Number of Reviews: 13
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Not flawless, but ambitious and substantial, July 20, 2009
King of Shreds and Patches appears in a genre, Lovecraftian horror, that already contains some of the best IF out there -- perhaps because IF is such a good medium for telling a story of exploration, hidden rooms, and dark secrets. What sets this particular game apart is its setting, Elizabethan London in 1603, which is vividly researched.
As a game, King has some real strengths and some annoying weaknesses. Positives include the THINK command, which allows the player to review what quests he might work on next -- a valuable feature in a game with such a large map and so many characters to interrogate; the game map, which provides an overview of what London looks like, and expands with new locations whenever the player receives a commission to go to a new place, which conveys well the experience of moving around a city the protagonist already knows; and a number of puzzle solutions that build on previous solutions, giving the impression that the protagonist is gaining certain skills and habits as the story goes on.
Several of the puzzles, however, turn on precise, fiddly manipulation of what I assume are realistically implemented Elizabethan objects. On the one hand, this makes the player engage more completely with the period, which is not a bad thing; on the other, the experience could be frustrating, especially when the proper use was under-clued or a timed scene was in progress. (Spoiler - click to show)In one case, the object I was struggling to learn to use was the printing press the protagonist used for his livelihood -- surely something he would be able to manipulate with confidence.
Another issue is that the game relies heavily on knowledge flags to determine what the player is allowed to do, and sometimes these triggers are more finicky than I would like. On several occasions I found myself looking for a building I knew should be present in a location, but because the game didn't think I'd "learned" about its presence yet, the parser stubbornly disclaimed all knowledge.
As story, King of Shreds and Patches is again somewhat mixed.
There are some very memorable scenes, and (as often in horror IF) the first hints of the truth are genuinely creepy. It also uses very effectively the idea that the player constantly risks madness by too great a contact with the cult he's investigating. IF provides a great context for that, too -- every time the game hinted that I was on the verge of knowing Too Much, I'd go ahead and do the fatal action, and then UNDO: both succumbing to my own temptation and allowing the protagonist to remain innocent.
I was less satisfied with the ending, where unspeakable horrors become speakable and in the process turn out more banal than their earlier manifestations.
This said, King offers a rare depth of experience, with a long and eventful plot, detailed historical setting, and a large cast of characters. Conversation sometimes becomes a bit longwinded (characters have a lot of backstory to disclose, and you really need to ask about every topic that is listed as an option), but the extensive character interaction provides a feeling all too rare in IF, that of being in a heavily-populated area. Like Anchorhead, King also implements days and nights, giving the player a better sense of passing time than most IF offers. King of Shreds and Patches is a substantial work and well worth playing.