Spider and Web

by Andrew Plotkin profile

Science Fiction/Espionage
1998

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4 star:
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3 star:
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2 star:
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Number of Ratings: 266
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A masterpiece, February 12, 2014
by Simon Deimel (Germany)

So, as this game seems to be praised by everyone, I finally decided to check it out. It is hard to give a review about this game without spoilers, so read with care. It starts with a scene that let's you think you are a tourist, but the player will very soon be taught better.

In the first part of the game two kinds of scenes take turn -- the protagonist tries to retrace what he previously did, and if there is something deviant from the actions that happened before the actual gameplay, the gameplay will move to an interrogation room where the player is told why it cannot have happened like he tried it. These interludes are helpful, they give hints what to do. The player has to work with certain gadgets found in the inventory. It is fine to experiment with them -- if something is not correct, the game will switch to the interrogation, and the situation can be replayed. The conversational system is quite simplified and reminds of a platonic dialogue: the player can only confirm or negate the questions of the interrogator. It is easy, but sufficient.
It all changed for me when the protagonist's life was at stake for the first time. I had read some comments before, it had been inevitable; and there had been remarks that the game contains one outstanding puzzle -- and there it was. Thinking about actions that might have effect -- no matter how likely they would succeed -- I tried something, and then something happened that changed my whole point of view about the situation. Yes, the voices had been right. This puzzle is one of the best I have ever encountered. It is perfectly integrated into the storyline.
It is advisable to save the game frequently during the second part, especially in the end game. There are tough situations and the player has a hard time not making a mistake. These moments come very close to what we call stealth action, in a text-based version -- it is excellently managed to convey a feeling of being pursued and trying to evade from the scene. The second part may be a bit tedious, because the puzzle conjoining the parts has too much of an actual climax. But it still fits the frame.

So, what is the conclusion? The game may be a bit too tough for beginners, but everyone who likes interactive fiction has to play it sooner or later. This is a masterpiece.


- Katrisa (Houston), January 23, 2014

- francisthe3rd (Horseheads, NY), January 23, 2014

- scottmbruner (alameda, california), January 17, 2014

- lisapaul, January 9, 2014

- KidRisky (Connecticut, USA), December 20, 2013

- bigotitos, November 8, 2013

- Adam Myers, September 19, 2013

- Indigo9182, August 17, 2013

- Enrique, July 31, 2013

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
A good magic trick of a game, June 8, 2013
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: andrew plotkin, zarf

Play it if: you want a short, sweet line of puzzles with a couple of good twists.

Don't play it if: you want a less linear, more open game that lets you take your time and explore, or a spy story that focuses less on plot and more on theme.

At least at the time of its release, Spider and Web was obviously a novel concept for IF, if not so much for storytelling in general (connections to Rashomon have already been pointed out, but let's not forget The Murder of Roger Ackroyd; and The Usual Suspects, which had hit the theaters in 1995). Me, I came to IF relatively recently barring Zork I, so the historical impact of the game is lost on me. But does it hold up by itself?

Yes. Putting aside the then experimental nature of the game, this is still an appreciably good bit of IF. One thing I've always liked about the medium is that, aside from the really early history, IF can age extremely well, and this is one work which feels like it could have been written yesterday.

Aside from a couple of people who seem not to have finished the game, there's not much other than high praise for Spider and Web here. Most of the positive aspects of the game have already been outlined. So I'll mostly skip that, except to say that I really love games like this and Sean Barrett's The Weapon, where you have to discover and solve at the same time, and do it under observation (it really adds a sense of urgency and pizzazz to the puzzle-solving process). Instead I'll take the time to address some of its flaws.

This is necessarily spoiler-heavy, so...

(Spoiler - click to show)In terms of gameplay before the big reveal, there are one or two moments which feel somewhat underclued. The lockpick distraction method doesn't entirely make sense to me, not least because the lockpick strikes me as the tool a master infiltrator would be least likely to part with. I might as well have just thrown the minilamp, surely? It didn't also make much sense to me that the functions of each dial on the timer weren't explained in the descriptions of the dials; pretty much everything that wasn't intuitive for the other tools was explained upon examination, so why not the timer?

The game does lose a lot of my interest after the big reveal, and I think it's because the climactic sequence is longer than it really needs to be. In a longer game with more varied puzzles I would have found it acceptable, but choreographing your efforts to complete the game takes up enough of the gameplay time that it feels like another game tacked on. It doesn't help that the puzzles bear little relation to what you've been doing up until that point, with the exception of the common geography.

I accept that it might have been difficult to squeeze the post-escape sequence into just a few paragraphs of exposition, and there's no honest middle ground between the two options...but then I simply have to chalk it up to the story being written into a corner, albeit an enjoyable one. The Usual Suspects, in contrast, basically ends with that analogous twist and, regardless of whether or not you appreciated the plot that came before, I think it's fairly obvious that setting the film's climax after that reveal would have been a lot less punchy and a lot more tedious.

I also have mixed feelings about the discussion of moral concepts in the story. Don't get me wrong, I'm a sucker for Cold War narratives and the murky worlds of arms escalation and espionage, but in order for such narratives to work you need the other side to give you something to work with, and while the interrogator has a good deal of personality the PC has almost none (aside from a few flashes of attitude in the first couple of turns). While the conceit of having the PC know more than the player is well-done, it would have worked even better had it been connected with the moral dimension of the story. If the PC actually responded to the interrogator with opinions and ideas, it would have added an extra layer to the intrigue: is what you're saying part of the patter to get him to accept your story, or is it actually what you believe? Or is it even both? The ambiguity in the game is purely external - by which I mean it affects the plot, not the actual stances and opinions of the player character.


In the end, this is still a very good game, and I would argue, worth your time. It's not really a masterpiece, though. A generally well-done employment of one or two neat tricks in a story short enough for them not to outstay their welcome.


- DJ (Olalla, Washington), May 9, 2013

- Jonn Mostovoy, May 5, 2013

- Floating Info, April 3, 2013

- Stier, March 29, 2013

- ptkw, March 6, 2013

- Edward Lacey (Oxford, England), March 4, 2013

- dk101 (London, UK), March 2, 2013

- Stewjar (USA), January 29, 2013

- ifailedit (arkansas), January 17, 2013

- Emerald Rhapsody, January 1, 2013

- Sdn (UK), December 24, 2012

- Puddin Tame (Queens, NY), October 27, 2012

- AADA7A, September 19, 2012

- Meredith (California), August 25, 2012


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