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About the Story
An adventure through the woods. Try to get through them without losing yourself in the process
Content warning: Violence, Gore, Abuse
62nd Place - 28th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2022)
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Number of Reviews: 6
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You are a fugitive, running through the woods in search of safety.
A highly branching but short story - I reached an ending in about 15 minutes.
I came up against a number of technical issues: I found the text hard to see against the background, and there were a couple of typos.
An inconsistent tone undermined the game’s mood. This was both in the dialogue and environment descriptions - contrasting with both the internal monologues and the theme. Also, I always expect any customisation options to play an important role in shaping the character, however these had minimal effect on the story.
While the core themes were promising, they felt underdeveloped. Themes of identity and the “us vs them” of humanity vs monsterhood all have great potential - with more focus on the narrator's developing self and how it interacts with other characters, it could definitely form a more focused story.
The opening screen promises a lot: a well-done background, effective and non-intrusive sound, and a request to pick your name and a color that corresponds to you. There's a list of stats (health, thirst, hunger.) It's for, well, an escape through a forest, to a place where people with the same Mark you have can be safe.
We get a fast-paced story, too, but it goes by too quickly without really knowing what the protagonist is like. One vulnerability in particular wasn't mentioned. There aren't many locations in the forest, and you can find shelter in both hostile and friendly locations. There's food and water, but if you're already too full or not thirsty, it does more bad than good. You're also vulnerable to rain, which I didn't pick up on until I ran into a bad ending.
I played through a few times. There were a few random deaths, but beyond them, escaping is not too hard, if you're suspicious of everyone who seems remotely harmful. Perhaps most interesting was my final play-through when someone offered me clothes in their one-room hut in the middle of a downpour. Removing the clothes would reveal my mark, but going into the rain meant death. This was one of the more concrete choices in the story, beyond going forward and back, and with more like this the story would be very strong indeed, but then again, it was never explained in the over-general beginning.
A lot of the action is scattershot, too, and the stats aren't really used as much as they could be. Why marked people were viewed suspiciously was hidden beyond a general assumption that marks are bad. And I wish I could've undone stuff. As it was, I had to open up a new tab for each play through the story. It all feels a bit too earnest, often introducing something you should've known mid-story. The world's been built, and it feels like it has the standard features, but the author doesn't have control of it, and they never fully commit to using the statistics, or building a story, so it never fully gels beyond being a quick affair where you maybe find a couple ways to make it out and move on. Things like penalties for eating when full were interesting and showed good general understanding, but TTFWTB never really sang to me in quite the way that, say, Under the Bridge did from the '22 comp.
In this Twine game, you play as someone born as a Beast, someone who is marked with a strange symbol. You have to run away to a place where everyone else is like you or respects you.
The game seems like it will be huge, with two input fields and 4 status bars or conditions. But I played to two different endings in less than 10 minutes, both of which seem like full stories.
There are a lot of great ideas here; the overall storyline, the lush background graphics and sounds, the compelling choices and the way even the writing responded to my actions. But it all feels very unfinished and unpolished, with some typos and grammatical errors (like 'corspes' for 'corpses'). This just needed more time, I think.
(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2022's IFComp).
Many years ago, I was on a family road trip where I wound up sitting next to my three-year-old cousin for a four-hour drive through New England. The early-summer scenery was lovely, and my cousin was delightful company – and still is, for that matter, albeit the fact that she’s now in college is a deeply unpleasant reminder of the relentless march of time – because, a precociously verbal child, she decided to pass the time in telling stories. These stories had several things in common: 1) she was always the main character; 2) there was always a forest, and a monster (in that order); 3) they each went through setup, rising action, climax, and very-compressed denouement in like four minutes apiece; and 4) the next one started immediately after the previous one wrapped up.
Playing Through the Forest With the Beast, the years melted away until I felt like I was back in that car again, listening to my cousin babble on, albeit it only lasts fifteen minutes and nobody got carsick, which must be counted as improvements on both scores.
What we’ve got here is a short, choice-based game that’s much simpler than the setup, with its glancingly-blasphemous worldbuilding and survival-game stat-box, communicates. You’ve got a mark on your chest that identifies you as some kind of beast to a frightened populace, which you’d think would imply a religious or apocalyptic angle, and an omnipresent set of health and stamina bar charts, plus a hunger and thirst meter, that set you up to expect resource-management sim elements. But the game pretty much entirely consists of just walking through a forest until you get to the safety of the other side, running through a short set of encounters that just sort of happen, without any of them setting up or impacting any of the rest, until you get to a sudden ending.
On the plus side, the game has some of the manic energy of an impatient toddler trying to distract herself. It’s truly impossible to predict what’s going to happen next – I won’t spoil the specific scenes I came across, few as they are, but while some predictably riff off of fairy tales, others go much farther afield (the only scene I ran into in my first playthrough appears to be a medium-length (Spoiler - click to show)Star Trek easter egg). And the simple prose keeps things moving, with a charming amount of editorializing about how exciting everything is:
"You follow the twisty windy road as vines move on their own and trees seem to bend to block out the sun. Time itself seems to have lost meaning back here. Finally you exit out into a clearing. At the far end is a small wooden cabin shockingly built in this forest."
On the negative side, the game also has the attention span you’d expect from an impatient toddler trying to distract herself. For one thing, during the opening you’re asked for your name and favorite color, with the former being mentioned one time in a skippable sequence, so far as I can tell, and the latter never coming up again at all. Similarly, your heath, stamina, hunger, and thirst appear to change only at fixed points, in predictable ways, so despite their prominent placement they feel very much like afterthoughts in play. The same description or plot point can also be repeated in adjacent sentences, as though the author forgot they already established something and thought they had to do it again.
Through the Forest can also feel exhausting, despite its short length: the backdrop is a pretty but very busy set of paintbrush-swirls that does succeed in evoking a forest, but succeeded even better in giving me a headache. Plus, many of the choices are simple, zero-context “do you want to go forward or back, or left or right?” quandaries where it’s impossible to know whether there are better or worse choices to make, which can be wearying, and there are no real puzzles to create deeper engagement.
At least it’s easy; I go through successfully in all three games I tried, and I was curious enough about the paths not taken to jump right back to the beginning those first two times to see what I’d missed. Twice was enough, though – there’s no real payoff to reaching your goal, no sense of how you’ve been changed, and without those elements, the story felt like it often reduced to “and then this happened, and then that happened, the end.” I was very much done after those fifteen minutes were up – though, points in Through the Forest’s favor, it was way easier to bring the game to a stop by closing my browser window than it would have been to bail out of that road trip with more than three hours still to go.
Adapted from an IFCOMP22 Review
10 word summary: “Your community doesn’t like you for superficial reasons, run away!”
This is a simple, short game. You give your character a name and favorite color(?) which are dutifully repeated back to you later in the text but don’t seem to serve any narrative purpose. This kind of thing is often used to nudge the player to invest in the protagonist, but does it work? Maybe in the early days of IF, but nowadays with the customization available in video games the bar is much higher than two traits, one of which is any random string of characters. Beyond our input, the only additional character fact we are given is the reason for their self-imposed exile so notwithstanding customization, the protagonist ends up being a bit of a blank slate.
The game has a pleasant presentation - a moody forest scene with an appropriate wildlife sonic backdrop. That kind of worked, but the author set a challenge for themself by using artwork dark on the left and light on the right. Meaning the choice of overlaid text color has to be read across the entire screen. The right side of the screen was notably harder to read than the left. They also included a health/status box that unfortunately was too small for the information it wanted to hold! Text often disappeared beneath box boundaries making its utility questionable.
There were writing issues throughout the piece. Descriptions that only kind of worked like “trees bend to create a path of sunshine” Consecutive sentences that start with the word ‘however.’ Descriptions that were insufficient to understand the stakes like “room covered in glass” which from context we later realize should have been “room covered in glass shards.” Those are notably different mental images! There are even descriptions that don’t parse without way too much work like “Luckily the metal was sharp to an entrance punched into this strange metal wreckage.” Proof reader feedback could have addressed a lot of this.
Gameplay was fairly limited, and flouted convention in a key way that made it harder. It was a linear affair first playthrough, the only options were to press forward and every now and then go back. You had health and stamina stats, but were never presented with an option to manage them so just for tension then? However, linearity is not uncommon in IF, but that choice really puts all the Engagement burden on the text and narrative. However here between the writing, the narrow goal (and background) which was crying for but never received explication, and the extreme brevity there wasn’t much opportunity to elevate the forest/site exploration quest. (See, you thought I was being too nitpicky. Dual use of ‘however’ is offputting, right?)
Then there was a wild design choice. After the first runthrough, I was like “I didn’t get to make any choices, dafug?” So next runthrough, I took the only alternate choices the game made available, to go BACK in certain spots. In most IF, if you start in Room A and go north, the assumption is south from Room B gets you back to A. “Ho, ho! Not so fast!” saysTtFwtB. Going back unlocks new paths - not only does it take you in a new direction, there is actually no way to retrace your steps! Thematically doesn’t seem to have any justification (unless its saying ‘you can’t go home again’ just saying it super super low key) and a weird choice when “Left and Right” were still available. When you go back, a few other paths open up to you, and those are marginally less linear. They are some consequential choices that aren’t completely arbitrary, but not super well laid out either. Only one path seemed to offer one choice to manage your health/stamina. And two of them felt kind of samey: find cabin, interact with female head of household.
It was light and quick, but didn’t provide enough meat to really chew into. It’s a reasonable framework to layer a deeper narrative and more fleshed out gameplay onto. Never breached beyond Mechanical for me, unless Head Scratching over Design Choices counts.
Playtime: 15min, 2 survived, 1 died
Artistic/Technical rankings: Mechanical/Intrusive
Would Play Again? No, experience seems complete
Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless