Under the Bridge

by Samantha Khan

2022

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
So, how much sympathy do you think you deserve?, January 16, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2022

The description left me worried Under the Bridge might be an exercise in a monster finding different ways to maul people. Thankfully, I was wrong. You get to maul people if you want. You even have to, at the start. But there is real humanity in the decisions you make, with enough tension in your choices to make it feel like you're not just overturning rocks to see what all happens (Note: allowing undo was a VERY good choice in this work. The introduction that sets the mood is effective enough but takes nontrivial time.)

Yes, you're a deformed monster under the bridge. But you have excuses, even reasons, for being as you are. There's a new bridge, one which leaves your forest even more populated by humans. Being able to hide under it is scant relief. Humans pass back and forth, and in the first encounter at night, two of them meet on the bridge. One threatens another. You have a choice to kill one or both. Your moral sense is not fully developed beyond knowing your territory has been invaded, but you can smell fear regularly.

More humans pass in the day. A woman with her child and, if you are very aggressive, an army of humans. But there are also ways out. Two good endings may not feel totally satisfactory, as they leave the door open for people impinging on your territory later, but they're very different in how you wind up, what you fear, and whom you trust.

The sound effects and graphics (black with white lines) are effective, and there's even a bit of upside-down text signifying you looking into the river and thinking of things. This isn't the first work to use upside-down text, and it's more serious than Elizabeth Smyth's LIDO, written for EctoComp. I'm reminded how Twitter had upside-down text that was a fad for a while. Here perhaps the text is overused a bit, but it adds to the story overall.

UTB is in a tricky spot. There can only be so many choices, because the main character doesn't and can't think deeply. It doesn't recognize that humans may fear predators beyond it, too, and it's genuinely surprised at the alliance ending. There's some fear in the other good ending, too, as you find an entity you can't quite trust, and you're also surprised a bit by humans in the worst ending. UTB branches economically, which seems right, because too much would belie that you are, well, a simple beast. I think it had more emotional impact that Grue from a few IFComps back. I liked Grue, which sort of relied on the Zork canon, and one suspects a Grue doesn't really have the intelligence for parser-style commands. There your goal was to escape, and that was it. Here the main character here has more dimensions that go beyond "animals have feelings too," so UTB is great value for the time spent to reach all the endings. It's not intended to be cheery, of course, but it never dumps angst and violence and gore on you, and I appreciated the restraint along with the possibility of not-fully-happy endings.