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Very Clever, December 6, 2020
This entire review is a giant spoiler, so:
(Spoiler - click to show)This is one third of an interesting trio of ostensibly puzzle-based games. I say “ostensibly” because, once you figure out the central conceit - that “Adventures in the Tomb of Ilfane,” “Incident! Aliens on the Teresten!,” and “Terror in the Immortal’s Atelier” are all pieces of one overarching adventure - there really is no puzzle left. By reading each of the games concurrently, they supply cut-and-dry solutions to the other games’ puzzles, and these solutions cannot possibly be missed. They’re marked with huge blinking text! The entirety of the puzzle to be solved, then, consists of this single realization. Everything else is just doing what you’re told. While the intertextuality is a clever idea, for this reason, I didn’t get much out of these games in terms of meaningful interactivity.
The story itself confused me a bit since each of the games includes the same set of names applied to totally different things - is Ilfane, for example, the leader of an ancient nation? A spacefaring species of alt-right aliens? Or just a cabinet? I found myself wondering whether there is a deeper meaning behind how the names are assigned differently between the games. Is it an invitation to consider the importance of context in generating meaning? Maybe a comment on the unreliability of the games’ narrators? Perhaps it is meant to suggest a kind of symbolic connection between the (seemingly totally different) people and objects who get assigned the same name? Or maybe it’s just for shiggles? At this time, I have no answer to these questions, but it’s interesting to think about.
The games are well-polished, with a pleasing color scheme and no bugs that I encountered. My one gripe with the technical side is the inclusion of timed text. Timed text is a finicky thing that’s almost impossible to get right. In this case, I thought it was too slow, and that detracted from the excitement of some otherwise-dramatic sequences… except for a few times when I glanced away for a second and missed a line. Oops.
Where these games shine the most is in the quality of the prose and cleverness of the writing. The included myths and parables, especially, were a pleasure to read. With delightfully unexpected/cynical riffs on established tropes, these pieces of fiction-within-fiction are extremely effective for communicating the disturbing value system of their in-universe authors. The ultimate goal of the games, it seems, is to stake out a certain position in contemporary social/political discourse. But they do it with a certain levity and campiness that makes them feel more like a fun romp, even as they deliver the messages of a gloomy cautionary tale.
Overall, the games bring plenty of cool ideas to the table, and they execute some of them very well.