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36th Place - 20th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2014)
Rock, Paper, Shotgun
Very few games attempt to convey the complete and utter terror of war, to avoid any sort of jingoism, and to still create a sense of desperate excitement. Even fewer succeed. Hill 160, rather impressively, is one of the latter.
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Sadly, this game is one I couldn't finish. The author indicates that this game has been made easier to comply with the comp rules (the two-hour rule, I suppose), but I sincerely doubt that anyone will finish the game, because the walkthrough is a bit over 700 commands long. To complete the game you'd need to execute one (correct!) command every ten seconds. Judging by the walkthrough, in 48 minutes I got through about a sixth of the game.
If the game were only too long, I would have continued to play for the full two hours games are allotted. Unfortunately, the game has three crippling flaws: first, it is tedious; second, it is unfriendly (more on this later); third, it is buggy.
The tedium is, I presume, intentional: it's intended to reflect the tedium of war. To that end, the game involves plenty of actions that are boring, repetitive, or both. The walkthrough contains (from about 700 turns) 57 turns of waiting, 19 turns of sleeping, and 16 turns of 'again', which are mostly sleeping or waiting. When you are acting, you are often doing something like drop pants / crap in trench / pull up pants.
The unfriendliness is the main reason I gave up. Any little thing you do that isn't according to script will generally end the game. Leave the latrine without using it? "You didn't take your shite! GAME OVER MATEY!". Walk onto the battlefield without cleaning your rifle? "You didn't clean your rifle! GAME OVER MATEY!". Try to take the supplies you're after, rather than asking for them? "GAME OVER MATEY!".
It's not generally obvious what you're meant to do until you've already failed. How was I to know I had to clean the rifle? Its description didn't mention anything. For that matter, how was I to know I had to attach the bayonet myself? The game over message tells me that "Your rifle is missing a critical part.", but attempting to examine it again gives me "You've already examined the rifle.". The game won't let you examine anything twice, or talk to anyone twice. If you don't have a transcript, you'd better have remembered the names of the members of your platoon--you won't be seeing them again!
It's not always obvious how to accomplish things, either. When you're sent for supplies, trying to simply take them from the supply party gets you killed, but talk to party gives "You can't talk to the supply party." In fact, you must ask party for supplies. But talk to grant worked, earlier. The requirements are inconsistent. Once, when talking to Grant, you must salute (or game over!), but later, saluting isn't necessary.
Finally, the game is buggy. If you talk to Grant in the Main Trench before going out on the recon mission, he gives the speech that he gave earlier about you needing to go pick up supplies. Waiting repeatedly will repeatedly give the text about Grant arriving. Sometimes waiting will just do nothing with no message at all. And it's not strictly a bug, but take all should not open up every container and fill my inventory with several screens worth of cigarettes and grenades and things. It should just pick up the items I dropped. Very irritating!
All that said, the game does have its good points. The author indicates that it's intended to be fairly realistic, based on his over 40 years of study, and there are plenty of interesting details. There are some detailed descriptions of certain items, and the language and situation are (apparently--the first World War is not my forte) also intended to be realistic. For my part, I'd enjoy it more simply exploring the environment than having the game nag at me about every minor detail (and the author promises that "When it goes up on the archive, it will be much harder with Release 2." Not necessary!).
Hill 160 has potential, but I won't be returning to the current release.
Play time: 48 minutes.
Mike Gerwat has made several games, and they all share some features. They tend to be enormous, with instant deaths all over the place and complicated walkthroughs that are often slightly incorrect.
This particular game is set in WWI, in the trenches, with a grim and seemingly accurate portrayal of trench warfare. The game is worth trying out, seeing the horrors of war and the sad extremes that soldiers are pushed to.
Unfortunatey, the author seemed to think that giving the player/reader a history lesson was more important than a story or a goal. I couldn't finish it. It was just too boring.
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