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A Jumble of Interesting Ideas, April 3, 2012
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)Related reviews: jon ingold
Play it if: you love the mindscrew genre, because this more than qualifies, or you prefer largely puzzle-less, narrative-heavy IF.
Don't play it if: you want to see the gameplay tie in with or match the bizarre narrative satisfactorily; if you prefer not to get involved in stories which tread the line between depth and obscurantism.
It's a shame that I couldn't give All Roads a higher score, because there are a lot of ideas here to like. Unfortunately, they're not organized particularly well, leaving me feeling rather frustrated at the end of the game.
Part of the problem is in implementing the main theme as expressed in the title. As with the old saying, Jon Ingold seems to want all choices and actions to converge on one inescapable ending. Which is fine if properly done. But here, the game is not capable of subtly prodding the player into committing the necessary deeds or providing the logic for this convergence. It has to actively force you, the player, to play out its desires, either through making the protagonist do things for unclear reasons (Spoiler - click to show)such as having to sign the guestbook or take the ring from the desk or making the protagonist carry out certain actions without duly reporting them to the player (Spoiler - click to show)(such as signing the guestbook incorrectly). The most irritating sequence in this regard comes (Spoiler - click to show)during the second visit to the Denizen, where the game loses all interactivity instead of finding some way of convincing the player to repeat his or her actions.
The story as a whole is a little too confusing for my tastes. The withholding of certain details, such as any real response to the "x me" command, felt like the game was trying to force mystery where it shouldn't have existed. In Adam Cadre's 9:05, this worked because the game conditioned the player from turn one not to expect...the thing that they weren't supposed to expect. Here, though, the game is explicitly a mystery, and a really good mystery works not by withholding information, but by withholding the key to how that information fits together.
Basically, it feels like the game needs to blatantly cheat its player to get its story across; and I'll take the cruelty of old Infocom over that feeling any day.
Again, it's a real shame I can't really recommend this game much, because it has a lot of positives: the tight prose, the reasonably well-rendered setting, and some core ideas that could have gone a long way if marshaled correctly. (Spoiler - click to show)I guess I'm just still holding out for a game that can enforce the Novikov Self-Consistency Principle without brute force. Ah well. Better luck next time in the genre.