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the primordial user agency verb taken to a whole new level, October 15, 2016
I started playing this one and it felt like Midnight Swordfight - let's call it MS - all over: a weird setting not immediately recognizable that takes a while to digest with a constrained verb list. I hate this "modern" take on parser games to be constrained to a few verbs, perhaps a sinister plot by twine jihadists to constrain parser to "clicks". But here, as in MS, it works. Apart from that - and from swordfight - they are very unlike each other. And I quite enjoyed this one. my somewhat spoilery review follows...
In MS, I never felt quite connected to the story: you kind of view the whole thing from an audience's point of view, being able to interact with scenery and "script" your way through some kind of play. Here, something ironic and strange is going on: take is the primary verb, but it's not used in its usual and traditional parser-IF agency-setting way, but it's supposed to be your take on things happening around you. You don't take things, you write your take on them to some mysterious audience eager for some kind of perverse reality show. Who are the audience? why, certainly we, the players. The protagonist keeps us enthralled by his descriptions and we write back and with our feedback, he lives on. something metaphorical here...
Despite lacking apparent user agency, your take on things is what keeps you alive: you're some kind of clone or android - with the audience always in contact to you via some monitor (probably text-only) installed between your ribs. Yeah, the setting is kind of disturbing. So, either you keep them enthralled by your takes or you're history. Choosing your takes is the challenge. So, ironically, this is choose-your-own-takes in parser form to great user agency effect. :)
The story goes from the point of view of what looks like a gladiator in his late years, a fading star in his profession still into this for his skills in taking anything - including opponent blows. It seems there is indeed nothing he can't take and taking it graciously to his audience to keep them enthralled is what the gameplay is all about. I found the setting pretty fascinating by itself, and the narrator is clever enough to keep it gripping. Finely crafted prose at work here.
The pacing is quite linear and although there are a few physical locations with their own props, you don't move with cardinal directions, you're moved through the scenes in time. Like most other games in IF Comp this year, it looks like a short game because they forgo long linear plots with single solutions in favor of a multibranching solution space, where many paths may be rewarding in their own. It has quite high replay value and you keep playing to see where other branches might lead you. Not quite a puzzlefeast, but still got enough beef to keep you wondering...
one of the best this year, hands down.
Btw, earlier I called the player character a "he": it's not quite that and it's only when we take the point of view of the adversary that we can understand the meaning to the empty sheath and fragility of the old gladiator. There's quite a lot to digest in what looks like simple uncompromised fun here. Some playthroughs are a must.
And btw, my personal take on it: (Spoiler - click to show)it's an ironical description of hetero sex, with the player character being a female whose only role is to take a beating from the sword from the male adversary. She doesn't seem to enjoy it nor take it lightly, thus it's never a win. You only win when you can USE the sword, as the point of view by the male protagonist reveals. So, yeah, a single joke, but a well thought out and executed one.