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About the Story
You barely escaped your pursuers as you ran from the mansion. Now you must survive a vast, trackless desert with no food or water, and escape the grasp of a demonic cult... Written as a sequel to "Two braids girl", which was not written by me.
70th Place (tie) - 26th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2020)
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Number of Reviews: 3
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(This is a review of the initial Comp release of the game; I believe mid-Comp updates have addressed some of the bugs mentioned below)
Desolation is a sequel to a game I havenít played (and side-note, that bothers me way more than it should because Iím the kind of bloody-minded completionist whoíll be recommended a TV show thatís uneven at the beginning but gets really good in season four which is a perfect jumping-on point because they rebooted the premise and shifted the cast, and decide right, season one episode one it is). Interestingly, it appears to be written by a different author (much like Magpie Takes the Train, it occurs to me), so Iím a bit curious about the backstory.
Anyway, the lack of familiarity with the prequel isnít too much handicap, as the opening immediately establishes 1) youíre fleeing into a desert with little but your wits, and 2) youíre being pursued by a sort of demonic Pippi Longstockings. I kid, but the horror bits here are probably the most effective part of the game ó whenever the two braids girl shows up or is mentioned, the writing conveys how reality constricts around the player character, and their desperation to get somewhere, anywhere else. Thereís not much specificity about who she is or what she wants, but for a plot as elemental as this, I donít think thatís really a drawback (play the prequel if you want the lore, nerd! Or so I assume the rejoinder goes).
Structurally, Desolation is well set up into a series of self-contained puzzle areas, which generally keeps things zippy, and the puzzles themselves are fairly well clued. However, thereís no walkthrough or hints on offer, and thereís some unfortunate wonkiness in the implementation. In general, thereís not much scenery thatís implemented (including some that seems like it would be needed/helpful, like (Spoiler - click to show)the ďsoftball-sizedĒ rocks that one might try to throw at the dog), thereís wonkiness about trying to go directions that donít lead anywhere (which the player is likely to do, since exits are sometimes described in a confusing fashion), and there are a fair number of bugs, including lots of scenery not being flagged as such (in the (Spoiler - click to show)apartment sequence, I was able to pick up pretty much all the (Spoiler - click to show)furniture, and start cramming the bathroom sink into the peanut jar). Itís possible to do some things before they should be allowed, and I ran into a guess-the-verb issue that stymied me for quite a while (Spoiler - click to show)(to hit the dog with the pick axe, HIT DOG WITH PICK AXE doesnít work but ATTACK DOG does Ė but the dog is very clearly scary, I donít want to fight it without a weapon!).
One last thing thatís neither here nor there in terms of evaluation, but which was certainly interesting (very light spoilers for an early part of Desolation, then slightly deeper spoilers for a different, 20-year-old game): (Spoiler - click to show)the first main sequence involves the player character hallucinating that theyíre back in their apartment, going through a pre-trip checklist. But any time they open the fridge or turn on the taps, sand starts coming out, until everything starts dissolving into dunes. This is Shade! But it isnít presented in an in-jokey way that makes it seem like an obvious tip of the hat, nor is it exactly the same because the player clearly knows whatís up (the choice of soundtrack creates some really funny moments here). Iím not sure if this is an homage played exactly straight, or what would be even more interesting, independent invention of the idea. If so, well done for having a brain that can simulate Andrew Plotkin!
Hopefully the author can make a quick update to squash some of these bugs (and add a walkthrough file too!) because if you stick to the critical path and donít poke around too much, this checks a lot of boxes for a short, scary, puzzley vignette.
A lovely homage to certain classic works of IF, Desolation certainly lives up to its title, putting the player in a desperate situation with only one way forward. The pacing is excellent, feeding the feeling of running away from danger in desolate surroundings, emphasised by suitable bursts of real-time delays in the narration.
The puzzles are not too complicated, especially for those who have played the games Desolation pays tribute to, but delightful to tackle nonetheless. My only real criticism is of the ending, which came very suddenly and felt premature, like the ambitions had been cut short by a deadline. Iím hoping for a continuation.
This is a parser game with several grand ideas but rusty implementation in creating them.
Itís a sequel to Two-Braids Girl, a game I had never tried before today but decided to check out. That game was a creepypasta game similar to No End House or The Holders series, but with poor grammar.
This game is a direct sequel to that by another author. It starts right where the last one ends off, then moves through, as others have said, a Shade homage, then wraps things up with a simple puzzle in the end.
Thereís nothing wrong with a Shade homage. When I wrote my game Color the Truth, my original idea was to have 4 mini games during the police investigation with each mini-game borrowing from a famous IF game, and one of those mini-games was going to be a Shade homage.
But I took it out because I eventually came up with my own ideas after testing and playing.
And thatís what this game needs; testing and replaying. There are a lot of things to criticize, like linearity, but the truth is that random sequences of events in a linear fashion with only a thin plot to connect them can still do well as long as its really tested. Sorry for talking about my own games a lot, but thatís what I did with Swigian. It placed 22nd, but it was just a random string of linear events held together by one idea.
I think that this game could do at least that well if only it were tested. Tested early, tested often. The best way to test a parser game is to have someone try it and every time the game says Ďyou canít do thatí, go back and make it so you can do that. And get rid of bugs. It takes a long time, but itís worth it.
-Polish: Lots of bugs.
+Descriptiveness: This is probably its best trait.
-Interactivity: I struggled a lot, had to use other people's transcripts
-Emotional impact: Too distracted by the other issues.
-Would I play again? Not right now.
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