Pirate Railroad

by Utkonos profile

Western
2011

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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Railroad ... indeed, September 30, 2011
by Kenneth Hutt (London, UK)

I'm not sure what to make of this.

Let's start with the basics. You are on a train when ... a certain event occurs. You take some actions, and a surreal little story slowly unfolds. But, as far as I can see, you have literally no choice -- not even really any real appearance of choice -- at any point. There is one thing you can do, and must do, at any point to advance the story. What it is is always clear. And nothing else will achieve anything at all. The game is in control.

Within those pretty severe limitations, it's done well enough. The writing is clear and reasonably lively. The implementation is more or less sound, though there are some points where the technical joins show (Spoiler - click to show)(for instance when you try to talk to a person who the parser tells you is inanimate).

But you have no control at all.

Which brings up the different possible ways of looking at this. It could be that this is a genuine attempt to produce a game which tells a fast-paced story and that its "rails" were seen as necessary by the author to get that story told. If so, in my view, it is fundamentally unsuccessful. The complete absence of any sort of choice means that your actions are, in substance, no more significant than deciding to turn the page. And the story, though it has spirit, was not sufficiently interesting to justify that, at least as I see it.

The second possibility is that this is a game that is making a point about IF -- that its whole purpose is to see what happens when you have the trappings of IF without any real interactivity. The name of the game tends to suggest as much, as does at least one feature of the story itself ((Spoiler - click to show)where the pirate's commands themselves prove futile). Perhaps, as a technical exercise, that might help us reflect on such matters as the significance of the parser ("What if the game understands me perfectly, but is totally recalcitrant?") and the relationship between parser-based IF and CYOA -- an elaborate demonstration that the superficial freedom of the prompt is not to be equated with the ability to make any real choices at all. If it is such an exercise it succeeds as a technical exercise ... but not in a way that makes it actually interesting to play. And the point is surely sufficiently obvious that it seems hardly worth making.

A third possibility, I suppose, is that there is in fact some way to break away from the rails, and that the game is an elaborate puzzle -- a sort of "escape the railroad" exercise; that there is some way of cracking the game so that one acquires the freedom that IF seems to promise but this game deliberately withholds. That would be, as the kids say, cool, and my rather-less-than-lukewarm reception would be unfair. But if it is so, I'm afraid, I missed it or any indication of it.


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AmberShards, October 2, 2011 - Reply
You've managed to write a review while revealing next to nothing about the plot, characters, theme, or anything else usually associated with an IF game. I suppose from the perspective of a hoighty-toighty literature critic, you have created the perfect review, but from the perspective of someone determining whether to play the game or not, you've failed quite spectacularly.
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