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Good, but overrated., February 27, 2008
This game made a huge splash in the IF community when it was released, handily taking first place in the 2003 IF Comp and performing the equivalent of an Oscar sweep in that year's XYZZY awards. Why, then, do I give it a mere three stars?
First, the positives: The introduction is a superb piece of writing. The reader is immediately gripped by the mystery presented, and that mystery is fully explored in the multiple possible endings. The premise is unique; the atmosphere is memorable. Overall, "Slouching Towards Bedlam" practically shines with the kind of originality that is so highly-prized in the IF community, and this probably is the best explanation for its record-breaking high score in the Comp.
But, then, there are the negatives: The world implementation is a little spare. The NPCs are a little flat. Certain promising points of interest turn out to be either red herrings or truncated plot elements. To be honest, this game strikes me as half-finished in some ways -- the overall tone of the implementation has an unevenness that can be surprising.
Once again, I have to point to the IF Comp guidelines that say an entry should be designed to be solvable within two hours of gameplay. The authors clearly had more to give here, and the half-finished feel to some parts of the game could be nothing more than the result of their having reached the target play time and calling it quits. My suspicion is that they may have run a bit short on development time, however; some improvements in editing would have easily scored an extra star from me.
"Slouching Towards Bedlam" is a decent game made from a terrific story. My slight dissatisfaction stems from my sense that, with more work, it could be an excellent game made from a terrific story. It is definitely worth your time to explore, even if I don't count it among the greats.