opinion, what makes it actually fun.
By the end, individual pictographs are all easily identifiable, so the trick is giving you longer sentences with no spaces, so you have to identify words by their structure. The language is very systematic, and I was thrilled to puzzle out some pieces, although some I struggle with, especially (Spoiler - click to show)the difference between a period . and a colon :. It can become very difficult to find the border between words, and you can't figure out new words unless you surround them on both sides with established words. I often had to save longer texts to come back to after I learned more words.
I adored the translation. For me the highlight of the game was finding a huge (Spoiler - click to show)book that never seemed to end. I translated over 20 lines, took a break, delivered it somewhere, and translated more until it made me stop.
As mentioned earlier, the game ended kind of abruptly for me and I had some unresolved translation, but by then I felt like I was going to have to compromise anyway on what I had hoped to achieve in the game. I didn't feel compelled to do another playthrough, but I may try again some day.
Overall, it was worth the money. I got it on sale. It provided me 16 hours of content and could easily go up to 30 or more, with a large chunk of that being just reading/translating. That's much more than most free/indie interactive fiction. I didn't really like the 3d movement aspects at all, and I feel the ending could have had more narrative weight, especially (Spoiler - click to show)talking more about loops, and the repetition aspect. But the plot still pulled me forward the whole game, and for a language puzzle, it was the best I've seen out there, and the dialog, art, and sound were outstanding to me.
For my star rating system, it was polished, descriptive, had good interactivity, I felt emotionally invested, and I will likely play again some day. Just not today.
Zork is the most famous adventure game, although it was not the first. This version contains much of the three Infocom Zork games which were developed later.
Zork is a large puzzle-heavy exploration game. It has inventory limits, a timer of sorts (the light in your lamp), and it has several unfair puzzles (depending on the version you play, some important in-game clues can be omitted). The exits in the rooms work in a non-symmetric way, so going north and then south might bring you back to the wrong place.
I found that mapping out the entire game myself was very helpful. Instead of drawing a map, I just made a numbered list in the notes section of Frotz of all the rooms and their exits. That alone let me get much farther than I did 5 years ago.
I used walkthroughs after getting about half of the points, but the version on IFDB contained a fatal bug preventing me from completing the endgame. I found another version online that ran slower but which allowed me to complete the ending.
The game gets better the further you get. The 'hidden' areas are really fun, and I was surprised how huge this game really is. It makes sense that it was split into 5 games later.
This is by far the largest game I have ever played in terms of text. Unlike most interactive fiction games, the story of Worlds Apart was years in the making, and was the authors main outlet for sharing a world they had imagined their whole life.
This game is set on a completely alien world, with different plants, people, animals, and history. The amount of detail in the game is massive, with NPC's that respond to dozens of topics, every item in the game being implemented in six senses, and a dizzying amount of locations. The game even contains two mini-books, one of which would make a good-sized pamphlet in real life. Just reading the game would take several hours.
I loved this game. However, because of its size, when I got stumped on the puzzles, it ruined the atmosphere. I started looking at the hints once I had exhausted all of the obvious options, because I wanted to read more of the story. But I didn't rush, and I tried to experiment with everything that I could find.
I recommend this game to everyone.
Zork II incorporates my favorite puzzles from MIT Zork: the palantirs, the tea room, the round room, the robot, the volcano, the glacier room. The dragon (a callback to Adventure) was a fun challenge, and the two or three NPCs made the game quite fun. I enjoyed watching the wizard travel around zapping me.
I prefer Zork I's treasure drop off system, however. It was annoying having a huge pile of treasure, not knowing what to do with it.
I used a walkthrough on a few places (especially the oddly-angled room), because I wanted to see the whole game. Having completed MIT Zork before made some of the hardest puzzles trivial.
The finale in the Zork series is a big change from the first two games. The game is smaller as to puzzles and map, but much bigger on ambiance. This game feels like a refining purgatory, with a chance to demonstrate your courage, mercy, trust, and bravery. The setting is dreamlike and thoughtful. The puzzles are very difficult. For all of them, it is easy to try to solve them, get part way through, and have no idea if you succeeded or failed. Almost all of them are time-based, requiring you to wait, do several actions in succession, or to return frequently to a given place. Some places (like the land of shadow or the viewing table) will stay in my mind for a long time.
The Royal Puzzle breaks up the gameplay a bit, but I loved it. I first solved it in MIT Zork; as a mathematician that is terrible at most IF puzzles, it was fun to have a puzzle that I could finally solve on my own. I literally used a walkthrough on every other puzzle in this game.
This Infocom game is directed towards younger players but is appropriate for adults; in fact, the game is still very challenging. The fantasy elements are charming and fun (and sometimes pretty creepy): an army of boots, a witch who steals cats, ghosts who murder you...
All the puzzles can be solved with sufficient exploration and minor logic; I missed a few areas and items in my exploring, though, because the world is rich and beautiful.
As far as I can tell, the game is for beginners because there are only the n,e,s,w directions (no ne, se, nw, or sw); most puzzles have multiple solutions; most items are easily visible (except for the most important one); and death won't come unless you have been repeatedly warned.
The game is split into two sections; one where the player explores a quaint village with minor annoyances (such as locked gates and a poodle); and a second section where the village has turned dark and evil (with murderous ghosts and a hellhound).
As many have stated, this is a memorable game, more so than most of the Infocom games I have played, or interactive fiction in general. As usual, I played this game on the Lost Treasures of Infocom app on the iPad.