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About the Story
Journey across a post-apocalyptic wasteland to get medical help for your pregnant wife.
34th place - 27th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2021)
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Number of Reviews: 5
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I enjoyed Matthew Warner's last IFComp game, Tombs and Mummies, but I think this represents a substantial upgrade. The author makes excellent use of the Adventuron engine here and I had little trouble with the parser itself.
You play as a man in a shelter that survivors of two apocalypses have constructed. Outside roam the infected weremen. Inside, your wife is about to have a baby, but she needs a c-section, and the only person who can help you is someone not likely to want to do so.
This game is Cruel on the Zarfian scale. It is very easy to unknowingly lock yourself out of victory. It also includes some randomized combat, although there are ways to fix anything that goes wrong.
There is a timer going on, so you can't dilly-dally too long.
A lot of puzzles have a riddle-like or crowssword-puzzle-like quality, like unscrambling words, remembering famous pop-culture numbers, or navigating a maze.
I beat about 60% of the game, but I had missed a major component early on and couldn't figure out why I always ran out of time. The walkthrough helped me through that.
Once you know the codes replay is faster, so it's not too bad to retry if you die.
+Polish: Very smooth. This is Adventuron at its best implementation-wise, I think.
+Descriptiveness: It was very descriptive.
-Interactivity: I like the game, but fiddling with the doors and equipment and doing the unscrambling puzzle weren't really my cup of tea (although the unscrambled messages were funny!)
+Emotional impact: I think the game may overreach at times in the emotional effect it's going for, by relying on a selfless choice as the main thrust but requiring that selfless choice to proceed. Still, I found the story interesting.
+Would I play again? Yes, after I've had some time to forget the puzzles.
(This is a lightly-edited version of a review posted to the IntFict forums during the 2021 IFComp. My son Henry was born right before the Comp, meaning I was fairly sleep-deprived and loopy while I played and reviewed many of the games, so in addition to a highlight and lowlight, the review includes an explanation of how new fatherhood has led me to betray the hard work the author put into their piece)
Typically for an Adventuron game, Second Wind makes a great first impression, with an awesome comic-book cover image and slick maps helping immerse you in the postapocalyptic setting. The premise is also refreshingly grown-up and grounded: the main character’s wife has gone into labor, some complications have arisen, and now she needs a c-section or she and the baby will die. Making matters worse, the only doctor around is the main character’s ex-wife, who lives in a neighboring settlement – and between the bad breakup and the trek though the postnuclear wastes, enlisting her aid isn’t going to be easy. I unfortunately left Second Wind less impressed than I was when I began playing it, largely down to some incongruous, mimesis-breaking puzzle design and a punishing time limit that almost requires a restart and retry, but it’s still worth playing through.
I found the story the most engaging part of Second Wind. It doesn’t get drawn too deeply beyond what you see in the blurb, but the simple dialogue and intense dilemma faced by the main character pulled me in. And in a sea of protagonists with no family ties, a divorced main character is a novelty – especially since it positions your character has having been in the wrong, since he cheated on his ex-wife, Wendy, with his current one. This lends the sequences where you’re groveling for Wendy’s help a queasy vulnerability that I haven’t seen in much IF before. The postapocalyptic backdrop works well enough to create stakes, but it’s the domestic drama that really drives the emotional engagement.
The gameplay is where things worked less well for me. Some of the challenges on offer do match the tone, like figuring out how to wrangle transportation for Wendy. But most of the obstacles gating progress feel very gamey. There are several different keycodes you need to find, one of which is drawn from Les Miserables in a way that’s just this side of reasonable, the other – a reference to Tommy Tutone’s 1981 hit “867-5309 (Jenny)” – a completely implausible choice for characters who we’re told were born around 2000. There’s also a word-scramble, and a series of puzzles that require out-of-game googling of some fairly obscure facts in order to figure out a safe combination. And then there’s the trial-and-error maze.
These aren’t awful puzzles in themselves, and I’d have enjoyed coming across them in a puzzlefest, but they felt at odds with the downbeat vibe created by the story and setting. And while none of them are too hard, some take a while to work through, which meant I ran afoul of the game’s strict time limit. A ticking clock definitely makes sense given the premise, but I wished it applied only to longer actions, like travel through the wilderness or building or fixing machinery, or at least was pitched a little more generously, since the time limit disincentivized exploring the world, and made the maze at the end feel like authorial sadism.
The writing is serviceable, with a few evocative notes here and there – we’re told that in the shelter, “filtered air hisses gently from behind recessed lights”, which is a nicely-considered detail. And I didn’t have problems with the parser -- sometimes an Adventuron weak point -- partially because the author does a good job of prompting the right syntax (this is usually done through out-of-world notes, and while I suppose it would have been smoother to integrate them into in-world descriptions, given the time pressure erring on the side of convenience was probably the right choice). I just wish the puzzles had done the same, either by being more organically connected to the plot or just being dialed back.
Highlight: there’s an effective late-game twist that ramps up the tension even further – and actually adds its own further time limit, which now that I think about it could have substituted for the overall one.
Lowlight: that safe puzzle, which had me going to Wikipedia to look up things like (Spoiler - click to show)the Japanese term for an a-bomb survivor. As far as I could tell, there’s no way to access this information in the game – I wasted time looking in the various computer systems to see if there was a library function – and the puzzle isn’t clever enough to justify this crime against mimesis.
How I failed the author: it’s unfair to hold this against the author, but the risk of harm to a pregnant woman and baby – and actually the reality, because they do both die if the time runs out – landed pretty heavily on me give my circumstances, and I kind of resented failure at these silly puzzles leading to such a dire outcome.
So I got something entirely different than I expected in Second Wind. Seeing what I wanted to see, I noticed the skillful cover art and the italics noting Second Wind was in Adventuron. The least cheery Adventuron game I'd played up until this point had been Snowhaven, which claimed the title by default, because it had normal, serious and dark mode, and I only played on normal mode, which was very nice, and it had warnings plastered abut serious and dark mode. And given the cover art and how Adventuron gives you a picture for each room, I thought we might be treated to something whimsical artistic. However, I only noticed the art quality and what it meant.
I was then disabused quickly of the notion Second Wind was just another cheery Adventuron game, perhaps where you finally have the courage to complete that marathon in a new record time, or you give a friend another chance. But I was also surprised the graphics were utilitarian. It seems like a chance missed, as if the author wanted to make sure they got the technical bits down. Maybe they felt more obligation than they should have to get things technically straight. And they did. They put together a pretty stirring story, too. But I'm left saying "Hey, for post-comp, why not put in an option to see more creative instead of practical pictures, for those who want to replay?" This is my greedy side. I know how tough it is to put it all together and to shift between the technical side and the graphical side. But certainly if the author writes another game in Adventuron, I'd be there just for the pictures, happy story or no.
Saying SW is a timed puzzle does bury what the puzzle is. You're in a fallout shelter. It protects you from werewolves. If they bite you, you change into one, and they're everywhere. Your wife is pregnant, but there are complications. She will give birth in six hours, but if she does, she and the baby will die. You need someone with more experience delivering babies than the nearby midwife, who knows she is over her head. The only person nearby that you can reach in the time frame is your ex-wife. She is your ex-wife because you were cheating on her with your current wife. So your task is to trek across miles of desert from Shelter 4 to Shelter 5. Yes, mass depopulation has occurred, thus making every newborn baby that much more critical. It'd be easy for her to say no. So even a "good" ending will be extremely awkward, even without the whole werewolf apocalypse thing still in progress.
This is a powerful plot, and the title suggests there are obstacles (there are!) Some might just be neighbors who are sick of you, or it might be the hoverbike that's a bit run down, and you have to fix it. But there are also fiddly bits, like opening the airlock properly. The thing about airlocks: I don't mind opening and closing them, but if I have to do so too often in a game or story in the course of a week, it's a bit exhausting, even when it's well-implemented in all instances. And it would be wrong not to acknowledge that, yes, this is a necessary precaution. But I had an "oh no, not again" moment that doesn't seem to be this game's fault. Once you have played X games with airlocks, they all blend together, and if the next one is unrealistic, it can break mimesis, and if it doesn't, you say "Oh no, not again."
Other fiddly bits were how you got the codes you needed to punch in to unlock certain areas. Sometimes this had a bit of emotional resonance and sometimes it relied on pop culture (e.g. a phone number ending in 09–when seeing how googleable it would be, I was surprised another number had gotten higher on the charts in the past few years.) Punching in keypads definitely disrupts the emotional flow of the game, but then again, there has to be some security. I did like how if you type the wrong number, you were locked out for a few game-minutes without having to wait in real life. There's also some fiddling with putting on your protective suit–after the first time you should just be able to REMOVE ALL or WEAR ALL. This is all an occasional nuisance, and it may, in fact, bury the lede that the game's mechanic of allowing variable time per typed move preserve a realistic accounting of in-game time without slapping the player around.
Second Wind is weakest when it gets hung up on minutae--perhaps the author felt they had to offer this detail or things wouldn't be nailed down technically. But it also makes an effort to get around them and explains what will cost you time and so forth. And, of course, in an apocalyptic future, precautions must be taken! It makes an effort to be fair as a timed puzzle, with checkpoints established and maps of the shelters with a "you are here" dot. So I think it works well, even though my suspicions are that the author didn't play well to their strengths. I hope this isn't backhanded praise, because my overall feelings were, they went out of their comfort zone to do this, and they should be pleased with the result. I am, and I think it bodes well for their next effort that may play to their strengths more fully.
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