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by Brendon Wyber


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Number of Reviews: 9
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1-9 of 9

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.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A pretty good experience, September 9, 2013
This is one game I keep coming back to over a period of years, and finished it this time round.
The atmosphere of the game, while not out and out frightening, was suitably creepy, and the puzzles were not too difficult.
I did feel a little let down by the ending, however, as there seemed to be something missing, or something I just didn't get.
All in all, a well-crafted game.

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful:
Well-crafted horror game, May 13, 2013
The plot of the game is not exactly original - you have to enter an old theatre because you forgot something inside, and end up being trapped inside -, but the setting is really great : the horror is shown with little subtles touches, sounds, apparitions, and increases as the game progresses. The theatre is vast, with a lot of areas to discover or unlock, and as the game goes on those areas are more and more dark, empty and dangerous. The descriptions are well-written and coherent, which makes you really enter the game.
There's also some puzzles : they are fair and not really difficult, but not really easy either. I really liked the bits of paper you find in some places, which tell you another side of the story, and finally give some answers near the end (and are quite fun to collect). The implementation is very good and polished (I must say I didn't find any bug), and the parser provides quite a lot of responses. There isn't a lot of NPCs, but it's not important here because of the genre.
The game is quite long (more than two hours, at least), but I found the ending quite unsatisfactory : the author builded a nice and peculiar atmosphere in this theatre, but ends with a too classical (at least for me) theme (I won't say I don't like the theme, but the author could have carried on with an atmosphere of his own rather than going on with (Spoiler - click to show)a seen-before Lovecraftian style). Apart from that, it's a solid game, with a very good setting.

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful:
An atmospheric performance that pays off, January 25, 2010
by Pete Gardner (Vancouver, Canada)
Encore! Author! Theatre is a wonderfully moody work of IF in which the player is stranded in a creepy old theatre with no apparent way out. The more he tries to get out, the deeper he is drawn into a fiendish plot that spans over seventy years, the successful outcome of which could doom not only the player, but the whole world.

Many of the rooms in Theatre are minimally described, and yet the feeling of unsettling dread is maintained effectively for the game's duration. The puzzles are numerous and fair (Spoiler - click to show)(my favourite involved a ghostly usher). Most of them are clever, and one in particular is (Spoiler - click to show)rather gruesome. They are all quite satisfying to solve. Another thing I enjoyed about Theatre is that it is one of those games that, thankfully, do not end with a long single blurb of prose once you perform the winning action. It goes on a little further than that and provides a very satisfying conclusion. Bravo!

This is a (virtually) full-length work that keeps the player involved throughout. I spent perhaps five-to-six hours on this. Using the walkthrough will get you through it quicker, of course, but seriously--resist using it if you can. This game is not too-too hard, and is rewarding to complete. I myself resisted using the walkthrough, but succumbed to the adaptive built-in hint system. I really appreciated the fact that this was, indeed, a hint system and did not blatantly give away the solutions. Despite this, I was stumped by a few guess-the-verb road blocks that could have been prevented had the author worked a little harder on providing synonyms for some of the actions.

If I were to voice any significant criticism of Theatre, it would only be to reiterate what has already been mentioned elsewhere: the Lovecraftian references of ancient, cosmos-spanning creatures were out of place--they did not integrate well with the author's own style of horror, which was effective enough to stand on its own.

Despite that, the bottom line is I enjoyed this game a lot. I recommend it to any who enjoy creepy, suspenseful horror. I am not aware of other works by author Brendon Wyber, but if I encounter any, I will definitely play them.

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Copied script but excellent performance, July 27, 2009
by Dark-Star (Nebraska)
Theatre begins with a familiar enough premise; the player is unexpectedly trapped in a deserted old building that just *happens* to be inhabited by malevolent spirits and horrid monsters. You are then forced to wander the haunted halls attempting to both decipher the secrets of your current locale and escape with your skin. The game is inappropriate for younger adventurers due to several gruesome dead-endings and less lethal but very frightening scenes. Suffice it to say that Theatre quickly make me quite sorry for playing it at midnight with all the room lights extinguished.

While Brendon Wyber cannot exactly be credited for inventing anything new, the game itself makes up for the lack of pure originality. Guess-the-word experiences are all but absent, and the puzzles are quite logical to those with at least a few similar IF titles under their belt. Taken as a whole, Theatre is a solid adventure with a decent dose of danger.

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Great Lovecraft-style Adventure, November 29, 2007
by Matt Kimmel (Cambridge, MA)
This was one of the first of the "new" IF games I played during the Inform-fueled IF resurgence in the mid-90s. It was one of the games that made me realize that the IF being produced by the community was rivaling and even exceeding the quality of the Infocom and Legend classics that I loved. Although Theatre is a bit on the short side, it evokes a Lovecraftian creepiness quite well. While it's completely its own game, I couldn't help comparing it--favorably--in my mind to Infocom's The Lurking Horror. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys that sort of on-your-own-in-the-middle-of-the-night-with-indescribable-monsters type of horror game. My only complaint is that I wish there were a bit more of it.

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
A very atmospheric game, October 19, 2007
by Deathworks (Trier, Germany)
Related reviews: Various games I enjoyed
First, I have to acknowledge that I have not finished the game completely, because of personal reasons. But as far as I can tell, I got really towards the start of the home stretch.

In my eyes, this game shows what good horror IF should be like: The atmosphere is very intense and the writing does a very good job to convey it to the player. The player character is not really my preferred type, but rather falls into the common person category. His presentation is believable, making it easy to get into the game itself. The riddles are very fair, with just enough hints, but not too many, so the player still has some challenges to overcome.

Due to the basic plot, interaction with NPCs is relatively rare, with the game more about uncovering mysteries of the past and understanding what is going on. While some people may find this somewhat disappointing, I believe that it suits the genre quite well.

If you are a hard-core horror fan, you might find the game too tame in its content. While it does involve some aspects of violence, it is much closer to an eerie story than to a splatter movie. It can be said to be in a Lovecraftian tradition. In other words, if you like it more subtle, you can enjoy it quite well, while fans of hands-on action may find the experience less enjoyable, though not really bad.

I am not that experienced with IF, but I would say that it is of medium length, tending slightly to long. So, if you just want to have a quick play, this is probably a bit too much. Otherwise, I can only recommend playing this game as it is really a very fine creation I consider to be one of the flagships of IF.

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