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About the Story
"Centuries of ancestry, decades of memories, years of decline; now, barely two hours in which to reflect on the glorious past, that bygone golden age when nostalgia really meant something... " [--blurb from Competition Aught-Zero]
12th Place - 6th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2000)
Half interactive fiction and half Games Magazine extract, Letters From Home is strewn with challenging wordplay puzzles, among them collecting all the letters of the alphabets (disguised in various forms) and solving cryptic crossword clues. Packed with subtle humor and IF references, so there's fun to be had even if cryptic crosswords aren't your thing. Some of the puzzles are a bit obscure, but on the whole everything works impressively well.
-- Duncan Stevens
>INVENTORY - Paul O'Brian writes about interactive fiction
Graham Nelson once described interactive fiction as "a narrative at war with a crossword." Letters From Home takes a definite side in this battle by being an interactive narrative where the main goal is to complete a crossword, and whose entire purpose is structured around puzzle-solving, the "crossword" part of the metaphor.
The explicit connection with that metaphor is just one of the many pieces of Nelsoniana scattered throughout the game. From the introductory text, to the Jigsaw (grandfather clock and Titanic mementos) and Curses (sprawling mansion filled with relics of distinguished ancestors) references, to the somber traces of wartime, the whole thing comes across as a loving tribute to Graham. Being a Nelson admirer myself, I couldn't help but be impressed by the various clever nods to him peppered throughout this game.
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Number of Reviews: 4
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While the game takes place in a serene country house being emptied by genial removal men, the player doesn't interact much with the plot or setting on a mimetic level. Rather, they wander about converting things into letters.
While the wordplay-saturated atmosphere was quite pleasant, it wasn't enough to keep me from resorting to a walkthrough after my first encounter with the time limit.
Completing the game without the hints would require multiple playthroughs, a certain amount of trial and error, and, most likely, a bit of research. When a description is curiously specific but the cultural or scientific reference escapes you, I wouldn't hesitate to resort to Google- some of the answers aren't to be found in-game.
I'm tempted to recommend this one for those who enjoy difficult cryptic crosswords, but the game lacks the structural fairness of that standardized form. The items and the letters into which you convert them do not have a consistent relationship.
Letters From Home is an unabashed puzzlefest. There's almost no plot whatsoever. That's absolutely fine by me - this game just wants to be a vehicle for word puzzles, and thankfully they're mostly good puzzles.
There's a cryptic crossword at the end of the game, but the whole game is cryptic, really. You need to have a talent for puns and lateral thinking for this one. I'm quite good at those so I enjoyed myself immensely, but this isn't as consistent and fair in its wordplay as Ad Verbum (for example). Then again, neither is almost every cryptic crossword I've tried.
Most solutions are clued well enough in-game (outside of the Hints menu), but you occasionally run into a bit of under-implementation, and a few puzzles are very obscure - I could have played for a million years without hints and not figured out where the N was hiding. Also, I don't think the time limit adds anything to the game, except for stress when you're trying to find an NPC who walks around randomly. (Thankfully, there's no punishment for exceeding the limit apart from the ending saying "*** You have lost ***".)
The writing is fun considering there's not much of a story. There's a surprisingly good sense of place, and of the PC's relationship to the priory. The jokes are daft too. I wish the NPCs were a little more detailed, but I like the incidental ways they interact with each other.
I'm fond enough of Letters From Home to give it 4 stars, but 3.5 stars (its average at the time of writing) is probably about right. You'll get a lot of the puzzles and feel pretty smart, but just be prepared for the really obscure bits of wordplay.
I've rarely been as confused playing a game as I was starting this one. You wander through a house, gathering traditional adventure items (a light source, a key, etc.), but also hidden letters of the alphabet. When you find eachone, you read a letter from around WWII that has no real plot or connection to other letters. I felt frustrated.
Eventually, I began to understood. Each letter is hidden in a weird way. For instance, you might find a railroad crossing sign and take the X in it, or find a line of people and take the queue (Q). There is no real rhyme or reason to the puzzles.
There is also a cryptic crossword, which I love, although it was a little weaker than some cryptic crosswords I've seen.
Overall, a well done but flawed game.
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