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42nd Place - 6th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2000)
Short and highly linear game in which you're a serial killer (and your killings are described in graphic detail, so skip this if that's not your cup of tea). Creepy in places, but suffers from the straitjacketedness of it all--there's very little you can do for most of the game, and in the killing scenes you don't get any control at all, natch--as well as from a dreadfully clunky conversation system in which the NPCs give you elaborate prompts for you to ask them about certain topics. (As in, "don't you want to ask me about...") Not a total failure, but far from a success.
-- Duncan Stevens
>VERBOSE -- Paul O'Brian's Interactive Fiction Page
[Y]ou have a couple of NPCs, both of whom must be ASKed ABOUT three magic topics each before the game will continue. These NPCs are so minimally implemented (as is pretty much everything in the game) that they only answer to those three topics -- all others will provoke one of three random default responses. As if this extremely minimalist implementation didn't make guessing the noun difficult enough, the topics you're expected to type in sometimes verge on the ridiculous. If a character doesn't respond to ASK HIM ABOUT ADVICE, why would I expect him to respond to ASK HIM ABOUT WHAT HE WOULD DO? Of course, the game gives me an unsubtle shove in the right direction by having the character say, "Do you want to know what I would do?" But this is a pretty desultory form of interactivity. The game may as well just tell you what your next command should be, since it has no plans to respond to anything else anyway. If you think that's interactivity, you probably also think ventriloquists' dummies come up with their own punch lines.
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[...] I really do enjoy serial killer stories, and really think that this game has potential. With some reworking of the conversational style, a bit more depth to the world and the people, and perhaps a slightly longer path to the solution, I think it could have been a solid game. Perhaps not to everyone's taste, but then, what is?
-- Tina Sikorski
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I played it from the solution as I had no incentive to try to find out the correct questions to ask, but in a weird sort of way I liked it and found it to be a compelling story.
-- Dorothy Millard
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Number of Reviews: 4
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Most Helpful Member Reviews
Released in the same IF Comp as the much better-known Rameses but nearly universally reviled, this overlooked experiment also casts you in the role of a player unable to make your character do what you want, although this time with much more disturbing consequences. A story about a serial killer who rapes, disfigured, and murders his female victims is perhaps not well suited to the second person voice: the graphic violence and nihilistic themes make this a challenging story to complete. But there's more going on here than shock for shock's sake.
As with Rameses, your commands are often rejected or ignored by your character, whose insatiable and growing desire to commit heinous acts of violence becomes increasingly strong as the story goes on. The player is essentially cast as a desperate super-ego totally powerless in the face of a raging, terrible id. In the first segment, you can explore a small map at will, and take actions other than those leading to murder, but later, any direction you move in takes you closer to your next victim, and any attempt to escape your situation or alter what you know to be coming is rejected, even to the point of innocuous commands being eagerly understood as hurtful in intent. Descriptions are sparse and default messages brief, focusing on your victims to the exclusion of all other details: often nothing is even implemented in the world model but your victim. When you give in to your compulsion, only then does the screen erupt in pages of text, recounting the result in gruesome detail.
You also play the killer's psychiatrist and the chief investigator following the murders, and both characters are portrayed as equally railroaded and impotent. As the middle-aged woman in charge of the investigation, you must engage a misogynistic coroner in conversation even though you despise him; the psychiatrist is forced by professional code into morally ambiguous position(Spoiler - click to show) (though he's revealed at the end to be another personality of the killer, this personality doesn't seem to know about his alter ego). The implication is that these characters must play their roles in the same way the killer does: the investigator is unwilling or unable to shirk her professional duties, just as the killer can't stop killing.
The game is merciless in reducing the agency of the player even further wherever it can. Abrupt transitions between segments often immediately follow a command, before the response is printed, creating confusion and helplessness; exits are universally omitted from room descriptions with similar effect. Likewise, the available topics in the conversation system are obscured, and only discernable through annoying suggestions from the other characters, meaning you can only engage with them on their terms, not your own. All these factors add to the sense of impotence in the face of the unfolding events, and connect the gameplay aspects even down to the level of parser with the themes of the story.
Even if you're willing to buy into this meta-gameplay, 1-2-3 has problems, including a predictable plot twist and some less-polished writing in its second half, and many people will be understandably turned off by the subject matter alone. More than the graphic violence, though, the game disturbs because of its unflinching look into the minds of people who feel helpless to alter the course of their lives. It's not a lot of fun to play this game, but that's probably the point.
This game has you play as a violent rapist and murderer as you go about your business, as well as playing as someone investigating them.
The writing is free of errors, and unfortunately too descriptive. The game tells you what conversation topics to ask about, but it feels clunky and hard to get right.
The story is not particularly clever, but it has some twists.
1-2-3 is not for the faint of heart. Not because of the game's complexity or over the top puzzles but rather because of it's content. While playing 1-2-3, you take the role of a serial killer who graphically kills and violates his victims. The game does not shy away from detail and because of this, if you are squeamish or otherwise unnerved by graphic depictions of violence and gore, you'll want to avoid this one.
1-2-3, however, does do a good job at providing atmosphere and the writing was done quite well in that regard. However, I felt as though the killings themselves were the main focus of the piece and everything else felt like filler to get to that point. Working commands are sparse and often ignored by the player and the puzzles and interactive objects are minimal inbetween with most of the gameplay focusing on awkward NPC dialogue that forces you to ask the specific questions the game is looking for (otherwise the NPCs blatantly tell you 'don't you want to talk about ____?'). While the minimalistic approach to interactivity helps the believability of how manic the anti-hero is, it feels lacking and incomplete, especially due to it's short length and predictable ending. (Spoiler - click to show)The fact that the piece ends with the murder of the police woman you play as between killings with no consequence feels abrupt and could easily have been predicted since the introduction of the psychiatrist who 'knows too much about the murderer'..
The piece may be well worded, but the lack of interactivity, the awkward forced dialogue with NPCs and the overall graphic and focused nature of the killings is offputting and makes this piece feel lacking and incomplete. There are plenty of better horror and murder mystery pieces on the site to experience.
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