Second Wind

by Matthew Warner


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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Post apocalyptic journey, April 15, 2022

The premise is that you must trek to the nearest neighboring bomb shelter to bring back a doctor (and ex wife) to save your in-labor current wife. All puzzles are of the combination lock/password style. It has a nice pixel font.

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- E.K., January 18, 2022

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A grown-up but rather punishing post-apocalypse, January 4, 2022
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2021

(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.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Life in Shelter 5, November 7, 2021

I am glad I didn't read the description before playing this game. It really gives too much away. It's another dystopian future/post-apocalypse sci-fi story. This one has a retro look to it, as if it was developed in the 80's, but I didn't feel any sense of nostalgia playing it. The storyline was much too sophisticated to resemble a classic parser game. It's mostly pretty serious in tone, but throws in jarring bits of humor in odd places. It's also timed, so there is a sense of urgency. I appreciated the detailed walkthrough--it was easy to forget steps or get confused on how to phrase commands. Now I want to make a suggestion about IF games in general: (Spoiler - click to show) Authors, please allow for some branching in your IF. I really liked how this one turns out; it would be the path I would want to find if there were several options. But it feels like more of an accomplishment to get an ending you like when you know your choices mattered. It also provides motivation to play again. Also, I thought there was a missed opportunity in this particular game (extra spoilery spoiler): I made it back to shelter 4 after being exposed, but refused to leave the airlock because I wanted to see what would happen when I went crazy with other characters around. The game just ends. I would have really liked something shocking to have happened. There were some little nitpicks I encountered, but I don't think they're worth mentioning, because they didn't take away from my enjoyment. One of the reasons I don't usually seek out dystopian fiction is the sense of hopelessness that comes from descriptions of everything being ruined. This story does a good job with that. That leads me to recommend this game, since I liked playing it even though I don't usually care for writing this bleak.

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- Zape, October 18, 2021

- Edo, October 16, 2021

- Durafen, October 4, 2021

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A post-apocalyptic game about helping a baby's birth, October 3, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

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.

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