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I hate to be contrarian, but..., June 6, 2008
This game seems to be quite well-regarded by many, popping up in conversation fairly frequently despite having been released way back in 1998 by an author who has not to my knowledge done any IF work before or since. I wish I could say it impressed me as well, but it left me rather cold, both when I first played it back in the day and now when I return to it.
It certainly does have its strengths. The premise is that you are at the end of a much longer game, faced with solving the last few puzzles to escape a (if not The) great underground empire. This "ending of an (imaginary) longer game" riff is an idea that has been used several times since, to the point that it's become a bit cliched, but I can't hold that against this game. The writing is both technically proficient and generally clever, if unoriginal, being a rather slavish imitation of the "high Infocom" style. Technically, the game is also worthy of Infocom, being polished and bug-free.
But then we get to the puzzles. They're difficult. Very, very difficult, at least for me, and difficult in all the wrong ways. I don't see myself ever solving this without just trying random actions for the hell of it -- not really my kind of fun even then and certainly not now. When I give up on a game and go to the hints, I am guaranteed to react in one of two ways: either to be angry at myself for failing to think about THAT, or to be angry at the game for not playing fair. Suffice to say my reaction here was always the latter. Its worst sin is a failure to properly describe to me essential properties of objects that I need to be aware of to solve its puzzles: one object is sharp enough to be used for cutting, but I am never informed of this; a couple of others' sizes are of critical importance, but said sizes are never described; etc. It's a pity, as the central thing you are trying to achieve, and from which the game takes its name, IS clever and DOES give you a nice Ah-ha! moment when you figure it out. Unfortunately, solving the meta-puzzle just opens the door to lots of fiddly, under-clued frustration in trying to enact that solution.
I'm probably the wrong audience for this game in the end, which is why I'm not going to blast it too badly in scoring it. I'm just tired of puzzles that are an exercise in patience and frustration, and Infocom homages are not really what I'm looking for in my IF these days. If you do carry a hankering for the old-school days of Zork, though, and want to really be challenged, this may be right up your alley.