Quintessence

by Andrea M. Pawley

Science fiction
2020

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Number of Reviews: 5
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A fun world that's a little frustrating to explore, December 10, 2020
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020

There’s a fun mix of the whimsical and the scientific in Quintessence. The player character is one of a group of multiply-incarnating quantum intelligences, who goes on a cosmic romp aiming to foil the plots of all-powerful cat to contact a broader multiverse. On the whimsical side, the cursor shapeshifts as the player’s circumstances change, from cat to dinosaur to dog; on the scientific side, I caught lightly-allegorized references to straightforward stuff like the Big Bang and the expansion of the universe, but also choices that bear on whether this particular universe is closed or open in the cosmological sense.

I sometimes found it a bit challenging to reconcile the two sides of the piece – possibly this is because I, a pedant who studied astrophysics in undergrad, kept trying to figure out what was “really” going on in the various options about how the dog-civilization should try to make contact with parallel realities, rather than simply going with the flow of things. But I think the structure of the piece also maybe pushes play in this direction, since there are clearly “right” and “wrong” answers and branches.

There are five “real” endings (I found two of them, including what seems to be the best one), but many other choices will lead to the cat foiling your explorations, sending you back to the start. Without a way to undo or save, this means that the choices feel fairly weighty, since an incorrect one can require a fair bit of repetition to get back to the place where you made an incorrect choice.

Since there are consequences for the choices, what sometimes felt like a lack of full information about the context and implications of those choices undermined the joy of exploration for me – which is a shame, because there are definitely places where this combination of hard science and animal allegory is really fun (I mentioned the dog civilization!) Hopefully there’s a post-comp release with a back button or the ability to save, since I’d look forward to checking out the other paths through the game.