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A big meta-puzzle in an alternate Venice, August 29, 2011
By now we have all become familiar with films that give us a narrative that is somehow cut up -- either in space, or in time, or in levels of reality -- and then ask us to sort it all out into a coherent story. Memento is an obvious example, as are Donnie Darko, Inception and eXistenZ. These films are like puzzles, in that we are constantly coming up with theories and testing them against what is happening on the screen.
Jon Ingold's All Roads falls firmly within this genre. It presents us with scenes taking place in an alternate Venice, where the Guard fights against the Resistance. We take the role of an assassin who is about to be hanged, but suddenly manages to escape in what appears to be a supernatural way. The rest of the game consists of weird shifts in place and time, troublesome identities, and the player trying to understand what on Earth is going on.
So, is it any good? On the positive side, the story is complicated and yet coherent enough to excite interest and engage our intellect. We theorise, we adopt and discard theories, and the clear-headed reader will have a pretty good idea of what was going on once he has finished the game. One will certainly have had fun.
On the negative side, however, it must be mentioned that All Roads is a bit too complex for its own good. The central plot could have done with at least one identity less. (Spoiler - click to show)Did we really need to have both the assassin as a disembodied ghost and his brother? A confusion between two identities would have been complicated enough, but now we in fact have three identities. This would have made it easier to solve a story that now appears to be wilfully obscure.
Another negative point is that the game sometimes goes out of its way to hide clues from the player. Not only will some crucial information only be found by players who do non-obvious actions, it is also the case that some clues are actively withheld from you. The "x me" command is particularly bad in this respect. While I can see why the author was hesitant in supplying a more helpful response to such a command, I do not think it was the right decision. It is better to make the central puzzle easier than to tell you players "sure, if I told you this stuff that you should just be able to examine, you could solve the puzzle; but I'm not going to!"
That said, it is still easy to love All Roads. Anyone interested in IF should give it a whirl.