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About the Story
"The time has come", the Teacher says, "to talk of many sins: of wives and mums and unloved sons (of where it all begins), and why it's really all your fault, and whether no-one wins."
19th Place - 17th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2011)
Nominee, Best Individual PC - 2011 XYZZY Awards
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Number of Reviews: 3
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Drawing heavily on the Alice corpus but not precisely retelling it, Sentencing Mr. Lidell is a guilt-ridden, surreal journey that partially reveals the history of a deeply messed-up family.
Partially is the key bit, here. Most of the story takes place in a state of dream-logic, laden with significance that can't be unpacked. Elements of characters are gestured at rather than explained or directly shown, and little that is suggested is ever really cleared up. Even before the dream-sequence, most things are not expressed directly.
The plot, such as it is: after work at his hat shop, Alastair Lidell meets his wife Catherine and their infant daughter, and they go to visit the funfair. Their relationship is falling apart: Alastair is numb and withdrawn, Catherine hypersensitive. As they argue, the pram rolls into the canal. Alastair dives in after her and enters a dark Wonderland from which he never emerges, an underground train populated by strange versions of his family.
A good number of people viscerally dislike Sentencing; the amount of misery floating around is so high, and the specifics so indefinite, that it's not hard to end up loathing one major character or another, and with them the whole game. At one point of the dream-sequence you have to (Spoiler - click to show)viciously beat a family member in order to advance. If you're sensitive to issues of PC-player complicity, you're likely to have a hard time with this.
It develops a strong feeling of doomed, dreamlike inevitability, but this involves to scanty implementation, linearity and other unfairness to the player; and this, in turn, ends up disrupting the dreamlike flow. One of the strongest examples: there are scenes in which a previously unmentioned character speaks up out of nowhere. This is just how dreams work, but as far as gameplay goes it doesn't inspire confidence in the world. And that confidence would be misplaced: the implementation is pretty ragged. At various points this interrupts the dreamlike flow of the game; it's somewhat too puzzley for the sort of experience that it's trying to deliver. When it does flow smoothly, these problems fall away; but the texture isn't as even as it could be. Its central gimmick -- in which you gather words from the text, then assemble them into a sentence that determines the ending -- falls far short of what it could be, and is incomplete even at its relatively unambitious scale.
At its best, Sentencing Mr. Lidell is poetic, evocative and challenging; at its worst it's noncommittal and incomplete. Whether its emotional impact is a cheap and nasty trick or an artistic accomplishment is going to depend heavily on your individual reaction.
An interesting game that takes Lewis Carroll and uses him as the basis for an original story. Mr. Liddell spends the entire game trying to catch up to his baby daughter in an underground Wonderland where he is forced to confronted the many weird people -- mostly, but not exclusively, family members -- who shaped his life and his soul. Much of the time, the game achieves a rare balance of wonder, threat and sadness that is very close to Carroll's originals (which are very dark books); this is certainly its finest accomplishment, and I assume it is what the author wanted to accomplish most.
The storytelling is punctuated by puzzles that are less impressive. You have to do a lot of examining and searching to find items, and you sometimes have to try many conversation topics in order to find the right answer. The author has provided a good hint system, but the game would have been stronger if the player's progress had been smoother and less dependent on finding obscure puzzle solutions. This is especially the case because some of the things you have to during the game are matters of choice, and it becomes confusing to the player whether he is trying to make a choice or trying to solve a puzzle with one single, predetermined solution.
The game also loses some of its charm in the final section, where it is plagued with near-identical rooms and confusing navigation and is not quite up to the standard of the rest of the game, the marvellous introduction in particular. The final word-based mechanic also doesn't quite work as it should.
But these weaknesses are not enough to bring down what is essentially a strong and interesting game, imaginative and full of Carrollian, fully human absurdities. Recommended (and not nearly as "disturbing" as some reviews may have led you to believe).
In this game, you play Alistair Lidell, a father who is going to a fair with his wife. Things are not good in the Lidell family.
You enter a surreal world based on Alice in Wonderland and on your own life. You experience a variety of events that have tragic connections to real life. Also, you have a paper that you carry around, and you are supposed to write some words on it, but it's hard to know what to write.
Overall, good writing, but the hinting is off.
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