Number of Reviews: 6
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Emotion in Old Russia, November 30, 2009
The Duel in the Snow is a strong, short piece with very strong emotional impact. A story of betrayal, danger and lost love, this game will stay in your brain long after playing. It is also notable for being set in old Russia - a rare setting for IF which Utkonos has utilized extremely well.
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.