Number of Reviews: 6
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A good deal more than just "cults are bad, mmkay", December 1, 2021
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.