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About the Story
"An interactive short experience."
13th Place - 4th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (1998)
An short experimental work, not entirely successful. The main puzzle involves breaking out of a Delusions-esque loop, but this game lacks the backstory of Delusions and doesn't do nearly as much with the conceit. Lots of standard features, such as UNDO and SAVE, are disabled, and there's no status line or location names; the author's reasons for all this hacking aren't clear, but it's fairly disconcerting. It seems like the point was to be nihilistic and gloomy, but the game's too short to have any real emotional impact.
-- Duncan Stevens
The problem is that, really, The City doesn't do enough with its premise. The backstory never really shows up, and backstory is what might have distinguished this from its many predecessors; if there were some interesting story behind how things became how they are, the game might stay with the player for more than a few moments after playing.
-- Duncan Stevens
The game is quite small, but with a thought provoking plot, a bit George Orwell 1984ish.
-- David Ledgard
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>VERBOSE -- Paul O'Brian's Interactive Fiction Page
Plotwise, it's as if somebody chopped up Mikko Vuorinen's Leaves (another escape-from-the-institution game whose name had only tenuous relation to its contents), added two tablespoons of Andrew Plotkin's Spider and Web, garnished with a sauce of Greg Ewing's Don't Be Late, threw in a pinch of Ian Finley's Babel, put the mixture into a crust made from tiny pieces of various other text adventures, stirred, baked for 45 minutes at 350 degrees, and served it up for this year's competition. Now, I'm not entirely convinced this is a bad thing. I think that lots of great works of art, interactive fiction and otherwise, are really just inspired melanges of things that had come before, so I'm not particularly opposed to such derivation on principle. For me, though, some of the derivative aspects of The City didn't work particularly well. This was especially true for the "Spider and Web" stuff -- I felt that the game crossed the line between homage and rip-off, heading the wrong direction. In addition, the convention of waking up with no idea of who you are or where you are, despite how well suited it is to IF, is starting to feel very tired to me. Perhaps I'm just jaded, or burnt-out, but when I saw the beginning I said "Oh, not another one of these!".
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Number of Reviews: 4
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Most Helpful Member Reviews
The City by Sam Barlow is a short, bleak game. You start out in a bland room, with only a video recorder, a tape, and a remote control. So what do you do? You watch the tape. On it, you see a person just like you, in a bland room.
It won't take you long to realise that this person is you. And then the very boredom of your situation (which is equal for the character and the player) will make you want to break out of the situation that has been set up for you.
The first time I played it, I concluded that this was impossible. It is not--or at least not as impossible as it may seem at first glance. You should persevere: there is more to the story than just the first two location.
But even if you manage to reach the rest of the game and play it through completely, it will not leave you satisfied. There are a number of problems with The City, some of which could have been easily solved, and some of which couldn't. Solving the easy problems would push the game to a 3-star rating, but getting a 4-star rating would involve major extensions.
The easy problems all have to do with guess-the-verb situations, unimplemented objects, and stuff like that. The game was not beta-tested, and it shows. I didn't find any outright bugs, but lack of synonyms and guidance makes the game feel a little rough, and makes some of the puzzles far too difficult. I needed a walkthrough, and I won't be the only one.
The hard problem is that as it is, The City is only a fragment of a successful story. It could be the beginning, it could be the middle, it could even be the end, but we need more background, more action, more identification with the main character, before the situation presented gets the emotional power that Barlow is presumably striving for.
As it is, the game is too inconsequential. Still, it is an interesting experiment, and it could be used to great effect within a more substantial piece.
I wouldn't call the game "experimental". It has a peculiar thought-provoking story and very cosmetic changes to the standard look and feel of the parser, but that's about it. UNDO, SAVE and RESTORE are disabled for some reason but they are not needed either.
The puzzles are quite hard and I had to resort to the walkthrough several times, mostly because of guess-the-verb problems or general lack of knowing what the goal was. The game does get better on a replay. The nyances of the story and the depth of implementation are more noticeable on the second go. The story is easily worth 4 stars but guess-the-verb, hard puzzles and shortness drop the rating a notch.
The basic premise is quite fine. There are missing pieces in the story, but that makes the scene more surreal, so it is not necessarily a bad thing. The puzzles are quite difficult, mainly because some elements are not efficiently implemented. These are shortcomings which would have easily been detected during playtesting. (Spoiler - click to show)Examples: I try to TAKE the black cable and there is not enough of it to get a hold of, but it can be PULLED anyway; CLIMBING the hole results in the standard response that there is nothing to be achieved by this, but GOING THROUGH it is fairly okay. So I had to resort to the walkthrough and sometimes my idea had been correct, but the game didn't show me that I was expected to try something very similar.
Nevertheless I liked the surreal and dystopian setting.
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The City on IFDB
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