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About the Story
submission for #ECTOCOMP2022
10th Place, Le Grand Guignol - English - ECTOCOMP 2022
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Number of Reviews: 3
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I love weird concept games! And this one is pretty darned weird, being inspired by a dream the author had. Props to them for rolling with it, I am so here for Antarctic plant horror. The writing backs it up too, descriptive and suspenseful. Most of the game is spent introducing the player to the central concept (military fungal killing machines that require a human handler to prevent them from eating each other) and then slowly building up to the PC actually meeting one of these monsters in the flesh(?).
The game also features a lot of Bengali phrases as the PC primarily speaks the language, with the option to look at a translation and get a pronunciation guide. I thought this was pretty neat, and I think some of the vocabulary is going to stick with me. (Not much, unfortunately, but that’s a me problem again. I am not good with languages.)
There’s a lot of potential here, but unfortunately it’s not all realized. After the intro, the gameplay consists of a handful of tasks that you can choose to do or not do in order to affect how your meeting with your assigned Hyphaen goes, which then determines which of three endings you get. I got two (including the good end), but there’s quite a lot of text to get through before you get back to any choices so I didn’t go in for a third round. I’d really love to see a more expanded version of this game, since it currently just feels like the introduction to something really cool.
In the far future, climate change has done a number on planet Earth. Glaciers are melting. After a particularly large melt scientists found a strange strain of fungi with incredible resilience to extreme conditions and sentient properties. After tinkering around with genetic engineering, the military winds up with humanoid plant-based beings called Hyphaens.
Upside: They make great soldiers. Downside: Without social interaction they cannibalize each other.
The game starts with heavy exposition before launching into gameplay. The protagonist is desperate to secure a job after being dishonorably discharged from the military and manages to find employment as a companion for a Hyphaen. Here, character customization is cleverly woven into an application form that allows you to edit the protagonist's gender, height, and other characteristics. The gameplay then consists of preparing and traveling to meet your assigned Hyphaen.
One thing I disliked was how the protagonist makes informed decisions while the player is left in the dark. The main example is if you decide to (Spoiler - click to show) explore the mall. The protagonist automatically starts buying all this stuff that is later used to create a makeshift weapon for self-defense. A brief mention of the protagonist’s intent for buying would suffice. Something like, “hm, these substances may be useful in repelling Hyphaens,” would have been helpful for context.
The turning point is a gnarly scene where (Spoiler - click to show) the protagonist is being devoured by their assigned Hyphaen up arriving at the apartment. There are three endings, two bad, one good. So far, I reached (Spoiler - click to show) BAD END 1 and (Spoiler - click to show) GOOD END but not the third outcome. The good ending involves (Spoiler - click to show) fighting off the Hyphaen. It leaves the player on a bit of a cliff hanger since it just ends with the protagonist leaving, although there is the implication that the protagonist is now on the run from killing military property. I do appreciate how the author provides some additional exposition on what happened before ending it.
I spent a chunk of time trying to find a way to (Spoiler - click to show) avoid being attacked by the Hyphaen but I do not think that is possible. There are some mixed messages that I tried to decipher. The Hyphaen’s dialog after you successfully defend yourself suggests that the Hyphaen merely wanted a connection. That said, there is no kidding the fact that such a connection would result in the death of the protagonist. It was only after re-reading the concluding text about "separation-induced aggravation" that I started to hammer together an explanation.
I’m just going to take a whack at it. (Spoiler - click to show) There is some hive mind plant entity in the arctic that is connected to the Hyphaens that function as a "fungal network." This entity(s?) is referred to as Mother and Father, or at least some translation of it. An expedition went down there but was ordered to return when things started getting weird. We learn about this from one of the protagonist’s memories, but it is cut short.
Naturally, Hyphaens' central impulse is to communicate with themselves and a parent hive. But when humans decide to cultivate (or grow?) them in a civilization in a sad dome on a tundra, that living connection is lost. They still have social interactions with nearby Hyphaen and humans, but it is not the same as a hive. Without this link their mental state falls apart and aggression occurs when they socialize. Hence why the Hyphaen attacks the protagonist. Human companion programs were meant to stave off aggressive tendencies through regular mild interactions, but in this case, it was not adequate. That scene was intense.
The game has a stylized appearance and colour scheme that adds a nice ambience. Black text box with wide margins and rounded corners that casts a shadow against a green background. This is paired with thick white text and yellow links. Also, there are these black rectangular boxes that briefly appear at the top of the screen throughout the gameplay that say things like (Spoiler - click to show) “TERMINAL: Dome Termed,” almost as if they were achievements before vanishing (see note).
Cover art is weird, terrifying, but cool. I assume that’s a Hyphaen?
At first, I was not sure if I liked this game. I felt that the game was too short (though by no means incomplete) and that it left me with too many questions. But during my first playthrough I glossed over the large amount of exposition and backstory that the gameplay provides. When I went back to absorb the details, the story became more potent.
While I would have gladly played Defrosted if it were longer, I do think it is reasonable in length to keep players from being burned out. Its length is best described as compact. A lot of thoughtfulness has been put into this game and I am curious to see the author’s future work.
NOTE: Just as I was finishing this review my usual unobservant self suddenly made a big discovery. There is an arrow button at the top left corner of the screen (I know, it’s obvious) that opens to a menu with some useful features.
It has a dictionary of terms that are updated throughout the gameplay, and stat levels for the player’s strength and pheromone levels. The popup boxes that I mentioned earlier are meant to inform you that new terms have been added to the dictionary. I cannot believe I missed that.
This is a relatively brief twine game with three endings, two bad and one good.
The idea is that global warming exposed a layer of mycelium all over Antarctica that is sentient. Scientists made super-soldiers out of it by using genetics to create human-shaped versions of the very strong mushroom material. But these mushrooms tend to cannibalize each other, so to stave off their desires, humans volunteer to be companions that the mushrooms can drink the blood of every now and then.
You volunteer to be this companion, and have to fill out some intake forms and get acquainted with the area before meeting your future companion.
The game does a good job of expressing the alienness and horror of the creatures, but I'm not sure it presents as strong of a picture of the protagonist, whose motives and actions didn't always seem connected to each other or to my desires. Overall, the styling was nice and I enjoyed the ending I reached.
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