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About the Story
The Green ... a world of death. We have no other name for it, no history to explain it. All we know is that everything green, kills. Trees, grass, lichens, moulds. They stab, pierce, poison, strangle, infect. To the best of our knowledge, there are no living creatures beyond the flame-burnt walls of Klay.
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From the yellowed plastic windows of Borok Singh's penthouse at the top of the Gardeners' citadel, I can see the whole arc of it. The shanty streets. The corpse-processing factories. The sagging footings of the geodesic dome.
This is the first game published in 2023 that I am reviewing. In The Green, you play as a Gardener named Imrik Tso who lives in the city of Klay. Something happened that made all plant life deadly, a phenomenon simply known as the “Green.” Humanity is left huddled in a barricaded city while scientists and firefighters work to keep the lethal greenery out of city limits.
Lately, Imrik feels like this has all been a band aid. He thinks he may have discovered a real piece of hope: a cure. But this means leaving the city.
The gameplay is ultimately a perilous journey out of the city and into the unknown. The first half is about gathering supplies and finding a discreet way to exit the city, of which there are multiple paths. Some choices are tagged as "risky” or “chancy” which can lead to different outcomes. Saving is advised.
There is some resource management woven in. You begin the game mildly infected. Supplies are meant to stave of the infection’s spread, so it does not kill you before you reach the three towers. Even then, you will be crawling across the finish line. And for good reason. Life is deadly outside of the city. Peach trees and daffodils are replaced by venom roses, choke apples, butcher's bloom, and other botanical monstrosities.
At the top of the text space is a circle depicting a diseased handprint. The circle’s outline gives a quick assessment of your health. As you become more infected, the longer the green border grows. Physical injuries are shown with a red border. Clicking on the handprint provides a description of your state.
Not bad. A few small stains. A tinge of green on the webbing between my fingers.
It's not pretty. This function reminds me of playing Vespers where your body is slowly infected by the plague. Beholding the physical transformation of the PC is all part of the experience.
The stain on my left arm is getting worse.
Every time you move, the green border creeps forward. There’s no stopping it (right?), only delaying the inevitable. It gets the player neurotically checking for increased signs of infection, emphasizing the touchiness of the protagonist's situation.
In the second half, the gameplay gets a little repetitive. When you finally leave the city and enter the wild (Green) yonder, everything is about survival and rationing your supplies when you encounter toxic plant life. Hint: It’s everywhere. In a nutshell it consists of ouch, ouch, ouch, don’t step here, don’t step there, ouch. Do I dodge this field of deadly vines or run right through it?
I liked doing battle with killer shrubbery. But it feels like the game is repeating what we already know: The plants are deadly dangerous. Meanwhile, drastic plot elements are handed to the player, detracting from the more investigative themes we see at the start of the game. I’ll discuss this in the next section.
As you can see, I opened this review with the first passage from the game. It is descriptive, atmospheric. It immediately makes you curious to know more about the game’s world which is a powerful trait to have. For some additional context, Klay is run by Borok Singh- or the High Reaper- who orders Gardeners to develop new ways of combating the Green. Imrik managed to hack together a cure but needs to take it to three towers several miles out of Klay. It is thought that those towers are the origin and source of the Green. Because Singh would never agree to this, Imrik must be sneaky.
No living thing (besides deadly plants) survived the Green. Surviving life resides within the walls of Klay. The turning point is when (Spoiler - click to show) Imrik encounters moths flittering casually amongst the plant life and realizes that he was misled. Instead, the Green appeared to be selective, not this all-encompassing beast that sterilized every ecosystem it touches. He concludes that the Green was a human engineered weapon designed to kill specific targets. Human targets. Seems like it got out of hand. There is some ambiguity here. While (Spoiler - click to show) discovering the moths were a surreal moment and a good opportunity to build the story, the scene lays out the plot twist in one go without the subtlety of the earlier gameplay.
Before, you would learn exposition through small choices, whether it would be opting to go through the tunnels to leave the city or to spend some optional time talking to another Gardener. With this, bits and pieces trickle down to form the post-apocalyptic story. But now, the game gives you the big reveal all in one paragraph that feels like the plot twist is being told instead of shown. It’s a tough balance to explain. I think my reaction is partly towards the differences between the first and second halves of the game. It goes from a light investigative piece to a more linear one.
There are still plenty of subtleties to appreciate. A thoughtful perspective emerges with the protagonist’s observations of the Green as he travels. It appears that the Green becomes (Spoiler - click to show) less aggressive the further you are from Klay. There is a perimeter around the city called the burn-back that marks where humans combat the Green with fire, herbicides, and other weapons. Terse, bitter plant life appear to be chopping at the bit to infiltrate the city. But this becomes more mellow, though still dangerous, as you leave the war zone behind. I feel like this offer commentary on our relationship with the natural world, on how our trying to “control” and refine a landscape can only make it more resilient towards our efforts. While The Green takes this to the extreme, it draws similarities with real-life scenarios.
I only found two endings, not including when you die prematurely from the infection (Spoiler - click to show)(although you ultimately die at the end of the game anyway). I’m still not entirely sure of how the cure works, and honestly, I was left with some unanswered questions about the Green and city of Klay.
For instance, the game is nebulous about Klay. Remind me, is Klay the three towers or the city where the game begins? Both? No one knows? All I know is that I found the two endings. (Spoiler - click to show) One is where you use the cure against the Green, and the other is where you decide not to use the cure and let the Green run its natural course. I was hoping for more answers, but these endings suffice.
This game gets high marks for visual design. It is also another strong example of visual storytelling. I am glad to see Twine authors going the extra mile to offer something new.
Now, go outside and find a dense patch of moss, trace a circle, and then clear away the moss inside of it. That's what the artwork looks like: a slab of moss with a circle for text in the center of the screen. The text margins and scroll feature was a bit of a hindrance, but that can be expected when trying to fit chunks of text into a circular text-"box" space.
The circle is a cream colour that turns pale green when you leave the city and enter the Green. Around it is a faint green shadow that turns red when you are severely injured. The text will sometimes blur to replicate the protagonist’s blurred vision as he is further infected or injured. These surprise splashes of red added nice contrast. The result is an effective visual experience that makes the gameplay more vivid.
Generally, the colour palette for this game is- big surprise- green! Everything in meant to conjure up plants, plants, and more plants. There are also illustrations of your supplies which are shown on the left half of your screen. The game experiments with clickable icons, such as the journal icon that opens to pop-up window with journal entries. This really gave the game a professional look. Even the save menu has greenery growing on it!
These quality visuals make up for some of the gameplay’s deficiencies. Without them, the experience would be less potent. Yes, this sentiment could apply to any Twine game, but some can hold their own with or without special designs. While the overarching story in The Green is strong, there is a lull in the later gameplay. If this game stuck with the generic black screen + white text look, it would not command the effect that it does. Part of what I like about The Green is how it demonstrates the extent visuals can go to make a completed piece into a polished one. All the power to it. Visuals can go a long way.
The Green is a unique and compelling game about sacrificing everything to undo the apocalypse. A one-way trip, so make it count. The gameplay combines two cool elements- survival and resource management- which will likely be a draw for players. If post-apocalyptic games interest you, The Green is worth checking out. Plus, the visuals are fantastic.
If you liked the themes in this game, I highly encourage you to check out the game Calm. It’s an Inform game about apocalyptic spores that, when inhaled, kill people if they fail to remain calm. Calm is not the most polished work out there, but it has a unique appeal. I know I played it longer than I expected to. For more subtle plant dystopian Twine games I recommend Defrosted and The Soft Rumor of Spreading Weeds.
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