Afflicted

by Doug Egan

Horror
2008

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Number of Reviews: 6
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
"Tell Me, Inspector; how did you manage it?", May 16, 2010
by Ghalev (Northeastern PA, United States)

The game begins with a simple premise rich with obvious IF possibilities: you're a health inspector, just arrived at a dirty restaurant. Explore, examine, report. Then, as early as the very first turn (if you begin with READ NEWSPAPER) all pretense of that premise is scraped away to reveal the second layer of what the game seems to be about. In fact, it isn't really about that, either, but to find out, you'll need to maintain the health-inspector pretense for a little while, and it's terrific fun to do, poking into every nasty crevice of a cartoonishly vile eatery with a critical eye and ready notepad.

Beneath the dried-on spaghetti and exposed foam padding, Afflicted offers a pulp-horror short story of great potential. It falls down a bit (a lot) at the end, with some imbecilic NPC behavior that reduces the game to broad camp (Spoiler - click to show)(the game's villain just sits there snacking while you wander back and forth around him, solving puzzles to undo him, and don't tell me I was hiding those severed limbs in my coat so he couldn't see) but along the way, some of the grisly imagery really works, and carving (and grinding) into the layers stays fun throughout. The player-character's own reason can be questionable, too (Spoiler - click to show)(after you've found the dismembered corpse flailing to communicate with you, you can still wander back upstairs and calmly tick off health-code violations on dirty dishes... seeking comfort in the familiar, perhaps).

Beyond the character logic, the game's implementation has some rough edges. Not bugs, exactly (apart from the amusingly defiant cockroaches) but constant little problems where the parser fails to understand clear and fair commands, or understands them poorly or even ridiculously. Some crucial actions are implemented to be clunky and tedious when they could easily have been smooth, and there are far too many occasions where the game demands disambiguation when it really should know better.

With a bit of fine-tuning, this game would be ideal for beginners, since it offers such rich rewards to simply wandering around using EXAMINE (then NOTE) on virtually everything in sight. That kind of constant, stimulating feedback for uncomplicated exploration would be fantastic for a first-time player, and it's set up to gently ease in the need for other verbs as the obvious sham of the "health inspection" gives way to the real story. The basic game design is sound bordering on brilliant; what it needs is a new release with the sand flushed from the gears and its full potential realized. As it is, it's still a good game for those patient with a dazed parser and a bit of gory silliness (intentional or not), and it's scaled well for portable play, too, with environment and puzzles both easy to navigate without mapping or note-taking. The game offers many variant endings, lots of fun along the way, and even a decent (only slightly dodgy) adaptive hint system. Good stuff.