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3 people found the following review helpful:
I'm biased but..., July 11, 2023
This is such a gorgeous little game. I have a soft spot for AI characters, and Solis' sarcastic and wistful personality captivated me. The story is a pretty retread trope, but nothing's original, and it's games like this that show why that is a good thing. Being able to play through the scenario firsthand, to play detective and learn about the crew, who are interesting in their own right, is like a breath of fresh air in space. I do have to admit that after the ending I got was the one I personally consider the best one, I didn't have the heart to play through the others, so I can't speak to that aspect. But it's a beautiful game nonetheless, and time well spent.
2 people found the following review helpful:
Not a long way to a masterpiece!, May 21, 2023
The game is written in a superb style, with descriptive prose and realistic dialogue. The writing balances between humorous and poignant, creating a contrast between the bleak situation and the hopeful attitude of the characters. The game also features multiple endings and branches depending on the player’s actions and decisions.
One of the most impressive aspects of the game is how the author was able to masterfully keep several twists and surprises a secret until the ending. The game constantly subverts the player’s expectations and challenges their assumptions about the world and the characters. The game also explores themes such as isolation, identity, memory and morality in a subtle but effective way.
The game is mechanically very well-done and professional. The puzzles are clever and challenging, but not frustrating or unclear. The choices are meaningful and impactful, but not arbitrary or inconsequential. The game is also free of any typos or grammatical errors that could break the immersion. The game shows a high level of polish and testing that reflects the author’s dedication and skill.
Overall, A Long Way to the Nearest Star is a captivating and immersive interactive fiction game that will appeal to fans of sci-fi and mystery genres. The game offers a unique and memorable experience that will keep the player guessing until the end. The game is well worth playing for anyone who enjoys a good story with a lot of surprises.
2 people found the following review helpful:
Heartwarming friendship with a memorable NPC, April 27, 2023
Appears like a typical "outsmart the rogue AI" story in the beginning - and will continue to be that type of story if you let it - but if you look beyond the surface and get to know the game's posited "villain," you'll discover that they're more complicated than they seem. The game might hint that the objective is to escape the AI, Solis, but if you give them grace and encounter the poignant moments where you discuss freedom and will and being human, you might find yourself hoping to escape with Solis instead. Thankfully there are multiple endings to accomodate for which objective you want to pursue. Play as you like, but personally, I would choose to fly off into the sunset with one of the most memorable IF NPCs in recent years.
2 people found the following review helpful:
An odd not-quite-friendship, big picture tech-futzing, deep-diving anthropology, January 17, 2023
I left some really good entries for the end of IFComp 2022, and LWNS was one of them. I confess, I bumped it to the back, because the subject seemed flat to me. Science fiction? Near-vacant ship? A sabotage mystery? Not my cup of tea. Plus there was an indication you had to deal with an AI. I put on my jargon-ducking helmet, only to find I didnt need it. LWNS wound up reminding me more of a buddy-cop sitcom than anything else. Not that it's full of jokes, but there's great interplay between the player-character, a thief whose own spaceship is on the blink after a hyperwarp to escape galactic police, and SOLIS, the AI in a host ship that the thief finds as fuel is low. SOLIS has kept the host ship going– well, sort of–with all the occupants dead. So there's a whodunit in addition to technical footing.
SOLIS's sarcasm and reticence to help with simple tasks suggests malfeasance, but unfolding the big answers isn't that easy. Fortunately, navigation is. While it's ostensibly a big ship, there are areas shut down for security purposes, so that helps with focus. You can visit the living quarters, but the core is off-limits. You need to not only butter SOLIS up the right way, but you need to discover evidence in datapads left by crew members. There's some finagling here. SOLIS knows who you are, being AI and all, but if you have the right passwords, there's not much it can do. It understands deeper things may be at work, and it understands there are things it doesn't understand. Oh--and passwords are inventory items you don't have to remember. Yay, anti-pedantry.
So you can focus on big picture stuff, like cleaning out the lab, where there were some important experiments. It's nice that things like getting the flashlight to work are done from an intuitive item menu. You use something, and if it's in the right place, it works, and unneeded items are discarded. The cluing's pretty good, too–at one point you need to fix a janitorbot, and even though there's a lot of futuristic technology, the puzzle's very much big-picture. The Internet having manuals for download is great, but here
It becomes increasingly obvious the deaths were not accidental, and as it does, your ability to call SOLIS is hampered. The game often suggests you may not want to ask a potentially hostile AI about THAT. And you don't, and there's usually a neat workaround. Then an action sequence at the end to defeat a weird monster provides an unexpected opportunity to cooperate with SOLIS, where it quite believably can't grasp what you're doing, or why, probably because its AI wasn't built for quick-thinking combat.
It's only near the end that you learn what SOLIS stands for. It doesn't really matter, and this is reiterated beforehand, but by that time you've gotten to know it well enough, you feel you have to. The ending put SOLIS's early actions and words in a new light for me, too. It reminds me of that scene in Hill Street Blues where Becker, the tough cop, finally finds the real name of the guy who keeps giving aliases like William Shakespeare. And I walked away with a very human perception of what SOLIS was, what they did, and why they did it. I've, well, been there. It's a human experience we've all had, and here it's done with almost technological detachment, until you realize what the guilty party did, and how it would be wrong to do to a person, but they probably felt clever doing so to an AI. Cognitive dissonance for AI's is all I can say. And I find it interesting LWNS was written in 2022, before the 2022 Merriam-Webster Word of the Year was rolled out. As I see it, SOLIS understands snark, or at least the mechanics of snark. But it doesn't understand deeper, darker stuff. It was emotionally hard, having to explain that through LWNS, even though I just had to click on and option and didn't have to think up the words.
Long Way has, according to the walkthrough, several endings. I did not see them all. But the one relatively neutral one I found provided me with enough food for thought. I've certainly sat through a bunch of "two lovable rogues" productions that made me groan a bit, where I didn't love either, whether it's in science fiction or an action movie or whatever, and I got the feeling they'd not really bonded, or the parting was too melodramatic or whatever, or there was humor, which got laughs, but it missed profound stuff. I can't call Long Way super-profound, as it doesn't want to shake you with its profundity. But at its heart it's about two entities who didn't expect the improvement and understanding that they wound up getting from the experience. Neither did I.
Note on similar works: it feels like Star Trek: The Next Generation is low-hanging fruit, where Data tries to understand what it's like to be human. The computer makes a good, if unemotional, limerick. And there's definite tension as we see whether SOLIS is more like Data or Data's evil twin Lore. But I was surprised how much it reminded me of Tunes for Bears to Dance To, by Robert Cormier, maybe my favorite young adult author. Henry, the protagonist, experiences some very troubling things indeed, despite a lack of melodrama. I rarely have an IFComp entry cut across genres like this.
5 people found the following review helpful:
Far more than a typical derelict-spaceship game, December 23, 2022
(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2022's IFComp).
Stop me oh stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before: so you’re playing this game where you’re an interstellar thief pulling a heist to relieve a space-governor of his space-crystals, when you get rumbled by the fuzz, except while that all sounds supremely fun it’s actually just the quickly-dispensed with, non-interactive backstory justifying why you’re forced to make a blind hyperjump and wind up lost in space – until you come across and board a derelict vessel, which holds the promise of rescue if you reactive enough of its broken systems to scavenge for parts, though since the crew’s all dead and the superficially-helpful ship’s AI seems alarmingly erratic it’s clear danger could be lurking where you least – or rather most – expect it…
Zoomed out to this level, ALWNS might as well be called “Space Game” – it wouldn’t be much worse than the actual, horribly-generic, title – because anybody who’s played much IF has probably encountered this scenario dozens of times. There’s a slight variation here because I feel like this type of game is usually parser-based, while this one’s a puzzley Twine game that has the same adventure-game type interface I discussed in my One Way Ticket review (click on highlighted objects in location descriptions to examine them in more detail, open up your inventory if you see an opportunity to use one of the things you’ve collected – 95% of the time the only action verb available is “use”, in fact). But if I were to describe a puzzle at random, or similarly highlight one of the plot beats, you’d probably roll your eyes and say been there, done that.
Given all of this, you’ll forgive me for being surprised that this game is actually great. It’s by no means going to set the world on fire with innovation, but it executes on its premise with well-designed puzzles, a nicely pacey plot that boasts at least one clever twist, and character-focused writing that’s way, way, way above the standard for this sort of thing – plus there’s a fair degree of nonlinearity, bonus objectives, and player agency allowing you to make the story your own, on your way to getting one of five different endings or collecting a half-dozen achievements. Sure, there are a couple of puzzles that could use slightly better signposting – though there is an in-game hint system and a robust walkthrough – and if you’re completionist about running through conversation topics with the AI, the middle part of the game can feel a little quiet. But these are small niggles in an entertaining and dare I say even slightly heart-warming take on a classic premise.
Let’s start with the puzzles and the overall game structure, since while they’re well done and important, they’re not what makes the game sing (spoiler: that’s the AI). As you’d imagine, there’s a MacGuffin or two that you need to recover from the ship in order to get the coordinates you need to make your way back to civilization, but various ID-locked doors, nonfunctional elevators, and areas of hard vacuum need to be surmounted in order to find and retrieve them. For the most part, solving these challenges is satisfying without being too tricky – you’ll fix robots, look up schematics, and gain false credentials. There’s also a pleasing variety of puzzle mechanics, from simple use-x-on-y stuff to figuring out a crew member’s ship ID based on their favorite order in the dining hall, and even, in a memorable set piece, using a chair’s ergonomic features to defend yourself. There are a couple of places where things can get a little clumsy – I was stumped for a while on an early puzzle because instead of being able to directly input the passcode I’d deduced, I had to go back to an earlier clue so the game could acknowledge I’d figured it out, and there’s one (optional) chemical-mixing puzzle that doesn’t clearly signpost why you need a source of antimatter different than an easily-available one you’d already used for a previous puzzle – but these are very much the exception, and if you get stuck, you can take a quick nap in your ship and get a hint while resting.
As for structure, the underlying rhythm of the game involves unlocking a new set of areas, exploring them, and discovering new items or information you can use to solve puzzles that in turn unlock the next set of areas. As you go, you’ll also uncover more about the members of the ship’s crew – they all have their secrets and hidden agendas, of course, that you can plumb by gaining access to their personal datapads and video recordings of their final days, just like in any good System Shock riff. As with the rest of the game, it’s nothing fancy, but it’s effective at sustaining player interest and injecting regular novelty into the proceedings. It’s also one of the things that makes your AI interlocutor, Solis, so compelling – you converse with the computer via terminals located in each room, and as you open up new parts of the ship, you get new dialogue options where you can ask about what you find and the facts you discover.
Solis is the heart of ALWNS, as it turns out, both because the narrative hinges on plumbing the depths of its character as you talk to it about the terrible things it’s seen, and done, in the catastrophe that befell the ship, and because unraveling its motivations form a sort of metapuzzle that undergirds the whole game, with your ending largely determined by how many layers of the onion you’ve pulled back. I realize that laid out like that, it sounds like conversing with Solis is a chilly game of mechanical-cat and organic-mouse – but here’s the thing: Solis is funny. Actually, the whole game is funny – I probably should have mentioned that earlier? Here’s the line telling you that your ship’s gotten lost:
"Your navigator is telling you you’re inside the core of a blue-white supergiant in the Hyades cluster, which you’re pretty sure is not correct.”
But most of the comedy comes from Solis, who’s got a great sense of comic timing for a bunch of superconductors. It initially greets you with a chirpy “it’s nice to meet you too, random organic person!” (which, not going to lie, feels like the subtext of 90% of my in-person interactions these days), and when you try to get it to comment on a boring hallway, it makes up a limerick to entertain you – then comes up with a second, even worse/better one, if you press the point!
It’s not all fun and games, though, and as you make your way through the ship you get the chance to engage in some deeper conversations with Solis, about its function and place in the world – as you quickly learn, the inhibitor programs that typically keep AIs on a short leash have degraded during its long isolation – its feelings about the different members of the now-deceased crew, and its curiosity about the rest of the galaxy. Again, these are exactly the topics you’d expect to come up in a game focusing on an AI as the main secondary character, but the writing here is really strong, fostering an empathetic connection with Solis even as the player knows that it doesn’t seem 100% trustworthy.
ALWNS’s success isn’t purely down to craft, I should say: near the end, there are a couple puzzles that feel fairly novel (I was partial to the janitorbot security code one), and there’s one narrative twist that I didn’t see coming, with the narrative zigging when I thought it was going to zag. I don’t want to spoil that, except to say that it made the ending I was going for even more satisfying than I thought it was going to be. Still, if the other 95% of the game hadn’t been executed at such a high level, these last bits of legerdemain would have felt like lipstick on a pig, rather than the final flourishes drawing attention to how cleverly the magic trick’s been done. Between the generic title, abstract cover art, low-key blurb, and long playing time, I worry that A Long Way to the Nearest Star might not get the attention it deserves, which would be a shame – just about any IF fan would find something to enjoy here.
1 people found the following review helpful:
What a great NPC, December 6, 2022
I really enjoyed this game. The AI character, Solis, is extremely well-written and steals the show.
2 people found the following review helpful:
Great game for AI fans, November 29, 2022
So I didn't manage to beat this game within the 2-hour mark (spent too long trying to access the janitorbot's security logs before I gave up and looked at the walkthrough). Very fun game. Nothing super unique about the setting, but the whole 'you're trapped in an abandoned ship with one questionably helpful character who may or may not be a mass murderer' is a great concept. Also, Portal reference. Also you can make friends with the rogue AI! what! I am a sucker for AI and character interaction so this was good. The puzzles are well-balanced, no stupid guessing involved, but talking to the AI is the real draw of this game and it delivers. Love how every new thing you discover tells you more and more about what actually happened, until you finally figure out the dark truth. I guessed that (Spoiler - click to show)the AI was responsible for the deaths early on, though. After seeing Trell's logs it becomes rather obvious that Solis has gone rogue, though I didn't know why until the reveal about the technician.
Beat the game after 2.5 hours. Detail on endings: (Spoiler - click to show)got the fifth ending (because of course), friendship acquired. Went back for the fourth ending but didn't feel like getting any of the others because I like Solis and don't want anything bad to happen to them. Good game.
2 people found the following review helpful:
"SOLIS, what are you doing SOLIS?", November 26, 2022
Adapted from an IFCOMP22 Review
Ah, the classic ‘adrift in space with a suspect AI.’ In my head, I kept calling it ‘HAL.’ I don’t mean that in a reductive way, it is a welcome setting, skillfully rendered. The game shares a lot of DNA with classic parser based IF. There is a map to navigate, items to find and manipulate, puzzles to solve to unlock rooms or achieve other progress. All if this rendered in wry text that spikes to sarcastic or sentimental without being jarring. All in all, nicely textured, narratively speaking.
Graphically, I think I expected more. Early on, the white-on-black presentation is very evocative, when the vastness of black space surrounds you, or when your spaceship is darkened. The glowing blue and green screens pop against this background, and their respective fonts nicely convey different variation of machine interface. I was vaguely disappointed when the lights came on, but the interface didn’t change, making me wonder if I was giving too much credit to the graphical presentation? I still like those terminal screens though.
The protagonist is kind of a minimally rendered space-rogue type that at least so far is an amusing vessel for the player to amble around in. What little opportunity you have for deeper character glimpses are nicely done, really loose sketches that allow you to mentally flesh out your host without derailing the story. Same for the tonal choices in how you interface with your AI partner. Mostly though, its about navigating this puzzle-filled-ship.
I go back and forth on the Twine interface for this game. On the one hand, having highlighted text to navigate and manipulate nicely avoids any hunt-the-noun exercise. It does box you in in a somewhat restrictive framework. Ultimately, I think the writing and design saves it here. While theoretically, highlighted choices could break mimesis by channeling the player in a constricted way, there are enough options anticipated, and enough shiny things to pursue that it never started to chafe. The text is also very clever in sprinkling hints and nudges that your path usually feels organic and not forced, nevermind the limited boxes available to click. Most successful IF must succeed at this (parser or not), and ALWTTNS does.
The object interface was less successful for me, and boy is this a petty complaint. As the game goes on, your inventory expands, but does so one line per item. Meaning if your screen is wider than high (which I presume most are), you have a scrolling list of items with huge black real estate on the right of the screen doing nothing. I don’t know boo about Twine, but if it were possible to put all inventory items in multiple columns - fill the screen and eliminate scrolling I would have much preferred that.
Another petty gripe: the Notes screen captures information it would be tedious to look up separately and acts as a soft hint system. Great idea. Could it have been its own option, and not buried in the scrolling inventory? And also, either quietly drop or separate notes once no longer needed, because you have completed a relevant task? As the notes grew longer, it got more intrusive to skim the list to find what you need, and increasingly jammed with notes I (presumedly) didn’t need any more.
These are petty gripes, I own this. I also never presented myself as above pettiness. Of course in the end this did not block my Engagement. I had a really good time bouncing around the puzzle space with some nicely intuitive and occasionally challenging posers. The central mystery of just how sus is HAL is clicking along at a rewarding pace. Its posed as a 2hr playtime, so maybe I’m getting close to the end? On the one hand I hope not, but on the other I’ve liked the pace of revelations and plot so far and wouldn’t want it to draw out for its own sake. I have no reason to doubt the author has a firm grasp on the length and pace of the story and I’m here for it.
Playtime: 2hr, incomplete, not stuck
Artistic/Technical rankings: Engaging/Mostly Seamless
Would Play Again? Likely, though I am developing a backlog…
Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless
9 people found the following review helpful:
Space Thievery 2022, October 27, 2022
When I saw Space Oddysey 2001 for the first time (and the times after that, now I come to think of it...) HAL scared the brains out of me. The calm, collected voice-pattern, the ruthless efficiency, the cold determination...
Nah, I like his sister a lot more. Ok, she sounds at least as disturbing as her big brother, but at least I can picture myself having a fun night on the town with her.
(For no reason other than my own imagination, I perceived SOLIS as female.)
SOLIS welcomes you as you stumble onto her decks, on the run for the space police because... Well, you're a thief. Plain and simple. And your FTL-jump thingamajig had a small hiccup so you ended up here with a lonely AI in an abandoned spaceship.
Contrary to HAL, SOLIS does have a distinctly, erm... outgoing personality. In fact, sometimes she sounds like her personality is a bit too much for her to handle. Like it's growing out of her circuits, fizzing and crackling...
The more I engaged with SOLIS, the more it became clear that there were hidden depths underneath her humorous façade. As if she was using robotic indifference, AI-superiority and sarcasm as a shield from the utter desolation of her situation and from traumatic aspects within herself.
SOLIS is easily one of my dearest NPCs ever. Conversing with her, getting to know her was a great joy.
In comparison, the PC comes close to an empty shell at first. Sure, we get a bit of background to establish we're a thief but not a nasty one, but for the rest, the protagonist is a mask for the player. During the course of the game however, and especially through communicating with SOLIS, the player has ample choice to characterize the PC. I personally went for friendly pitbull (be nice if possible but bite down on any questions the NPC seems reluctant to talk about).
In fact, the entire game is well suited to this sort of featureless protagonist. At its core,A Long Way to the Nearest Star is a very old school adventure. Find codes and tools to solve clever puzzles and unlock previously inaccessible regions of the spaceship. While the obstacles are mostly engaging enough to make this fun in its own right, the gradually unveiling of the backstory is the real reward.
Pretty standard for an old school text adventure. But it's implemented in Twine. The biggest consequence of this is that the level of interaction with the game-world is slightly higher order, less hands-on. Compared to a parser, the player has not nearly as much freedom to juggle the inventory and throw every imaginable verb at the poor objects. Instead of a compass, there are room-connections in unspecified directions. This didn't keep me from drawing a map.
Still, even though the player is clicking to advance through the game, the focus is very much on which actions to undertake, as opposed to navigating a branching narrative space. The choice format makes the conversations flow naturally. Many options differ only in tone, serving to characterize the protagonist. There are choices that can significantly influence SOLIS attitude and behaviour too. These, together with some PC actions during the game can lead to diverse endings.
I liked how the UI, with its boxed and highlighted options, mirrored my mental image of the screens and terminals the protagonist is confronted with throughout the game. For those who might find this too intrusive, the style is customizable in the gear-menu.
A polished and exciting science fiction game. Recommended.
5 people found the following review helpful:
Explore an abandoned ship with a faulty AI, October 18, 2022
This is a Twine game with a significant world model. In it, you explore a ship you've crashlanded on which is empty except for an AI named SOLIS.
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There are a lot of areas to explore, and you have both an inventory and notes of all important information.
It has puzzles that are honestly complex and can be fairly difficult. The inventory allows for quadratic complexity: you have to be in the right room, and use the right item.
I enjoyed the AI, and felt an attachment to them. The nice thing about IF containing AIs is that the AIs exist in reality, in a sense; the organic characters are just described in words, nothing like their 'true' selves, but the AIs are supposed to be code masquerading as a person and that's what they actually are: code in Twine or Ink or Inform that takes your inputs and reacts to you. It's weird to think about.
Anyway, the game is fairly non-linear and has multiple endings and paths to victory. I think a large chunk of content is the same in each walkthrough, especially conversation, but you can replay those parts with different attitudes.
Navigating back and forth got a bit tedious by the end, but fortunately a new mechanic gets introduced that lets you 'warp' around ((Spoiler - click to show)following the robot).
Overall, I really enjoyed this polished game.