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A clever take on Rashomon, May 14, 2010
This was my third Plotkin-written game (discounting the Plotkin-starring game I played first, ‘Being Andrew Plotkin’) and I think it’s my favorite thus far. “So Far” was somewhat standard adventure hunt and puzzle faire (at least from a modern perspective, maybe in 1996 it was evolutionary), which was well written but wasn’t very fun for me. Then “Shade” was surreal and technically accomplished but left me feeling very unsatisfying because, ultimately, dream logic is really the absence of logic and Interactive Fiction games suffer horribly if you can’t figure out what the author was thinking.
Finally, “Spider and Web” has helped me understand why zarf is such a popular figure in IFdom. Spider and Web starts with a somewhat conservative opening, a man standing in an alley in front of a door he can’t open. But just as you are about to get bored (which the game figures out by you either standing around doing nothing or simply walking away from the door) you are suddenly blinded by light and find the curtain of the world torn away.
It turns out you have been captured by an organization and have been strapped to a chair to be interrogated. The interrogation is taking place in a unique manner, however. You’ve been connected to a computer which is allowing you to step into places you know from your memory and re-enact the events that led to your capture while your interrogator watches the play from his console. Ostensibly, the ‘game’ is about trying to figure out what you had done the first time around so you can show your interrogator and prevent him from killing you in frustration. The simulation you’re placed in allows you some freedom in that goal, but any time you do something that contradicts the evidence your interrogator has gathered, you are stopped and forced to restart the simulation after being told why what you did doesn’t match the evidence gathered.
Even if that was the entirety of the game, it would be fun and certainly out of the ordinary for the IF games I’ve played. But, naturally, that’s not all that’s going on. (Spoiler - click to show)And about three quarters of the way through the game something happens that changes your perspective on what you’ve been experiencing, bringing some doubt to whether you've been fully honest in your telling of events. Of course, the truth has been cleverly hinted at all the way through the game as well, with clever parser responses to actions that should be standard. For instance, very early in the game you obtain a ‘wrapped package’, but all attempts to open or unwrap the package receive the cryptic response “Not yet.” This does an excellent job of adding mystery to what is going on and make the reveal towards the end so much more satisfying.
The writing in this game is excellent, as is to be expected from Plotkin, so there is little more to say.
The gameplay, while ingenious at times, is a little cumbersome at times too. Much of the game involves meandering around doing things until something triggers your interrogator to intervene and reset the simulation because it didn’t match the facts. Then your challenge is to figure out how what the interrogator said you didn’t do alludes to what you DID do, and then do that.
Okay, that was a confusing way of putting it. Ultimately, it’s trial and error. You do something, like open a door, and then the interrogator yanks you out of the simulation and says something like “No, that door wasn’t opened until after you cut power to the security systems, otherwise the alarms would have gone off.” Then you are thrust back into the game and need to figure out where the security systems are to shut them off. This isn’t an actual scenario from the game, but it gives you an idea of what’s expected of you.
Unfortunately, what the interrogator implies is not always straightforward and I spent quite a bit of time fumbling around trying to figure out what was next. This is exacerbated near the end of the game when the guiding words of the interrogator are absent for a plot-related reason. Also, the end goal of the game, which is to obtain a MacGuffin of some sort, requires a bit of reading between the lines to figure out what exactly it is and what you should do with it when you get it. Unfortunately, I needed a walkthrough in the end to fully figure out what to do in the final few minutes of the game.
Overall, this game is excellent, and does a great job of allowing you to play a very, very intelligent protagonist without feeling as though you’re breaking his character. The story twist is superb, and launches an otherwise average spy story into new heights. Fully recommended.