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About the StoryA Tale of Old Russia
6th Place overall; 2nd Place, Miss Congeniality Awards - 15th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2009)
Nominee, Best Setting - 2009 XYZZY Awards
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Number of Reviews: 5
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Most Helpful Member Reviews
This is a game that rewards patience. The piece is small, but long segments of the game are spent waiting for something to happen, or trying to trigger the one command that will advance the situation. I found that later playthroughs were more enjoyable, since once you know the trigger actions you can speed things up and are able to hunt for details where it counts. It takes perseverance and effort to unlock the entire plot of the game, but it pays off.
The villain of the piece has a Russian name. While that may not sound like a problem, it is a name that I had to check the spelling of every time I typed it, even after three playthroughs. The main friendly NPC, Kropkin, was excellent. He has an impressive assortment of anecdotes, and his dialogue is dripping with personality. He was a very likeable NPC. (Spoiler - click to show)This made his (probable) betrayal more painful and gave the death ending far more emotional impact - very, very well handled.
The descriptions are sparse, but well-judged. Each room or object is described merely with a few carefully chosen descriptive words rather than paragraphs of prose. Careful details from the real historical setting are interspersed throughout, adding strength and depth to the setting where quantity of description cannot. The addition of a glossary to explain any terms the reader is unfamiliar with was a thoughtful touch. The game was very strongly implemented with no bugs. However, there was one unmentioned exit in the second room of the game, and several synonyms left unaccounted for that really should have been.
Puzzles are few. One puzzle had a very arbitrary solution (Spoiler - click to show) requiring a seemingly useless item from the beginning of the game, which annoyed me intensely as this is one of my pet peeves. In addition, (Spoiler - click to show)I felt like the solution was cheating, which ruined any sense of triumph. The ending resulting from the solution of this puzzle is also rather unsatisfying, which leads me to wonder why this puzzle and ending were included at all. The other ending is certainly stronger.
In general, The Duel in the Snow was a good piece of narrative IF. Rated four stars.
It’s set in a wintry czarist Russia, in the kind of aristocratic milieu you find in Tolstoy’s novels.
The PC is a gentle soul—one of those nice guys that really weren’t made for duels at dawn, at all—who has lost everything that made his life worth living. The main NPC is his much more cheerful good friend, both of them fairly convincingly portrayed, short as the work is.
There are no actual puzzles in the work, though it can end happy or unhappy. However, the unhappy ending is certainly the most satisfying one (artistically speaking),giving the whole work a suitable and very nice closure, while the happy ending leaves things pretty much hanging in the air.
Nevertheless, the piece is worth some replay (or re-reading), even if you’re not hunting for the happy end. After you finish the game, the author suggests some amusing things to try on replay. Actually, though, replay offers more than just a little extra amusement, since the small IF world of this work proved richer than at least I first thought. Also, poking around a little in it can reveal aspects of the plot that may not have been obvious on the first reading.
Since I called the work “literary”, it may be as well to stress that it achieves its artistic effects by means specific to interactive fiction: a transcript of a play-through of the work would not have the same literary qualities as the work has in (inter)action.)
The author tries to tell a very definite story without puzzles, but with full interactivity preserved—even in the flashback scene! Since there are no puzzles to lead you on through the plot, you can, if you wish, obstruct and prevent the story from proceeding for as long as you wish.
In this particular piece I didn’t find this possibility a problem. Why should the player/reader of a (good) work of IF want to be deliberately un-cooperative? Perhaps an IF-author has a right to assume som edegree of “willing suspension of disobligingness” on the part of players, just as an author of non-interactive fiction can assume suspension of disbelief on the part of readers?
This piece plays with dreams, memories, and experiences in a way that is highly rewarding. Although I have not managed to attain the 'good' or 'best' ending, which I suspect exists, I found the entire story to be satisfying and would recommend it.
The experience is fairly short, and it really makes the most of a constrained world and a linear plot; I had fun failing in my attempts to break away from the foreshadowed ending.
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