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About the Story
Taco Fiction is a game about crime.
1st Place overall; 1st Place, Miss Congeniality Award - 17th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2011)
Nominee, Best Writing; Nominee, Best Individual NPC; Nominee, Best Implementation - 2011 XYZZY Awards
"Taco Fiction is a game about crime. There are many aspects to crime and the primary theme of the game is precariousness. You, as the nameless protagonist, are in a precarious financial state which leads you to criminal acts, and the world you occupy in Taco Fiction is itself precarious with few things exactly as they seem. With this in mind, we might expect the game's implementation to facilitate this sense of precariousness, and so it does."
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Number of Reviews: 10
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I've been meaning to write a review of Taco Fiction for a long time, and for no particular reason at all, I figured this was the time to finally do so.
The reason I've wanted to is that Taco Fiction is a really important game to me; I first picked it up several years ago, when I was only into IF very casually (i.e., mostly doing coding exercises in Inform 7 and failing to complete Spider and Web). I had played the basic beginners' canon (Lost Pig, 9:05, De Baron...), and somehow in the midst of that, I came upon this game. Taco Fiction blew me away.
For a long time after playing it, Taco Fiction existed in my head as a prototype of what a perfect text adventure should be. And I think the reason it stuck with me (as opposed to, say, Lost Pig or Spider and Web, fine games though they are) is that it was purely fun. I have a poor head for puzzles, and I can only put with dark stuff for so long. Taco Fiction was fun. I never got stuck, I never got a default command; I was startled by (Spoiler - click to show)the cops in the diner (a masterful moment), and in the final scene my heart was sent racing. The rest of the time I spent smiling.
There are a lot of things to praise about Taco Fiction. The simulacrum of an "open world" is particularly impressive, given that this is essentially a linear game, plot-wise. The world is not huge, but there are characters who you can talk to for quite a bit longer than you would think with an expansive menu-based conversation system, and you can wander around doing essentially pointless things like purchasing and buying ice cream - but not out of adventure-game boredom, or an "amusing things to do" ethos; it's the kind of thing the PC would do, and you're free to do it as well. In between the delightfully weird, page-turning plot, of course. One with surprisingly subtle and insightful political points (in the least sordid sense of that word) to make.
Yes, I'm gushing. The reason I've put off reviewing Taco Fiction for so long is that it's hard to know what to write when something is just good. It's the game that made me excited about IF, that made me want to write my own, it turned me on to the rest of Veeder's excellent work, and it remained for years in my head the model against which all other works of IF would be compared.
Taco Fiction deserves to be canonized with the very best of modern interactive fiction.
Digression: I know there's a lot of discussion about the impact that IFComp has had on the kind of IF offerings available from the last decade or so, and I'm glad that the XYZZY Awards and Spring Fling and ParserComp and other contests are around as well, but I really like this size of game: 10-20 rooms, can be played through in an hour or two. It's easy to keep the geography in your head and you can play through it in one sitting after putting the kids to bed.
Taco Fiction seems like a trifle: it's comedic (and quite funny), and the plot is as light as it could be in a game where you can point your gun at anyone you meet. That seems like sort of the point though; this game could have been quite bleak; the PC is desperate and doing desperate things. There's nothing in the game that needs to be funny, but the comedic touch lightens the tone enough to make it consistently compelling.
The world of the game is quite detailed, and actually becomes more of a playground for the player than it seems at first. A straight walkthrough to the best ending would miss about 75% of the content, so it's worth your while to just wander around, talking to all the NPCs and trying out different activities. There are a couple scenes that I found particularly well done (Spoiler - click to show) -- the charades and the Star Wars story are delivered perfectly -- and your initial entry into the taco shop is one of the tensest and most unnerving scenes I've played in any IF. (Spoiler - click to show) Consider the clear uneasiness of the PC from the first moments of the game, the litany of actions that you're going to take, that disturbing painting which catches your eye as you walk in, then the masterful revelation about the bikers. It all functions exquisitely to ratchet up the tension. There are no really difficult puzzles here, just a lovely little game about crime.
This game reminded me a lot of some of the old Infocom games, in that there's not a lot of embellishment in the descriptions, usually just a few sentences. I didn't find it too terribly difficult, it took me only about 2-3 hours to play through, and I'm a careful examiner of EVERYTHING. I usually don't play games that I would expect to be short, because I enjoy getting involved in long games, but this one was a nice and entertaining diversion from my usual route. What I really liked about the game was how the real plot seems to evolve from one thing(which is obvious to the player, albeit with a little coyness), to something much broader. I gave it only 4 stars, because some parts of the game, especially the ending, rely on conversation, which, in this game, is choice-based, so there's not a lot of freedom in this respect. I got frustrated with this part because you have to make the right choices, not all of which are available right away. It could get confusing if you use SAVE and RESTORE a lot, and you don't remember what subjects led to what other subjects. Plus there are things that you have to actually do, before some subjects for conversation open up, and these things are not entirely obvious. Specifically, (Spoiler - click to show)with Zuleika, the cashier in the ice cream place. I could have easily not noticed the checkerboard on the table--it wasn't in the room description!--had I not examined the table. You have to engage the cashier in a checker game, and then talk about your 'day' etc etc. to open up other important subjects. However, I also see how this was not essential to winning. (Spoiler - click to show)Though it was the 'best' ending. As usual, I would advise any new players trying this game to explore everything, see what you can do. If you like short games, this is ideal. I may just start getting into playing more short games! Here, the puzzles are not hard at all, especially if you take pains to examine things and seemingly unimportant details. (Spoiler - click to show)Remember to look in your back seat! Also, you have to make sure that you have examined everything found in the cult's back office. The details there are very important. Better yet, take it all with you! A good short game! Someone suggested I try a Ryan Veeder game. I did, and will be back for another one!
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