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(based on 15 ratings)
Language: English (en)
Current Version: 3
Development System: Inform 6
Baf's Guide ID: 1664
Nominee, Best Story; Nominee, Best Puzzles; Nominee, Best Individual Puzzle - 2001 XYZZY Awards
6th Place overall; 3rd Place, Miss Congeniality Awards - 7th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2001)
>INVENTORY - Paul O'Brian writes about interactive fiction
I sincerely hope the author puts out a post-competition version of the game, with the final polish complete; when and if that happens, Vicious Cycles will be a sparkling IF experience, at least for an audience not overly sensitized to the terrors of terrorism.
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Number of Reviews: 4
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Vicious Cycles does an excellent job of utilizing a time loop mechanic while struggling to deliver a story that makes the puzzles worthwhile.
Awakening in a subway station, you have about 25 moves to prevent a terrorist attack that blows up a passing train. There are only six "rooms" you can access, some being on the train itself. Nearly every puzzle that brings you closer to your goal requires learning by dying. Not because you learn information via death, but rather you are required to pursue objectives that will take up the full 25 moves. Each success here is quite satisfying, as information learned is generally easy to apply on your next cycle. One puzzle involving a gas mask does not feel intuitive, but otherwise there's nothing terribly frustrating.
Unfortunately, the story is not delivered quite as smoothly. Backstory is more or less dumped in between cycles. While you are given prompts during each info dump, you have no agency to do anything interesting. During the final flashback, you are suddenly given agency to make a change to the past. While the story is interesting, no character has time to grow on you and it was presented too haphazardly to land with me on an emotional level.
My favorite part of the game happens in the background. In one of the train compartments, there is a girl and her younger brother on their way to school, and he really really doesn't want to go. Listening to their conversation is fun, but you can engage the boy and learn more about his relationship and home life. You learn nothing that helps you but it humanizes the world and provides ample motivation to keep going.
Recommended for anyone who enjoys time loops.
I played this game for the first time in a hotel room in the mountains in New York with my girlfriend. We sat with my laptop on the bed in our pajamas and took turns entering commands and reading the text out to each other, working out the puzzles together, bickering a little with each other to decide what to do. It was her first time playing IF and she was really enthralled. For hours! I have really warm memories of that trip.
Anyway, the groundhog day loop game mechanic is done really effectively. To try and explain as much as possible while dropping as few spoilers as I can, the game centers around a catastrophic event in one person's life, repeating the same hour or so before it took place over and over and "crashing" and restarting the cycle each time it occurs. The loops are occasionally broken up with flashbacks to other short events, vignettes which give clues as to characterization, backstory, how the main character got into this situation, and what exactly is going on.
The groundhog day loop as a mechanic works because, due to the time limit, it's impossible to solve all of the puzzles in one go if you don't know exactly what to do first; therefore each loop becomes a chance for discovery, for learning more, for testing and trial-and-error-- so that eventually, one time, one loop, you'll know exactly what to do and you'll do it in time to save everyone. There is such a feeling of triumph each time you realize, "Oh! That's what I'm supposed to! Now I know for next time!"
In terms of storyline... ups and downs! Extremely effective for a game made for a competition. This isn't to say it was bad, because it wasn't, it worked. The characters are certainly sympathetic enough to make you want to help them, and they aren't wooden or anything. Some of the themes which the game's storyline uses are very dark and complex and may not be treated with the intricacy that would be necessary to do a thorough exploration, and for that reason I remember reacting with mild skepticism at some points-- but at other parts the storyline is so powerful I almost cried. The writing in terms of pure language is lovely as well.
Things I liked:
* Little characterization quirks
Things I didn't like as much:
* Some of the solutions to the puzzles didn't seem quite logical to me ((Spoiler - click to show)I didn't think the connection between the respirator and the smell of alcohol was very obvious, and I hit UNDO so MANY times because I thought I was supposed to take the key out of the pocket before I left the station, and was just typing the wrong verb...)
Overall I 100% recommend this game if you're into time travel mechanics and cool sci-fi settings.
Vicious Cycles is a complex game. It contains two interwoven narratives; it deals with complex issues in real life; it has puzzles requiring many replays to solve.
The game has a few early surprise which I won't mention here, but I can say that the atmosphere is a sort of dogged determination to overcome despite discouraging odds. The gritty feel reminded me of Cape by Bruno Dias, although the stories themselves are very different.
Overall, I highly recommend this game. It is fairly short, about 100-400 moves for a typical playthrough, although a perfect playthrough is probably 50 or less.
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