Number of Reviews: 4
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Engaging after an Adjustment to the Interface, April 21, 2012
As I continue my beginner's journey into the worlds of interactive fiction, I am learning that I am a purist in some respects. When I open an interactive fiction that includes pictures or music, I find myself disengaged and a bit annoyed. When I'm told I have to play in a browser and I find that I can't type in my own commands, I am a bit taken aback. (What do you mean, I can't play offline? So you're saying I can't save and restore?) The first time I visited the page where The Colder Light is hosted, I didn't give the game a chance. I didn't like the fact that the commands would be dictated to me. It felt passive. Something about going through the process of typing in my own commands is preferable to me. It slows me down. It gives me time to think. It gives me a sense of control and immersion.
All that said, as I was browsing IFDB last night looking for games to add to my queue, the name Jon Ingold kept coming up in my search results. I downloaded a few of his highest-rated games based on their descriptions and recommendations, but it was late and I wanted to play a short game. When I returned to the description of The Colder Light and it was described as a short story, I decided to give it another chance. I'm very glad that I did.
At the beginning of the story you learn that you are a child left alone in a bleak, dark and dangerous ice land. Your father is missing. You must fend for yourself. The interface presents you with your opening moves. You can go inside, look at the sky, examine what you are wearing or carrying or discover what you are beneath. (Spoiler - click to show)(The carrying command is hinted as it is preselected.) During gameplay I never used the beneath command because I didn't consider it significant, but in hindsight I would have found it useful. As you examine your environment and the things at your disposal, you begin to understand how to move the story forward.
After you get the hang of the game's core objects and how they work together to solve puzzles, advancing the story becomes quick work. You find that the game relies less on discovering the objects than on figuring out what to do with them once discovered. To solve the first puzzle, you need to (Spoiler - click to show)discover the wood rune by examining the fire pit inside, go back outside, then play the wood rune and the giant rune. When you summon the Withered Tree, you climb it, break off some branches, and take them inside to keep your fire going. This is also the key to uncovering a portable light source. Once you solve it, the controls become a gift not a hindrance.
In the beginning, I wanted the descriptions to be a bit longer. The author tells the story through very concise and measured prose. He uses his words very sparingly and yet manages to convey the appropriate mood. The tight writing allows the story to move forward quickly, and the story becomes a bit more engaging with every turn.
The Colder Light was the fourth interactive fiction that I've played to completion. After getting over my own personal biases against the interface and online game play, I found it to be an enjoyable experience. When I reached the end of the story, I felt like I had progressed through a clear and believable character arc with a satisfying conclusion.
I'm still a bit curious about how the game would play in a traditional offline interpreter. I wish the author would provide the option. If you are on the fence about playing this game because the interface doesn't woo you, give it a chance. It grew on me.