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About the Story
This fiction is set in Grovlia, a country in Eastern Europe. 1989 has been a difficult year in Grovlia. Cracks are starting to appear in the edifice of socialism built up over decades. Protesters look to the west with longing and demand reform or escape. The Committee for People's Security stands as a last barricade to the flood of new ideas. In the capital of Berthast, the way to the west is still surveyed by the towers and guards of the checkpoint.
The player will take on the role of an agent in the Committee for People's Security. Extreme caution is warranted since any false moves can earn the player a trip to a local labour camp.
A straightforward thriller set in a fictional Eastern Bloc country during the exhausted fag end of the European Communist era (1989). You play a functionary in the state security apparatus, tasked with gathering some evidence to denounce your boss’s romantic rival while making your own plans to escape across the border.
The writing here is solid if rather functional – quite appropriate for the Soviet setting, with it’s monolithic, dilapidated government buildings and drab, identikit living apartments. There are some nice incidental touches that add to the atmosphere (the cigarette-stub littered floor of your office, the propaganda posters, the tv news programme) and your co-workers, one of whom is caught in flagrante with the Chief at a certain point in the game, are amusingly described. I would have liked them to have had a bit more depth: most of them have a function in the plot (although you main office buddy doesn’t) but there is not a lot to them beyond that. The same goes for the player character – I would have liked your motivations and background to be explored a bit more. Perhaps some personal touches in your apartment would have helped? As it is, it’s just a functional place to sleep, as prescribed at a certain point in the action. The enormous human interest potential in this evocative setting isn’t really explored at all, which wouldn’t matter much if it was played for laughs, but done straight like this, the omission is noticeable. There are other bits and pieces in the game (for example, a mysterious but irrelevant locked door and a car that you can go to the trouble of getting into, starting and driving off but ultimately doesn’t go anywhere) that suggest that the finished game turned out a bit smaller than originally planned; tying off those loose ends so the player doesn’t waste too much time trying to interact with such scenery would improve things.
The gameplay is linear and fairly puzzle-free, so there is not too much danger of getting stuck - for most of the game. If you find yourself at a loss as to what to do, just revisiting each location, and/or saying/giving the right thing to the right character should eventually show you the way forward. I say most of the game as there is something more puzzle-like at the end that wrong-footed me a bit as I wasn’t quite expecting it, but a bit of lateral thinking got me through. There is no HELP or HINTS in the game itself, which makes it feel a bit unfriendly, although it is packaged with a walk-through. A built in hint system would enhance it a lot, I think: it’s certainly a more satisfying way of progressing through the trickier parts of an adventure than following a list of ‘d,d,drop box,get key’ type instructions. The whole thing is competently implemented, although there is a bit of irritating door stuff that might be something Inform-specific rather than the author’s fault (I’m not familiar enough with it), producing exchanges like:
What do you want to lock door 309 with?
>LOCK DOOR WITH KEY
Which do you mean, the Talmak apartment key, the security office key, the car key or the memorial apartment key?
>LOCK DOOR WITH MEMORIAL APARTMENT KEY
First you would have to close door 309.
You close door 309.
>LOCK DOOR WITH MEMORIAL APARTMENT KEY
You lock door 309.
…when just locking the only available door (without having to specify the correct key, which I am holding) would be preferable, for me at least. But other than that, there are no real design problems that I noticed.
As a fairly easy, reasonably short game (finishable in a couple of hours at most) in a recent historical setting, this is well worth a look.