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Theatre

by Brendon Wyber

Horror
1995

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Reviews and Ratings

5 star:
(17)
4 star:
(41)
3 star:
(15)
2 star:
(3)
1 star:
(1)
Average Rating:
Number of Ratings: 77
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- ryd5185, November 14, 2020

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Sprawling, creepy, non-linear game with great pacing, September 21, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours
"Theatre" was developed after "Curses" and before "Anchorhead", and has many elements in common with both of these games, including some shared puzzles. It is a large, sprawling game, with many puzzles in the find-an-object-use-an-object category.

I found it slightly easier and slightly smaller than the other two games, but it may have just felt smaller because I always felt drawn forward to complete the game. A series of lost journal pages for collection provide a fascinating backstory.

As others have said, the writing feels a little off at times; however, the game gave me quite a few genuinely creepy moments during exploration, similar to the famous (Spoiler - click to show) "you forgot to close the front door" moment in Anchorhead. The game was strangely compelling despite the weaker writing.

As I said, the puzzles are slightly easier than many similar games. I also noticed that the author favored certain puzzles; for instance, there were at least five puzzles where the solution involved (Spoiler - click to show)pushing or moving a large object around.

A couple of times in the game, I thought I had put myself in an unwinnable situation by entering an area without some object I needed to get out. However, I found I was wrong. I don't think there is really any way to lock yourself out of winning, except by using one-use items when you shouldn't (when you have used a one-use item correctly, it will be obvious).

A couple of things, I wasn't quite sure what they did: (Spoiler - click to show)turning the switch in the electrical panel, and wearing the amulet. Also, as other reviewers noted, there were quite a few plot points never resolved.
However, I didn't feel cheated.

The one star off is for the lack of polish and the plotholes. Overall, though this is one of the most enjoyable games I have every played (for reference, the other games I've most enjoyed are Curses, Anchorhead, and Not Just An Ordinary Ballerina). I anticipate playing through it again several times in the future.

(I added the star back later)

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Break a leg!, September 21, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler, Horror
"You have discovered the secret of the Theatre and have completed the game with a score of fifty out of a possible fifty in one thousand, one hundred and fifty-eight turns."

Yes, and I enjoyed every single one of those turns!

I'm not normally one to test my wits against what is described as a puzzlefest, most of the time enjoying more story-oriented IF. Once in a while though, I like to crack my noggin on some oldschool puzzles. I've given up on "Curses!" thrice already and "Christminster"'s opening scene sent me screaming to my walkthrough.

Theatre was different though. I never got completely lost, always having at least one clear goal. The solutions to the puzzles were always fair, also the ones that I didn't get. The very vague in-game hints were enough for me until very late in the game, and even then the problem was adventurer's fatigue on my part, not having explored thoroughly enough.

The setting and descriptions are creepy enough, but I never felt fear or horror. Instead I was excited and curious the whole time about what would be around the next corner of this sprawling run-down Theatre.

"Theatre" does show its oldschool heritage: a key gratuitously hidden on the opposite side of the map from the door it's supposed to open, picking up everything that's not cemented to the floor to use it in a puzzle far down the road. Apparently ghosts have made a hobby of tearing up diaries and spreading the pages all over the place for no apparent reason...

The backstory was just good enough to be interesting in its own right, but it's not much more than a fragmented Lovecraftian template that supports the dark and damp atmosphere.

The great puzzles mostly revolve around getting to the next part of the map, getting "around the corner" as it were, in varying original ways.

There are glimpses of true genius here, especially one "puzzle that isn't": (Spoiler - click to show)"Tunnels go out in all directions." is not limited to the compass directions. This one had me stumped for a long while, and it was an exhilarating feeling when it finally *clicked*.

A fantastic experience, well recommended!

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Grab some popcorn, September 20, 2020
by deathbytroggles (Minneapolis, MN)
Theatre was one the first modern IF games I played on the heels of Babel. I was immediately pulled in by the same plot device that Finley borrowed, what with the journal pages lying around to provide chilling backstory. I was also pleased that for the most part the puzzles are straightforward and the only way to put the game in an unwinnable state is doing something obviously stupid. For a while I had this one rated four stars.

I revisited this one again today and decided to lower my rating. I still enjoyed myself and finished it rather quickly, but several aspects turned me off this time around:

-- The reason you're stuck in the theatre is because you're in a "slum" and a "bad neighborhood" and a "thug" is waiving a knife at you for some reason. All of these words are steeped in racism. I'm sure that wasn't Wyber's intent and I used those same words regularly twenty years ago. And sometimes old things we like become painfully dated for similar reasons.

-- Other have mentioned this, but the writing is definitely uneven. There are some highlights for sure. Wyber never tells the player how to feel, which makes my heart sing, especially in the horror genre. And there are some good touches with the occasional sound or shadow that creeps around. But then there will periods of less subtlety, such as when you move some things around and, "You suddenly realise there was a body under the pile!"

-- The central Lovecraftian theme is intriguing, but other horror tropes are just thrown in that don't seem to fit and are never explained, such as (Spoiler - click to show)the possessed mannequins and the random cobra in a locker. Also, at one point a skeleton is said to be the source of a horrible smell. Decaying bones would not give off an odor.

-- Wyber breaks the fourth wall a few times to comment on his own writing, which doesn't help maintain the sense of dread one expects in horror.

Despite these criticisms I still am very fond of Theatre and am grateful that it led me to trying out Anchorhead. It's a solid entry in the Lovecraft genre and worth playing if you like that type of game.

- Arrowhead12 (Edmonton, Alberta), June 11, 2020

- kierlani, May 5, 2020

SynTax

This is the sort of game you'll find compulsive - it's hard to clamber back to the real world and do mundane things like making meals, shopping, etc., when Theatre lies beckoning from your computer. I really can't find a single teensy negative thing to say about it - spelling, grammar and writing are way above average; room descriptions ooze atmosphere; the plot turns and twists breathtakingly; and the suspense and tension are so real that you become engulfed by the gameworld.

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- BlitzWithGuns, February 1, 2015


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