we, the remainder

by Charm Cochran profile


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A parade of horribles, January 7, 2022
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2021

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review posted to the IntFict forums during the 2021 IFComp. My son Henry was born right before the Comp, meaning I was fairly sleep-deprived and loopy while I played and reviewed many of the games, so in addition to a highlight and lowlight, the review includes an explanation of how new fatherhood has led me to betray the hard work the author put into their piece)

My favorite band is indie-rockers the Mountain Goats, on the strength not just of the songs but also the witty, humane stage banter. There’s this one bit that's stuck with me ever since I heard it: the frontman talks about how when he first started writing songs, all the romantic ones involved protagonists stalking the objects of their quote-unquote affections, because what’s more emotionally intense than stalking? But of course beyond the super problematic nature of this approach, this means all your songs are kind of the same, and have nowhere to build. So pretty soon he wised up and moved on.

One glance at the content warnings for we, the remainder should indicate why I bring this up – I thought A Papal Summons was going to run away with the Most CWs sweepstakes, but it’s actually a close-run thing. The game is about a disabled girl who’s been left behind when the cult she and her mother belong to transcends their earthly fetters. This is a compelling premise, but I found myself exhausted by the author’s decision to twist every dial to 11. There are piles of dead bodies, gross-out scenes with spoiled food, and a bingo-card’s worth of abuse heaped upon the young protagonist as well as comprehensively meted out from the prophet to all his followers. It’s certainly effective at setting a mood of well-nigh-postapocalyptic horror – and there are indications that some of the terrible things on display are hallucinations brought on by trauma and starvation – but I found it hard to immerse myself in such a grand guignol spectacle, as the comprehensive awfulness put me at a distance. It also made the cult members seem less like real people who’d made understandably-bad choices to trade off their autonomy for a sense of belonging, and more like cardboard cutouts in a cabinet of horrors.

Gameplay-wise, we, the remainder is curiously parser-like, with compass navigation links off to the sides of the screen and each location in the large map offering three or so different objects to interact with. Some are just there for atmosphere, but a few of can be picked up (there are inventory puzzles, but they’re handled automatically so long as you’ve been to the right place to get the right item). And others trigger flashbacks, as the protagonist recalls one or another instance of abuse (there’s a suppressed-memories trope here that feels a bit icky). The writing is effective, as these vignettes do convey a sense of what life was like in the cult – and in fairness, there are a few moments that leaven the near-unremitting darkness of the story with at least potential rays of light. The ending too is reasonably positive, at least the one I got (apparently if you’re less efficient at exploring, you can get different ones). I think it would have rang truer if the path to get there had been less choked with muck, though.

Highlight: There’s an effective bit of characterization early on, where you can decide what single talismanic object you’ve kept hidden from your controlling mother – and once you’ve picked it, there are numerous callbacks to you touching it for comfort as you encounter the compound’s terrors.

Lowlight: Since I was playing on mobile, I accidentally clicked through the aforementioned passage really quickly, and didn’t see a way to undo to see the other choices. I wound up with an Orioles baseball cap, which I guess was OK?

How I failed the author: since I played on my phone, the cool ascii-art map didn’t display properly, which made navigation difficult. Though east and west seemed to be flipped on my screen in a confusing way, and having the map available maybe would have made me feel like I was playing Angband, so perhaps it’s for the best!