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Nominee, Best Story; Nominee, Best Puzzles; Nominee, Best NPCs - 2000 XYZZY Awards
Massive, and massively ambitious, this game combines a sweeping and complex plot with some of the most fiendish puzzles in existence. You are a young woman swept into the role of superheroine, and the game provides enough hair-raising adventures to fill a half-dozen lesser works of IF. There are many, many locations, NPCs, and scenarios; action scenes worthy of a John Woo movie; and utterly ludicrous challenges to overcome.
Speaking of ludicrous, the puzzle design needs quite a lot of work. The superheroine has certain powers, which are rather fun, and which the game allows the player to learn in a fairly effective manner. Not all of the puzzles turn on these powers, however, and others don't use them in obvious ways; there are many, many places where the game requires syntax that might not be obvious and that is non-standard to IF. Likewise, some puzzles are only solvable by a complex sequence of read-the-author's-mind maneuvers.
Finally, some people may have mixed reactions to the game's treatment of gender -- the overt feminist propaganda sits a bit oddly next to a sometimes voyeuristic treatment of individual women.
In other words, this is a game with higher highs and lower lows than most; where it's good, it's great, and where it's bad, it's terrible. On the whole it comes out worth playing -- set aside a few weeks for the task, because it is not a small game -- but have the solution handy. Some of these puzzles are just not going to make sense any other way.
-- Emily Short
But never mind the plot. It doesn't show up much, anyway. This is not a story game, this is a puzzle game. And though there are a number of onerus ones, there are a lot of imaginative ones, too. The keycodes to the laptop were inventively hidden, deciphering the Messiah ritual was fun, and the various boss fights are the undisputed highlight of the game -- they're fast-paced and exciting, giving the player a real sense of "thereness", and the solutions are rarely too obscure. (Though when they are... well, keep a save file.) (Craxton)
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In a Most Curious Mantle
Most games have failed because they're too timid; Phillips dares to go farther and drags the player along with him, willingly or not. Even the puzzles add to the feeling of the titanic struggle -- there I am, 2am, grappling with the game, a few cryptic hints, two megabytes of txd output, and I'm still stuck. (Dan Shiovitz)
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I may have been influenced by having played No One Lives Forever and Freedom Force at around the same time, but this game's episodic structure (each chapter featuring a "boss" to kill) reminded me of a more mainstream action-oriented game, and its general sense of good humor and fun reminded me of both of those (wonderful) titles as well. Some of the puzzles are unusual for IF, being more action-oriented than the standard cerebral affairs. Lisa has some very potent powers, and you will have to make use of all of them (often in very creative ways) to solve the game. (Jimmy Maher)
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There's been a few games where a significant part of my experience was tied up in community play; something fairly long and puzzle-oriented gets released outside the comp, and there's a few weeks during which a good portion of IF people are playing simultaeneously. There's a tone of mild competition, you can get tailored hints fairly easily, and if you want to discuss something about it then it's fresh in everyone's mind. It doesn't happen too often; the game needs to be fairly long, somewhat difficult and reasonably well made. First Things First and Savoir Faire are good examples of games that really benefited from this kind of play, but I think of Heroine's Mantle is the primary example -- largely because I wouldn't have played it very far without that context.
The style is superhero cheese plus a good deal of campy spy thriller. I'm fairly sceptical about how suited superhero fiction is to IF; it's a genre all about action and visuals, it doesn't exactly play to IF's strengths. HM deals with the action problem by making your powers functional but quite limited, like the superhero version of an Enchanter spell; this is a tenable approach, but the puzzle structure is really too linear to make the powers feel very powerful. There is a good use of the training-sequence in which you learn to use your powers -- common in mainstream videogames, not much-used in IF. (A game needs to be pretty long for it to be of much use; games like The Erudition Chamber or The Recruit, which are entirely training-sequence, always strike me as kind of unsatisfying.) The puzzles are generally pretty hard, there are a lot of them, they're mostly very traditional in style, and they're sometimes a little awkward.
The writing's indifferent, and the plot's about at the standard of Hollywood superhero movies, with similar problems of tone -- too earnest, and inclined to leering. Your mileage may vary. Length is a big advantage; most IF is so short that there's little space for character arc or really explore a game mechanic. So the storytelling here isn't very dense, but it can still accomplish a fair bit.
If you like old-school puzzlers and superheroes, and aren't very sensitive to representation of women in fiction, you're likely to get a lot out of this. Otherwise, unless circumstances align, it's likely to be a struggle.
Andy Phillips games are basically movie plots where you have to guess the exactly right actions. They are extremely long, and so difficult that I doubt anyone has completed them singlehandedly without hints.
This one is about a superhero name the Golden Crusader in Atlantic city. After an opening that is longer than most games, you are given a tutorial on how to become the next Golden Crusader and use her four big powers, you then are given five locations to visit to stop evil henchmen. The villains are memorable. One is unnecessarily sexual, killing people with sex and attraction perfume. She is the most encountered villain. The others include an evil toy maker, a pirate captain with a laser sword, a cult leader, and a magician with deadly tricks.
There's really no way to beat this without hints, but it can be fun to play with the walkthrough until you get to a cool part, play around for a bit, then continue with the walkthrough.
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