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About the Story
it's been twenty-four days since everyone else floated up. you haven't been out since then; Momma doesn't like you leaving the flat without her, and the effort of getting down the stairs hasn't been worth it anyway. but you ran out of food days ago. your stomach is growling nearly constantly now. you need to find something to eat.
16th place - 27th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2021)
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Number of Reviews: 6
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I enjoyed this descriptive horror exploration game. It's the kind of writing that keeps things just vague enough at the beginning, but adds to the story as you progress. There are numerous optional pieces to the game, as well as several endings, making it worth replaying. Rather than racing to the most direct path to a solution, I wanted to take my time with this story, exploring everything. I thought the puzzles were very manageable and intuitive; I never felt stuck. The reveals rewarded my probing as the bigger picture came into view. Recommended.
This game features a hungry young protagonist in a wheelchair that explores a large world in Twine.
This game is very location-and-inventory based, with a large map (including an actual in-game map at one point) and several lock and key puzzles.
Gameplay consists of exploration, with special optional memories unlocked while a larger main storyline plays out.
Stylistically, it leaves many words uncapitalized and switches to different colors to signify different themes.
The story is a surreal religious horror where it's difficult to know what is real and what isn't. There is a large amount of imagery taken directly from the book of Revelations, and much of gameplay revolves around the fact that you are someone in a cult.
Overall, I found the surreal religious imagery to be effective. Many of the parts about wheelchair use seemed realistic based off of my experience with living with a wheelchair user for almost a decade (except getting through farmland!).
I appreciate the author leaving a lot up to imagination, using nuance and hiding behind symbolic imagery.
-Polish: There were noticeable typos. Everything else was great.
+Interactivity: The world map and the puzzles felt good.
+Descriptiveness: Very vivid writing, some of the most descriptive I've seen this comp.
+Emotional impact: I'm really into this stuff. It doesn't represent my worldview (I have a more hopeful interpretation of Revelations) but it lies in the intersection of my interests.
-Would I play again? It was pretty dark and I felt like I understood the message I was going to get, so I'm not sure I'll revisit.
wtr establishes the whole oppression angle early on: you start as one of four sisters in a decrepit apartment, one you're not encouraged to leave, even though your Momma doesn't seem to be anywhere around. And once you leave, you're in a gated community anyway. A decrepit one: dogs in the street, lack of food, and so forth. So the mystery is: what are you doing here? And, of course, can you get out? Well, there's a hunger puzzle to begin, and if you strictly explore and map things out, you'll die of hunger. But fortunately it's not hard to find food that'll sustain you for a while, before you find food that works indefinitely. This "find something good then something better" contrasts with the general tone, where you'll find something bad and, yes, it's even worse.
Exploring your enclosed town, you find clues of what life is like, with a schoolhouse, a pavilion, and many reminders of What Happens to Sinners. In particular, nosing around places that'd be off-limits with adults around give you painful memories, where the screen turns red, if you search enough. It becomes clear what your life situation is like, and the only big question is if this is a full dystopia or this community is unique. Of course, this is one you-the-character don't want to think of right away.
As you explore the town, you learn about the Prophet Hunter and his influence on the community. He said everyone would be taken to heaven and, well, they sort of were. You find the key to his house, which is better stocked than his followers'. You find a way past rabid dogs. There's also a woman whom you feel guilty gazing at, and it introduces a strain of legitimate supernatural interference if you keep annoying her. This made wtr more than just a smackdown of cults because none of this could happen--some of it, it wtr's world, could.
The game's feel is parser-like even though it's in twine. You have compass directions, and you'll see text on the left edge if there's a path west, and so forth, which makes a map easy to visualize, and it also gives a perception of distance. You have to move the mouse a good deal to actually go west. The occasional item use similarly just needs clicks, though it's kept in the center, and with all wtr threw at me, I was grateful not to have verb- or noun-guessing to wrestle with as well. I found the background color changes are quite effective as well. There's green for the farm area, purple for the Prophet Hunter's house, and different colors for the streets. I don't think detailed graphics would work well here because the main character has been sheltered and thus pays attention to little beyond their own survival. I suspect even the ASCII map of the town you find early in the game clues you in to how backwards this commune is. The map by itself is pleasing, but then you have to ask, who would've created it, and why? While a time frame isn't given in the game, I can't picture any era where normal society would go with an ASCII map instead of something more graphical. Here it feels like the time I visited the DPRK government website and noticed a link to forms in Esperanto--not the nice or useful touch the creator (in-game, not the author) thinks it is!
While you can die of starvation or of sacrilege, the game's true ending is--well, a success, of sorts. There's a big gate. You need to go through it, for salvation, of a sort. The tool(s) you use for this relative freedom are, ironically, symbols of strength and unity, but in this case, they're just one more thing that makes it hard for people to pull away.
wtr also offers seven different places to find memories that break open that much more of how cult life really is. The walkthrough mentions them and avoids saying where they are, and I like this procedure, because I know I can have everything spoiled if I'm not too careful. And if you manage to escape without the memories, perhaps you're like the main character, just doing what you need to survive. There's some learned helplessness at work here for the player: you don't want to search for local flavor when looking for endless food, but once you find it, you forget about looking around until you've escaped and can't and don't want to go back. So this surviving vs actually noticing details really struck me once I looked back. How I could've been more observant, but I just wanted to get out. And going through again reminded me of times I'd replayed bad episodes in my life, looking for that memory of cruelty that would clinch things. Sometimes I found it and realized it wasn't necessary, but it was comforting.
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