Through the Forest with the Beast

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A quick journey through a trap-loaded forest, November 24, 2022
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2022

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.

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