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About the Story
The afterlife isn't what you expected. Explore a strangely modernized and bureaucratic underworld, replete with strip malls, government offices, and science labs, as well as the occasional lake of molten rock.
Hell has been modernized, with bureaucracy and tacky suburban housing replacing the traditional fire and brimstone. As a newly departed soul, you get to explore this wonderland and perhaps seek a way out. Wide-ranging settings, some hellish, some not, some taking subtle advantage of the fact that you're dead. Very puzzlish puzzles (including simple logic problems), with good re-use of puzzle elements. Lots of hidden objects, with some inconsistency about finding them - "examine x" will sometimes find things that "search x" will not. Impossible to die (for obvious reasons) or otherwise make the game unwinnable, unless you're unlucky enough to hit a bug involving some randomized values.
-- Carl Muckenhoupt
What makes PF stand out above the countless other text games currently on the market is its wonderful sense of humor. The game makes some truly awful puns, pokes fun at everyone's notion of what Hell is "supposed" to be, and generally keeps you looking forward to coming back to Hell every time you have to leave the computer.
I loved the non-linear nature of the game. Although by neccessity certain puzzles have to be solved before other puzzles can be reached, the game is tremendously flexible. You truly feel like you are PLAYING the game, rather than being sent to Location A to get Object B to take to Location C to exchange it for Object D, etc. (Indeed, this free-style type of play is neccessary, since the game's goal is not revealed to you until quite late in the adventure.)
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I had students in an introduction to literature class at Georgia Tech write a brief IF interpretation of some the things we had been reading in class, and I suppose what I had in mind as the ideal result would have been something with the same sense of humor and technical facility seen in Roberts’s Return to Ditch Day, though I did realize at the time that it was an unrealistic expectation. It was the engineering background combined with a certain wry humor that really appealed to me about that game, and you see these qualities, in a somewhat embryonic form, in Perdition’s Flames.
The premise of the game is that you are a recent arrival in Hell and have to figure out what seems to be a way to get to Heaven. It quickly becomes clear, however, that your presence there is not punitive. The afterlife is a large and random bureaucracy, and you are presented with the typical series of interlocking obstacles. I pride myself, wholly without warrant, on being able to solve puzzly games of this type without resorting to hints, and I made substantial progress in this one before turning to the walkthrough. (What eluded me turned out to be what I might blame on a failure of the parser, which is not as generous in its understanding of things as most contemporary efforts. While in a container, the command “search <container>” did not produce the same result as “search <object in container>,” which might not seem that objectionable but for the fact that the object in the container was at the time the only thing, absent myself in said container. I understand that this type of parsing issue tends to put most non-initiates completely off the playing of these game.)
The plot resolves itself into joining a club of like-minded folks, and the game also suggests that a character you encounter has created the very world that you inhabit. None of this is treated with anything other than light satire, of course, a type of humor less stark than that found in the similar Douglas Adams effort Bureaucracy.
At one point you’re required to solve a deduction exercise similar to those found on the former logic section of the GRE (and which I remember learning how to solve as part of my academically gifted class. Why exactly these type of logic puzzles are thought to have any cognitive benefit or psychometric validity remains one of the more puzzling questions of the 20th C.) If you can’t get the puzzle on your own, or lack the patience to set up the grid, you’re also given two multiple choice geometry questions. The mimetic break of these being part of a DMV test in hell wasn’t quite working for me, but it does give you some flavor of the arbitrariness inherent in the puzzles q.v. the brutally hard but more internally consistent puzzles in Curses!, released around the same time.)
This game was released in 1993. a year that saw several significant advances in interactive fiction. Perdition's Flames is one of the largest TADS games available, going up to 666 points in increments ranging from less than 10 points to 50.
You arrive in hell on a boat to discover that it's been improving it's image and applying for environmental disaster contracts to clean up hell so they can compete with heaven. But you don't like heaven or hell; you want adventure!
But adventure requires a series of magical protective amulets, the search for which occupies the bulk of the game.
This game is devilish, with some puzzles that are quite difficult. They are very inventive and fun, however. Perhaps the best sequence of the game is a detour to a haunted house (haunted by you!) where you have to get a silver ring that you can only barely nudge with your ghost fingers, all while being chased by a priest and the media.
This is just about as good as it gets for big, old-school puzzle tests, so if you're a fan of Zork, the Enchanter games, or Curses!, you should definitely check this out.
There are some very clever puzzles in this game. The haunted house puzzle is particularly memorable. I had played this game years ago, and played it again recently with my kids. They loved it, because it's very funny and you can't get stuck or killed.
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I'm very interested in hearing truthful accounts of at least somewhat difficult games (or games that don't solve themselves at least) solved completely without recourse to hints, walkthroughs, etc.
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