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But I am in my grave, and, oh, The difference to me!, July 14, 2012
I was going to begin this review by saying: 'Not to be confused with the 2009 game of the same title, genre, initial situation and initial geography,' and then I realised how dumb that sounded. If ever a human being should be allowed to accidentally confuse a pair of games with each other from a position of ignorance, it should be in the case of these two Awakenings, though admittedly this one has a 'The' in front of it.
Now that I have kindly allowed for human fallibility, I can say that Dennis Matheson's lone IF game, 1998's The Awakening, is a well written piece of goth horror in which you wake up in a grave in the pouring rain and must seek to solve the mystery of your predicament. The prose is steeped in Lovecraftian dread and 'unnameable'-ness, and the development of the plot moves strongly in the direction of one of Lovecraft's short tales.
At the time of writing this review, I was mostly in the habit of playing more recent IF games – IE from the mid 2000s and on – and as I played The Awakening, I discovered that I needed to shift my playing style and mindset a bit to accommodate what feels like a game from a different time. The differences were subtle, but they spoke to me about the adventure games I am used to playing, which could be generalised as coming from both the old school and the new school. The 90s games are in a middle period for me. I had no awareness of them at the time, and this one certainly feels more like a small Infocom title than something newer.
The puzzles, though not numerous, are quite finicky and also subtle. Important props are sometimes buried with equal subtley in the room descriptions. It is possible to make your game unwinnable or to miss out on points, and there's also the technical limitation of only one UNDO being allowed. I don't think anyone would say this is a really difficult adventure, and there are in-game hints you can call upon, but it asks a little more of the player puzzle-wise than more modern games.
Atmosphere is king in The Awakening, what with its shuddery graveyard and dilapidated church settings. Some of the gettable objects about the place are just there to enhance the story and the reality of the situation, and there are a couple of nasty NPCs. (Spoiler - click to show)I have to confess that in the case of the guard dog, I only got stuck because I found the description of its chain inadequate. Folks who like non-explicit Lovecraft spinoffs, graveyard spookiness or a bit of rigour in their adventuring should enjoy this middle sized mystery.