Strike Force

by Christopher Drum profile


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PunyJam #3: Strike Force, March 11, 2023
by kaemi
Related reviews: PunyJam #3

Strike Force advertises itself as an homage to the upbeat bravado of 80s US cartoons, in which plucky problempunchers foil the scheme du jour of whichever Noun Man is threatening the world: “Strike hard. Strike fast! STRIKE FORCE! / Strike Force is a multinational team of special mission operatives based in international waters. They serve to protect the world from HAVOC, a relentless force for evil and chaos.”

Despite this cheery ambition, Strike Force is too watchmakery to really live out the promise. Instead, this is a game that contains the sentence: “There are theoretical ice structures that an inducer could coax out of even basic H20.” Rather than MacGyver our way through an endless tide of henchmen, Strike Force is a heist game, where to get the best ending you have to put everything back in order before you leave, so that nobody knows you’ve even broken in. Puzzles consist of intricate interactions with technical systems: “A cable of 13 thick wires each a different color. You've hotwired enough security locks to know the red and black wires will unlock the door, if you reverse their polarity. The green wire needs care; a simple cut should disable the alarm. / The multihued wires in light/dark pairs are trickier. Fathom, Strike Force's deep sea expert, taught you they balance airlock pressure against sea pressure, to allow the door to physically open. Cutting one will apply a pressure differential, as measured by the pressure gauge.” Multiphase manipulations approximate a mechanic’s focus on diagnostics and repair, navigating a set of relations towards a desired outcome. In this puzzle, you need to cut a sequence of wires based on PSI value to equilibrize, cut the alarm wire, solder the security wires into a reverse polarity, before then maintaining fidelity to stealth by resoldering the entire panel back to its place. Not very cartoonish, you’ll agree.

The narration picks up on this tonal difference, incorporating the disjunction with a shrug. Rather than over-the-top-of-the-lungs cartoonish extravagances, the humor thrives on this understated contrast, giving us a cupboard with boxes of rigatoni: “On the backside in bright yellow is a tastefully restrained HAVOC logo.” Perhaps as a metonymy of this overly realistic version of eighties cartoons, after we break into the facility: “In quiet unison you chant, "Strike hard. Strike fast. Strike Force."” We need to cite our catchphrase, of course, but quietly, to preserve opsec. Despite the intro/outro bookends, which lavish confrontational camp on the enterprise, breathlessly fretting over HAVOC holding the Great Pyramids of Giza for ransom, Strike Force is content to leave us alone meddling about a lab station, encountering HAVOC personnel only once in what can perhaps be described as an awkward bathroom escapade. Hardly actionpacked adventuring.

Brushing aside the tonal disparities, Strike Force’s heisty intricacies can still entice the pulse to race while the brain racks. Entering the secret laboratory, we’re given an atmospheric playground to puzzle through: “The steps encircle, and the room is designed around, a proud display of the prize at dead center: an immense glass cylinder that runs floor to ceiling, filled with a dense mass of shimmering blue crystals. They are charged with an internal energy, and give off refracted, alien light that prisms about the room. Combined with the mod stylings of the interior, you can't help but feel transported to an otherworldly discotheque.” After searching around, we finally connive up a tense sequence, complete with a timer nearly ticking to zero, which requires us to be a little creative to speed up the solution, the flash of fleet ingenuity that winks at us with a little trickster pleasure.

To the extent those flashes of pleasure cohere beyond text adventure bric-a-brac, they resolve around a delight in tinkering, playing with finicky nested dependencies that allow you to reverse engineer systems with the same careful attention of a programmer. As an exercise in PunyInform, this game invites us to pay the same attention to qualities and states that it has to. So many items you interact with display that same interest in current values, with a perfect playthrough requiring you to restore every value, rebuilding the puzzle set. If, after rebuilding from the blueprint, it doesn’t all fit together magically, well, neither does anything from IKEA.