Escape from Hell

by Nils Fagerburg profile

2022

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This time you'll succeed for sure!, November 21, 2022
by Draconis
Related reviews: Ectocomp 2022

This is the other Grand Guignol I tested. It’s a very cool experiment: a “parserless parser” game (in a custom-made framework no less), which has a parser-y world model but no free-form input. Instead, you’re presented with a list of possible commands each turn: moving in different directions, taking various objects, and so on. It also has a map which shows your location and the locations of any NPCs you’ve met, which is extremely convenient in a game of this size (49 rooms in a 7×7 grid).

The only commands given to interact with objects are TAKE, DROP, TALK TO, and POSSESS, and the last of those is the core of the game: you’re a demonic spirit trying to escape from Hell by jumping from body to body. Each person you can possess adds one additional verb (an accountant can COUNT, an overseer can WHIP, a succubus can SMOOCH, a golem can SHOVE, a ghost can RAGE, a vampire can BITE, and so on), so maneuvering the right bodies to the right places is the key to solving many of the puzzles. (EXAMINE is also on the verb list but is just for flavor and never necessary.)

The overall tone of the game is light and whimsical, but never falls across the line into outright goofiness: the protagonist takes their escape attempt very seriously, as they break into the palace of the Princes of Hell and try to distract each of them away from the alarm. I really liked the writing, and spent a long while just counting forms in the first room, looking at the crimes that had gotten various IF protagonists sentenced to eternal damnation. (“Naomi Cragne: …I don’t know where to even start…”) And the humor hadn’t grown stale by the end of the game, which is no mean feat!

The puzzles were also quite good, and the body-swapping (with each body having a single extra verb) was a clever way to allow a wide variety of actions without overwhelming the player with links. There’s only one I consider unfair: (Spoiler - click to show)as the ghost, you can click the grayed-out direction links to pass through walls. While I did need a couple hints, everything else felt quite reasonable with the limited options presented, and figuring out how to (Spoiler - click to show)get Bernard out of the office was a great moment of discovery.