A Fire Darkly: Chapter 1

by Louis Rakovich

Episode 1 of A Fire Darkly

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Strong debut work in Twine, January 26, 2017
by streever (America)

(I was very politely asked to review this piece by the author, who I do not know, via email. I was very happy to comply.)

Rakovich is clearly a practiced writer, and writes skillfully minimalist descriptive prose about the unearthly dream world the player character is exploring.

I enjoyed the way that traditional parser concepts were transferred to a hypertext work, but am not sure if they were totally successful. Travelling by compass direction in hypertext feels strange--I think it'd be more effective if the movement was clued to what you might expect to find. ("Walk to the river", "Walk towards the clearing", "Walk into deeper forest"). Other aspects, from the hypertext friendly puzzles to the mechanics of "looking away" from things you'd investigated, worked better and added to the atmosphere.

While I enjoyed this piece and am looking forward to the next one, I do think the opening is a rougher spot than the rest of the work. Broadly speaking, it's well-written, but I didn't feel the sense of urgency or agency I hope for in the best IF. I'm told that I'm probably lost, but I don't remember where I was going or how I got here, and given a very binary choice between north and south.

The amnesia open is basically a trope, but it's fine, honestly, as long as I have a sense of urgency and curiosity about who I am, which should start building in that first paragraph. I don't think this piece did that. The choice to go north or south feels meaningless, and in fact, going north just results in the message that it's too dark, so I have to turn around and go south.

I think the opening should probably give me a better sense of the stakes behind my first choice, and make it feel meaningful, or continue the intro and make it a 'click to continue' without the false choice created. Perhaps an explanation that the woods are dark, and the only visible path is left--click to continue--would improve this.

The work becomes far more compelling almost immediately, when a scent leads you to a traumatic memory. I would encourage the author to get to this moment quicker, and to use it as part of the urgency. Why this memory? Why this experience, at this time? Does the memory remind the narrator of anything unfinished/unresolved? Perhaps the disorienting walk through the woods is to figure out something unfinished from that early memory--that would definitely give me a greater sense of investment right off the bat.

Despite the rough opening, this is a strong work, especially after the first memory surfaces, which left me with questions and an interest in completing the future parts.

On categorization: I'm not sure I agree with the label of psychological horror here. That's not criticism of the work, I just wonder if a better label exists?

In any event, I recommend this piece, and appreciated it's clean, minimalist prose and strange, unsettling atmosphere.