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About the Story
The Enemy is expected to arrive at any moment. Staying behind is either the stupidest or the bravest thing you've ever done. Only one thing - or one person - could have made you stay. So now there's nothing for it but to find her before it's too late. [blurb from IF Comp 2008]
2nd Place overall; 3rd Place, Miss Congeniality Awards - 14th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2008)
Nominee, Best Game; Nominee, Best Writing; Winner, Best Story; Winner, Best Setting; Nominee, Best Individual PC - 2008 XYZZY Awards
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Number of Reviews: 6
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Perhaps the best compliment I could give to Nightfall is that playing it never once felt like work. The prose is concise, the puzzles (which are more like semi-realistic obstacles) are simple and straightforward, and there are a number of handy features to keep you on track.
Nightfall is primarily a game of exploration. The nameless main character has remained behind in an evacuated city to try and find his aloof and alluring female friend, and as he proceeds through the eerily deserted streets, bittersweet memories of his (until now, platonic) relationship with her come flooding back. Intriguing things are also afoot in the present, as you follow one step behind this mysterious woman, pondering her possible involvement with or against the strange powers at work in the city - and wondering just how much the PC is right to admire her.
Nightfall flows very easily. For the most part, I think this is simply the result of good decisions at the most basic levels of design and writing. But it helps that the author has also gone above and beyond the call of duty to add advanced features to help players get into the story. The player character can THINK about what he's learned and what options that knowledge points towards - and if you're stuck he can THINK HARDER (a nice phrase to type when you're lost, I feel) and come up with more explicit pointers. As a resident of the city, he can also GO TO locations - something that perhaps is more useful than it should be, given the realistically convoluted depiction of typical urban English geography.
Sometimes I think that IF authors forget that the vast potential for their games to accept varied and subtle commands, even those commands most commonly used by other games, can leave many players throwing up their arms in frustration - can turn away everyone not completely used to (or fond of) the crossword-narrative hybrid that some consider intrinsic to the medium. With Nightfall, I think that we have a nice example of an IF game that makes it easy to take part, while still providing the challenge of exploration and the involvement of decision-making.
It should not surprise anyone that a game by Eric Eve is meticulously tested and player-friendly -- or that it allows a wide range of options in a spacious environment -- or that it features Biblical references and an elusive, unsettling female character.
I think Nightfall works better than Elysium Enigma, though: the atmosphere is more consistent, the puzzle elements more plausibly suited to their setting, the story is ultimately more thematically coherent and focused more deeply on personalities. The essential premise is hauntingly tied to things actually happening in the world, and the abandoned spaces feel plausibly chilling. Moreover, Eve takes full advantage of his medium. Implied time limits rush you along, built-in pathfinding allows you to navigate a city that the player character knows much better than the player, and a host of small design choices guide the story without making it feel too linear.
Nightfall is a competition game, but deserves more than two hours. The basic mystery of the game can be resolved in a single playing, but to understand the characters properly, and to get a happier ending, will probably take a second try, with more exploration. In a way, it is like the inverse of Varicella: where the player of Varicella must play many times in order to achieve the perfect Machiavellian plot, the player of Nightfall starts off in the middle of a situation planned by others, and may need to replay in order to escape it.
The game is not perfect. I was not always completely convinced by the motivations of the characters, who have to do some fairly extraordinary things. Nonetheless, it's a creepy and memorable work displaying superb IF craftsmanship.
The premise of the game is that you have ignored a mandatory evacuation of your home town in order to remain behind and find a woman important to your past. Why she's important and why the town was evacuated are matters one is left to discover by collecting recollections strewn across a rather large map of the town. The game hits just the right tone of mystery in serving up descriptions of the deserted town and the memories that each location prompts. Technically, the game is just excellently crafted, and this was perhaps its strongest selling point for me in the end. Although there are a number of methods the designer employs to keep one from wandering aimlessly, none of these are so obvious that it overly interferes with one's immersion in the game. The story, however, suffers from a minor flaw: perhaps because the designer was unsure how many locations a player would investigate in the course of the game, he left a number of clues as to a certain character's personality that tend to pile up in a suspension-of-disbelief-crushing way if one investigates too thoroughly. That issue aside, this game fully kept my attention for the somewhat more than two hours that I played it.
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