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About the Story
Atmospheric and moody, here one gets to follow an American teaching in Cambodia through a ghost story with an Eastern flavor.
2nd Place - Saugus.net Halloween Contest 2009
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Number of Reviews: 5
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Set in Cambodia from a westerner's eyes, this ghost story is creepy long before anything supernatural turns up: the environment feels hostile a lot of the time, and your fellow westerners haven't always come to Cambodia for very admirable reasons. There are some hints of why the protagonist was drawn here, and suggestions of what may be gained by reaching across the cultural divide to understand one's fellow humans; but that kind of connection is shown as pretty hard to achieve in practice, and the predominant sensation is of powerful alienation from one's surroundings and the other people.
To some extent that comes out as an function of the protagonist's personality: he seems to be easily bullied by the other characters, not always to know very well what he wants, and to have trouble meeting the girls who interest him on their own terms.
The first several scenes are all conversations with other characters, setting up the story's main problem. It often feels as though the author is more interested in exposition than he is in the plot: for instance, you can spend a dozen or so turns having the protagonist monologue to another character about Cambodian history and economic problems. I was very interested in the environmental details, which are clearly observed at first hand. And, exposition aside, the plot machinery generally does move forward when you've completed the necessary tasks (usually asking questions, though there is one task in the mid-game that approximates a simple puzzle).
By the time the ghostly events turn up, one is really kind of rooting for the ghost, which is an interesting experience.
So in favor of this game are a protagonist struggling past the features of his own personality; a novel setting; and good integration of the horror elements with the real world.
That said: this game needs a LOT more polish. Conversation sometimes suggests options that don't actually work, or loops around on itself implausibly. It's easy to get into a state where you're struggling with the parser in attempts to say something and simultaneously being berated by your interlocutor for your silence. There's also a point where the game seems to offer you a choice ((Spoiler - click to show)which of two girls to date) but your selection doesn't actually determine any outcomes. Many objects are mentioned but unimplemented, which is a pity because the experience of exploring would be especially compelling in this novel environment. Eventually it peters out so that many of the room descriptions themselves are very curt, not even mentioning specific items, and there are assorted typos and missing punctuation marks. Overall it just feels like a game that isn't at all done yet.
This problem becomes more evident as the game goes on, until I found myself in a scene I couldn't figure out how to end, which was largely unresponsive to anything I tried to do. So I never saw the actual ending.
I really wanted to like this game because the setting promised so much. The game does live up to part of its promise, but is let down by its implementation. I hope the author will consider reworking this piece substantially: to flesh out the end-game and hint certain scenes better, to make the setting more explorable, and to tighten up some of the pacing in the early game. If extended this way, I think it would still be an uncomfortable piece to play, but uncomfortable in the ways the author intended.
I was hoping for a ghost story; instead I got almost nonexistent implementation and some repellant characters/situations.
The atmosphere is effective, in that I (as a Westerner) found it very foreign and a touch hostile-feeling (as can be the case when you're a stranger in a strange land, minus the language).
But little implementation means you can't explore the setting. The show's on rails, but in a bad way; the whole event feels futile, the main NPC you interact with is a real creep, and the ghost arrival, to me, felt "out there," like there wasn't enough buildup; it just showed up..
Futility + your repellant friend + poor implementation = 1 star in my book.
The horror genre often uses its tropes to hide from the very real horrors in the world we live in. This game reminds us that horror can come from disease, from poverty, from prostitution and from nihilism. The political and social themes presented here are not often tackled in IF, making this a unique if seriously flawed endeavor.
The game is also rare for being centered almost exclusively around conversation, yet still having a forward narrative that progresses across a series of scenes. It's lovely to play a game where the conversation is more thoroughly implemented than the environment. The characters in the protagonist's life, mostly disillusioned ex-patriates living in contemporary Cambodia, are each distinct and solid. Whittington nicely creates scenes of creepy foreboding and disturbing content that mostly take place in public and in broad daylight.
Where the game fails is in its refusal to leave its pre-programmed rail, and in the sudden derailment that happens at the end of the story. Though several times the game appears to offer you a choice, in no case that I could discover on three playthroughs is your choice actually honored: the same thing happens no matter what you do, even to the point of breaking internal consistency (Why are you going on a date with one girl when earlier you said you would take out a second? (Spoiler - click to show)Why does the game hint that I should have taken the fish with me, when, in fact, I did?) It's not clear whether these are bugs, failed aspirations, or some sort of point about the nature of free will. The story claims to have only one ending, although seeming to hint that you did something wrong and a better one is available. I couldn't find it, if it exists: the one I kept getting seemed arbitrary and not particularly satisfying.
I really wanted to like this more, but interactivity can't be just a shell game. If you really want to give players meaningful choices, you have to follow through with that promise. Otherwise you should write a short story instead.
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