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The Pool

by Jacob Reux

2022

Web Site

(based on 9 ratings)
4 reviews

About the Story

You work at a research institute that studies aquatic life. But you swear you just saw something strange in the water.

Content warning: There are scenes of violence and horror. As such this game contains material inappropriate for young children.


Game Details

Language: English (en)
First Publication Date: October 1, 2022
Current Version: Unknown
License: Freeware
Development System: Twine
IFID: Unknown
TUID: 5jc8e87cipmvam8j

Awards

58th Place - 28th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2022)

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Number of Reviews: 4
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
(Don't) Dive in, October 27, 2022

All it took were the words, "research institute that studies aquatic life," in the game's description for me to tell myself, "I have to play this." Plus, it sounds like an unusual setting for a horror story. I was excited. But when it came to sink or swim, the game unfortunately could not hold its own.

Gameplay
The Pool begins at a casual staff party at the institute (we never learn its specific name), which is an attention-grabbing way of starting the game. But tension is in the air. Casual conversation informs us that the protagonist's boss had been missing for several days. People are working overtime to compensate. As the party wraps up, chaos breaks loose. Turns out (Spoiler - click to show) former friends and coworkers are looking to turn their colleagues into fish food. Not goldfish. Something worse.

The gameplay essentially features the protagonist trying to get out of desperate situations with the threat of death lurking around every corner. It becomes a stampede for survival. You are usually presented with two choices at a time, either having to do with character dialog or a generalized decision making. Stay or leave. Help or hide. Go with Ada or go with Marcus. A downside to this game is that everything feels a bit scattered. There are large passages of text with a mix of dialog, sudden changes in scenery, swearing, sea monsters, and other developments that can be hard to follow. But if you stick it out and trudge through, you will find an interesting story.

The redeeming quality in this game is its use of branching gameplay. In fact, the number of paths were fairly impressive. The branching begins at the start of the game where the player chooses who to mingle with at the staff party, and that branches off as well. What I like about this is how paths each have different ways of informing the player about the nightmare that unfolds because they determine where you are in the facility and who you are with when disaster strikes. For example, (Spoiler - click to show) in one path you directly see Ada betray everyone, but in another you may only learn about it second hand. A memorable case of the former is when nearly everyone from the party is chained to a rig that Ada slowly lowers into the pool. This occurs if you choose to hang out with Ada after the party. Sounds gnarly, but it conjures memories of renting horror movies from those Redbox stations for slumber parties. It occurs early in the game, and that is only one path.

The author makes a notable effort at diversifying what you see in each playthrough. If you play the game and think that you have seen everything, then you are probably wrong. Because of this, I played the game multiple times despite its lack of organization.

Story
If you read the previous section, you already know that there is lots of branching to play with, and how it gives you different ways of experiencing certain events. Another upside is that it provides some exposition on the overreaching story, one broader than what we usually see in each playthrough. Common knowledge is that (Spoiler - click to show) the aquatic monsters bite humans to turn them into new monsters, almost like zombies. We also know that Ada and Marcus were involved. But there is more to it. You really have to dig* to find it all, (Spoiler - click to show) but the gist is a conspiracy between the institute and another lab about developing a new form of organism capable of unheard-of morphing abilities for “research.” Dr. Chamber’s phone even mentions a vague business deal. Feel free to play the game to learn more.
*(Did (Spoiler - click to show) you know that there are TWO locked door password-puzzles in this game?)

Endings. It depends (Spoiler - click to show) on whether you include the countless ways of dying as endings or merely premature ones. I found two endings where you walk away alive, only one of which truly feels like a “win.” (Oddly enough, there are two paths that lead to this same ending). Strangely, the winning ending is the most lackluster since it features the protagonist going home and carrying on with their life without any mention of the aftermath of the whole incident. I take it that they no long work at the institute. If you feel like exploring every outcome in this game, it will keep you busy for a while.

Characters
Characters fall into familiar horror movie tropes, but that can be part of the charm. If you are looking for complex characters with multi-dimensional relationships with the protagonist, you should look elsewhere. But if you want tried and true character molds, The Pool is a decent example. You have the (Spoiler - click to show) lively acquaintance (Ada) who betrays everyone for personal gain. The spritely action-oriented character (Zara) who expertly pulls the protagonist out of danger and teams up with them. The best friend (or in this case the deceitful "best friend") Marcus. And other NPCs. But instead of chewing the fat I will just encourage you to test the game for yourself.

There is also some attempted character development about the protagonist who has always been timid about stepping outside of their comfort zone and making friends with people without worrying if they share the same interests. The gameplay often features segments where the protagonist has a chance to “break” out and become a new person. It is rather formulaic approach but fits in with the trope-ness seen throughout the game.

Visuals
The game uses a basic Twine visual appearance: blue links, black screen, white text (with occasional animation). However, this is overrun by numerous spelling and punctuation errors that stick out everywhere. Instead of separating the text into paragraphs the author just crams everything together to create one big mass of unformatted text, especially for scenes with lots of dialog. Occasionally, some areas are a bit smoother. But overall, it looks unpolished and unorganized, and it is obvious.

Also, three links lead to a blank screen (frustrating since I was waiting to see what would happen next), whereas a few others lead to a screen with text but no link to move forward. A little proof-reading and testing would go a long way.

Final thoughts
The author has a lot of promising ideas but right now it is simply not a polished piece. Not incomplete- it is playable and possible to reach endings- but more like a draft.

I would recommend The Pool to anyone interested in a creature horror story that conjures up familiar vibes of the "creature horror story" genre while adding a unique touch here and there. Plus, it is short enough for a few rounds. It is best enjoyed if you experiment with the gameplay paths. For me, each playthrough lasted about 15 minutes or less. Otherwise, this game needs some work before I would recommend it to all players.

(Oh, one more thing. I see we are getting close to Halloween. If you feel like burning through horror games while guzzling candy, The Pool has a little more appeal.)


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Goofy but zippy horror , November 22, 2022
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2022

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2022's IFComp).

I’ve a couple times in my reviews done the gimmick of presenting a game by harping on its most hackneyed or weakest elements, then doing a lame rug-pull and revealing that Actually It’s Great. I’m not doing that here – The Pool is objectively not that good of a game. It’s a horror thriller that’s simultaneously underdeveloped and overbaked, with a premise (sci-fi monster aquarium research base attacked by inside-man saboteurs and also the fish monsters turn you into zombies and also some are psychic octopi or something plus you have social anxiety) that has way too many details yet makes way too little sense to hang together. It’s a default-Twine presentation, with all the typos and sloppy writing that black-and-blue color scheme often signifies. It boasts multiple branches, but they don’t work that well on their own, throwing out-of-context character betrayals and plot twists that seem to presuppose multiple replays to be coherent, let alone effective. And at every point it manages to step on its own theme, as the story ostensibly presents the protagonist learning to grow past their anxiety but in reality brutally punishes you nearly every time you step outside of your shell and trust someone else or behave the slightest bit altruistically.

But – of course there was a but coming – I enjoyed it quite a bunch, laughing at it as much as I was laughing with it but laughing all the same. For all that I take IF sufficiently seriously that I’ve written a review engaging with a game through the lens of Brechtian “epic theater”, sometimes all it takes for me to have fun is playing a dopey monster mash on Halloween, as I was lucky enough to do.

Look, this thing is ridiculous, with shifts in tone that make gold-medal slalom look like a lazy inner-tube ride down a gently winding river. One second you’re about to bash a sea-zombie with a rock but focused more on how that’s scary because it’s taking you outside your comfort zone than because you’re about to bash a sea zombie with a rock (who does have that in their comfort zone?), the next you’re facing down a terrorist who’s unleashed all this chaos because “I just wanted to escape all of this. This monotony. Don’t we all?” (protip: if your villain’s motivation could equally well apply to starting a D&D club, taking up swinging, or unleashing a seamonster apocalypse, it could probably use more time in the workshop).

There are a ton of instadeaths, too – again, many cued by doing something seemingly in-genre and innocuous like extending a moment of mercy to seemingly-beaten enemies – gorily described but so many in number, and so lightweight due to the omnipresent undo button, that I started to relate to the protagonist as though he were Wile E. Coyote, fated to be dismembered, drowned, and zombified for my amusement.

My instinct is of course to overcomplicate this, to bang on for hundreds more words unpacking why I enjoyed it despite its flaws, perhaps delve into what “so bad it’s good” really means and assess whether liking something ironically is meaningfully distinct from liking it directly. But for once I’m going to resist, save for noting that for all its warts, this is a game that moves, setting up and resolving conflicts quickly and efficiently. Due to some of the storytelling issues noted above, the transitions can sometimes be a little rough since you don’t know what all the characters’ deals are, and the worldbuilding is pretty arbitrary so what happens next can feel a little random. But once you’re in a scene, the stakes tend to be established clearly and concisely, and nothing feels belabored or like it overstays its welcome. Lots of IF – especially choice-based IF, which tends to have longer gaps between player input than parser games – can feel quite plodding so it’s nice to play a game with some zip in its step, and as the rest of the review demonstrates, good pacing can make up for a whole lot of other faults!

Bottom line, The Pool is trashy and dumb, but if it catches you in the mood for something trashy and dumb, and you don’t overthink it – for god’s sake don’t replay it to fully understand how all the strands of its plot fit together – and read it quickly so you don’t notice the typos as much… well, you still might dislike it, because it’s a rickety contraption. But you might find it scratches an itch, and catch yourself thinking “sea zombie” to yourself with a giggle for a day or so. Some games aim for more, some settle for less, but here we are.


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
fight the monster of our own making, but self consciously, October 19, 2022
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic

The storyline is a familiar one, of course. The narrator remains generic throughout, without a place on the lab team, and in fact so do the other characters. The explanations for each choice gives the narration a distinctly self-conscious air.

My overall impression was that it could use more polish. The writing feels rushed in places - as if it was trying to sketch out a scene and ran out of time. There are unfinished branches, which is a shame for a competition entry.

Without being emotionally invested in the narrator as a person, I felt no need to ensure their survival - instead finding all the branches felt like a story mapping exercise. There is definitely potential in the storyline to populate it with perhaps fewer but more realised characters to give the choices some emotional weight.


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A short Twine game about monsters in a scientific aquarium, October 12, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This is a short, basic Twine game about an aquarium where weird monsters are in a pool and you have to run away.

The game does give you some options; there are several situations where you have to search for items by clicking on a variety of links. There are also some big branches in the story, especially at the end. At least one final choice just lead to a blank page.

The formatting doesn't put blank lines between paragraphs, which I found pretty difficult to read. There are many typos such as no spaces after periods, it's vs its and capitalization. The dialog felt a bit unnatural, but I don't know why.

I found the overall story to be descriptive, but otherwise I think this story needed a bit more work. I think the author is capable of pretty fun stories given more time and more feedback prior to releasing.





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