When Help Collides

by J. D. Berry


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Number of Reviews: 4
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
An exercise in frustration., February 14, 2012

I want to like When Help Collides. Honestly, I do. But it goes far out of its way to make itself unlikeable. I realize that this is largely my problem. The game is well-written, for what it is. It wasn't game-killing bugs or boredom that kept me from finishing. It was the simple fact that the entire game is essentially a puzzle. Figuring out what you're meant to do and how to do it seems to be the primary challenge.

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with that. It just frustrates me as a player when a game plants its feet and adamantly refuses to give any indication of... well, anything, really. At the beginning, at least, you can't even get a complete description of the room you're in without bullying the parser.

An example, spoiling only the very beginning: (Spoiler - click to show)You start, after a turn or two of half-exposition, in a TARDIS-like ship, as an anthropomorphized IF help feature. The game tracks your approval rating, based on feedback from the stock adventure characters you can provide hints to with your automated help dispenser. Only there's something wrong with your equipment, making it only give out banal, nonsensical self-help advice.

Each disappointed character lowers your rating, and at less than 40%, game over. The uncooperative PC gets more frantic about the plummeting rating, growing more insistent that something must be done to fix things.

I played through this sequence three times, running out the timer looking for something, anything to indicate what needed to be done, fighting with the PC for something as simple as a thorough room description. Bear in mind, this is not lazy writing or coding, it's an intentional part of the puzzle.

After giving up and consulting a walkthrough, I discovered that the answer to my problem? (Spoiler - click to show)Exit the ship. The PC refuses to do so, twice. This leads you to an entirely new, but equally unintuitive part of the story.
My first timer-based death in that bit was as far as I got. I have no interest in typing in a walkthrough.

Despite all my frustrations, When Help Collides does have some things going for it. The writing is interesting, and the concept is fantastic. I just wish the gameplay was not as experimental as the idea behind it.

The bottom line: Well worth looking into if you're patient, or perhaps just better at thinking like the author than I am. If you want a game that makes Hitchhiker's Guide look downright friendly, you could do a hell of a lot worse.