An Aside About Everything

by Sasha


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Noir, a shade too obscure, November 10, 2021
by ChrisM (Cambridge, UK)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2021

A heavily introspective, noir-styled choice-based game about a guy searching for a girl against a backdrop of surreal landscapes (presumably projections of his inner states) while encountering a succession of enigmatic women (presumably the splintered subconscious impressions of the one he is searching for). The story is narrated in the third person present throughout; we witness our reverentially capitalised protagonist (he is a He) from a distance as he works his way through (presumably) whatever persona trauma it is that has led him to retreat into the sanctuary of his mind; the viewpoint seems a deliberate means to dissociate himself from that trauma. Probably.

Thereís a lot of presumption there and thatís because, really, this game invites it: it is, in parts, wilfully obscure. The whole thing feels rich in allegory, but itís never quite clear what the allegory is or what, fundamentally, is going on aside from the central narrative thread of Him seeking the missing Her.

Interesting stuff happens. Characters come and go. One dreamlike location leads to another. The whole thing is divided into acts that shunt us ever onwards, bewilderingly, towards the climax and a denouement, of sorts. There are a number of literary quotations throughout that seem suitably apposite in their place, but, in hindsight, donít cast much light on proceedings. Itís all rather perplexing.

However, in spite of the obscurity there is actually a lot I like about this game. The writing is good throughout: the prose is moody and evocative and just off-kilter enough to lend a slightly unsettling atmosphere to the whole, and the characters are interesting and their differing personalities distinctly drawn. I did enjoy the story overall. The implementation in Twine is effective: an appropriately subdued black and white theme and sporadic sound effects which could be easily missed (I did miss them, before I played with sound on the second time round), as well as an inventory system and continually updating list of Ďpeople of interestí. I found myself engaged and entertained throughout. I found a few minor typos and there are a number of bugs, also reported by others, that meant I became trapped in a loop and had to restart on three occasions (once during conversation at the bar, another at the mine and a third time when looking up things in the inventory followed by consulting the Ďpeople of interest listí). I was also able to seemingly use an object before discovering it on a couple of occasions: ((Spoiler - click to show)the phone and the beer, both of which I could trade for pills before they were in my inventory). I hope these minor wrinkles will be ironed out in a post-comp release.

One wonders, with something like this, if the obscurity is explained by the private nature of the work (this is a personal story that only the author could truly understand), or if it is merely affected (itís just an authorial device to make a more interesting story). The latter seems less forgivable and, I suspect, it the case here Ė it feels like a deliberate stylistic decision to make the story difficult to decipher in this sort of way and, I think, it is only a partially successful one. Ambiguity and allegory are fine but only if the reader can have some confidence that, overall, they know what is going on; a little more exposition is generally required before an audience becomes sufficiently engaged to fill in the detail for themselves rather than letting it simply wash over them as most players would with this (and as, ultimately, I did).

As it stands, An Aside About Everything feels as though it is about everything and nothing. Thatís a pity, as some considerable skill has gone into this piece, and it is worthy of a playerís attention. But it would benefit from a layer of enigma being stripped away; a shade less obscure and it would be a solid four-star game. As it stands, itís a respectable if slightly disappointing three stars from me.

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