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About the Story
Baltimore, 2058. Faro controls the city at will. The social and economic gap is widening bigger and bigger because of the imposed regime.
55th place - 27th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2021)
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Number of Reviews: 3
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This is a game originally written Spanish and translated for the competition.
You play as a kind of rebel against an all-powerful corporation called Faro.
Gameplay proceeds through several puzzles, including interrogation, reasoning puzzles, and at least one that I've never seen before (entering Hack's house, a puzzle that required me to (Spoiler - click to show)adjust my computer settings).
The puzzles are pretty tricky; I frequently looked at the answers in the code. One puzzle require clicking on a moving link; I ended up (Spoiler - click to show) highlighting with tab and then hitting enter.
The translation is not idiomatic. In addition, some words are not translated at all (Continuar for continue, for instanc, or the 3 meters for the Mind scan). The story has interesting characters, but I don't believe it has the backstory and/or continuity for us to care a lot about them. All of these are normal problems for writers that usually get easier with more and more practice, so I look forward to any future games.
Programming-wise the game is very sophisticated.
-Polish: The game text could be polished more.
+Descriptiveness: The writing is very descriptive
-Interactivity: I felt like some of the puzzles were unfair.
-Emotional Impact: I think if some of the other problems were fixed I would have a better connection with the game emotionally.
+Would I play it again? Yes, if it was updated!
(This is a lightly-edited version of a review posted to the IntFict forums during the 2021 IFComp. My son Henry was born right before the Comp, meaning I was fairly sleep-deprived and loopy while I played and reviewed many of the games, so in addition to a highlight and lowlight, the review includes an explanation of how new fatherhood has led me to betray the hard work the author put into their piece)
Back in the early 90s, every once in a while I would come across a game that was full of style but didn’t make much sense (typically it would be some kind of French adventure game or RPG, with an 80-page novella in the manual that somehow just made things even harder to understand), and I’d be dragged through a confusing plot and obscure gameplay by sheer force of aesthetics. Recon keeps this tradition alive: I wasn’t really clear on the characters, stakes, and setting until the final few sequences, and my understanding of what was going on changed radically a couple of times though not in ways that I think were intended. And the puzzles are a mix of clever and off-the-wall. But there was enough verve on display to make my time with the game an enjoyable ride nonetheless.
Recon’s first impression is a pretty accurate sample of what you’re in for. The cover image is a gorgeous slab of sci-fi, and the title and chapter screens continue the high production values. Then you’re dumped into a bar with a kitten, and asked to participate in the world’s most awkward character-customization process (you’re required to specify your skin color, which can be “Nordic”, “Caucasian”, “Ethiopic”, “American”, or “Oriental”) As this opening sequence proceeds, it becomes clear that you’re there to check on two of your allies, “X” and “Equis” (it turns out these are actually the same person), and you’re up against the jackbooted thugs of “Faro”, which is not a gang boss as I first thought (nor a card game or grain, for that matter) but an evil corporation that calls the shots in this dystopia.
Things clear up a bit from there, but only a bit, and beyond this Faro mix-up, I also had at least two other moments where a glancing reference or new development made me realize I had deeply misunderstood the main character’s situation and motivation (Spoiler - click to show)the others turned on the “Recon” group that the main character leads, and the ending’s indication that a functioning court system exists and can actually bring down the mighty Faro. The writing is also a bit off-kilter, contributing to this discombobulated mood – there aren’t many typos or out-and-out errors, but the syntax and word choice are often strange in a way I associate with translated works or writing from folks whose native language isn’t English – it’s not necessarily bad, but it’s often hard to scan and understand.
Fortunately, the game is well-paced and doesn’t require you to understand the big picture to work through. Each of its chapters is structured similarly, with a bunch of story progression and narrative choices building up to a major puzzle that gates progress. These are all one-of-a-kind, running from an adventure-game style search of X’s house to pattern-recognition tests. Many feature some fun fourth-wall breaking, and you’ll see substantially different puzzles depending on which of the major midgame branches you go down. Some are a little too out there, I thought – even looking at the walkthrough, I don’t understand the (Spoiler - click to show)Morse code puzzle. But luckily, that walkthrough is comprehensive, and also boasts impressive layout and design. Once I used it to reach the end, I was able to appreciate the aesthetic experience Recon provides – but I do with there’d been some more careful worldbuilding, clearer writing, and better-clued puzzles to go alongside.
Highlight: There’s a surprising amount of interactivity in the mid-game – there’s a major branch that meant I ran into completely different plot and challenges than the ones the walkthrough described, and there seems to be a good scope for different choices in how you treat a potential ally to lead to different results.
Lowlight: The game doesn’t have content warnings, but I would have appreciated one since a late-game sequence features an interrogation that does spill over into what I’d consider torture – most of your options involve verbal coercion, but there is a “hit” option. Making this sequence even less enjoyable, I ran into a bug after failing it the first time, as once the interrogation restarted I was missing some of the options needed to progress (Spoiler - click to show)(I could no longer try to blackmail, or press for a confession), and after I gave up and checked the walkthrough, it turned out that the intended solution is actually pretty counterintuitive since you need to get the target’s stress level outside of the range marked “optimum” to succeed (this might be a display issue from playing on my phone, upon further reflection).
How I failed the author: I just did not get what was happening for like 90% of the game, and I can’t imagine that my generally fuzzy-brained state (Henry’s been having some congestion and not sleeping as well as usual, poor thing) helped matters.
Recon has maybe the coolest stand-alone puzzle in the whole comp: the bookcases that clue you to a computer's password. It's a funny moment for me, and yet, it doesn't feel quite right in something with the plot of Recon--how you're a rebel leader who plans to meet up with his girlfriend at a bar in a dystopian Baltimore, but she is missing. Cue warnings that the police, or rather the restrictors under the control of a large conglomerate called Faro, know about the meeting followed by a chase through the city and up to an earthscraper, in order to find allies and information to see where and, eventually, why your mate disappeared. Along the way you-the-player also learn why you are so motivated to take down Faro.
There are plenty of ways to die, and quite frankly, they're interesting and fill in a part of the plot that playing through can't. There's a real choice between disguising yourself fully and getting a bionic arm. Each gives different puzzles, which feel a bit like the author showing off technical prowess, but they're also effective, and many give a sense that you need to hurry. While a torture scene felt a bit clumsy and was thankfully not explicit, there was certainly the expectation you had to abuse your captive just right, balancing threats and violence, which was a bit unpalatable but certainly created tension.
We don't get to see a whole lot of dystopian Baltimore, but there's certainly enough: checkpoints, smuggling and the like. The main reveal is inside a biological/cyborg-ish research facility. While it explained why your girlfriend X was missing, I really didn't grasp the whole story until I played through a few times and did some proofreading for the author. Meeting X, your girlfriend, felt a bit flat, too. People's reactions to traumatic and irreversible incidents don't feel right. But the thing is: there is, in fact, a happiest ending, with a surprise at the end if you survive. Check that: two surprise endings. One is about your pet/friend Blanco, and it always shows up. The other can be happy or sad.
And I think one thing originally off-putting about the game was that I shoehorned myself into final choice where neither really made me happy. It does have a save feature, but all the same, I thought this was The Ending. Some of this may be since things get lost in translation ("thanks for your time" after a dramatic ending is polite, but Recon is not a polite game) and the blurb and game mention too much about the "social and economic gap," which isn't the way to keep things fast-paced. Recon does better when it shows this, via a flare-up at a city border checkpoint. There might be a bit too much "Hey, here's where we go next" dialogue as well. And in some cases, the tries at quick "let's hurry" dialogue fell flat to me, like when you leave a tied-up captive behind. But we have pretty clear cases of betrayal among family and friends, and that's a good foundation for a story. And there are a lot of ways to die, which feels appropriate, given the high stakes and the dystopian feel I assume the author wants to give. These ways added color to the Baltimore the author envisioned, and so if some felt a bit out of the blue, I was glad for the detour (you get bumped back to the chapter's beginning) and the explanation that, yes, Faro's power is pretty stifling! The part where you contact another rebel leader, Olga, felt very good too. There's a third character that adds drama and tension.
I have to admit I wasn't clear on if Blanco, your companion, was an actual cat, or more like Red Dwarf's cat, or something in-between. I may have missed it. In fact, I did miss something critical about Blanco the first time through. But Blanco is a trusty sidekick in fights and makes for an interesting character I'd have liked to see more of. Perhaps Recon's too-puzzly puzzles made me miss out on a few details, or perhaps I was tired when I played it. I needed a re-read to understand things, but on the other hand, it was fast-paced enough that it was no problem, and if you enjoyed either disguising yourself or accepting a bionic arm, you have a ready-made path through with the other option. So that should work out well.
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