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About the Story
Fenwick is a serene, nineteenth-century township located deep within the wetland regions of western New England. Only a short drive from the storied academy known as Ealdian College, you have long been looking forward to experiencing everything this quaint, off-the-grid community has to offer.
25th place - 27th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2021)
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Number of Reviews: 5
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I recommend playing this game. I do not recommend reading too much about it before you play. I didn't even read the description, and I'm glad I didn't have any expectations on where it would go. It is a Twine game (categorized as suspense), and you make most of your choices by clicking links. You also have a game mechanic where you are able to try to combine items in your inventory.
One thing I appreciated about the formatting is that when I got to a page full of links, they were color-coded so that I knew which ones were descriptions and which were choices. The descriptions were short, and there were reasons to go through all of them.
When I finished the game, I found that it wasn't quite as vast in scope as I guessed it would be. I would say that anyone who decides to play should be prepared to not have all of your questions answered, and not to expect every detail that seems important to necessarily lead to something. It didn't bother me at all, personally; I thought it was all worth it when I was done. I do think it could have been nice to have had even more to the story, and I would absolutely play a follow-up if the author ever decided to offer it. But again, I got plenty of satisfaction just from what was there, more so than I seem to from most IF games.
This game has a lot of good things going for it, but the end product feels like the author ran out of time or energy with creating the game and decided to focus on polishing what's there (which is much better than making a game with too much scope and not testing it).
Mechanically, this is a Twine game that is built to be like a parser. Most nouns are clickable to get a description, and you have an inventory. Depending on what you are carrying, some items around you have other links. Most interestingly, you can combine any number of items, although I only saw that used once in gameplay.
This game has many similarities with Anchorhead. In both games, you play as a young woman accompanying her husband/partner to a strange and decaying city in order to get work at the city's university. Both have a city of surly inhabitants and a strange house with many secrets, as well as a wood-related mill outside of town.
The unusual feature of this game storywise is that there is a cheerful and warming house you stay at with two talkative inhabitants. The house gains greater importance as the game deepens.
The entire game is lovely. The only issue is that there isn't enough game, I think. The ending itself isn't bad, it's just that it leaves hanging many of the important questions from earlier on. Great games have a narrative arc that builds to a climax and then has a shorter, but definite, denouement; this game essentially falls off a cliff.
Things I can think of that are unresolved (major spoilers!) (Spoiler - click to show)the dog's origin and/or fate, anything with the sawmill, anything with the university, the chain and the slapping in the back room, the ability to combine items, the wicket in the town hall you say you can't go up yet, the pedestal in the town square.
I think it's not really helpful in general to tinker with games, but I think an 'expanded' version of this game that fleshes it out more would be great, maybe entered into the back garden of Spring Thing one year. Of course, just writing another game would be fun, too; the author is good at writing and codig, so I'd look forward to that.
First impression: The PCís name is Jennifer Hedgerow and sheís a botany student. Wow. This is a comedy right? *Checks blurb* oh.
Jennifer Hedgerow doesn't feel like a horror name, or a Lovecraftian name. There is music here, which feels unobtrusive; I don't think much is lost by playing it without music. I like the interface, especially the pop-up asides. Sense of Harmony from 2020 used that to great effect. Actually, this game reminds me of Sense of Harmony for a number of reasons.
Beneath Fenwick is one of several games in IFComp 2021 to use a parser-like mechanic in twine, with locations, inventory, puzzles, and so on. Of those games, I think this is the one that goes furthest; it feels more parser-like than any of the other twine games with similar ideas. And it works! It works quite well! The systems are implemented in a nice, bug-free way. Overall, the game is constructed very well, with a great UI, good writing, and an interesting setting and plot. I was always interested in what the game would throw at me next!
Navigation and travel can be kind of tedious. At several points I was wandering through the whole town trying to find the necessary thing to progress the story. It felt like lawnmower-ing, and it threw the pacing off a bit.
None of the characters act like human beings. Of course, being townspeople in a Lovecraftian story, they might not actually be human beings. But even the outsider protagonists act in strange ways. The first puzzle was kind of ridiculously contrived. The (Spoiler - click to show)escaping-the-rabid-dog-by-going-to-an-abandoned-mill puzzle was just weird and felt a little out of place. Is there no animal control in this area? Or even villagers with weapons or traps or any sense of self-preservation whatsoever? Itís weird that barely escaping from the dog with your life canít be discussed with anyone (maybe it was discussed, but I forgot). But maybe this is all for the sake of Lovecraft-ness and thatís the point.
The game just... stops. There really isnít an ending. It feels like an Act 1. In 2020, Sense of Harmony was another game to do this. I think I preferred Sense of Harmony because of the characters and plot.
I hope this doesnít sound overly nitpicky; I really enjoyed Beneath Fenwick and Iím really looking forward to the next chapter, if/when it comes!
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