Number of Reviews: 4
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Well-paced adventure with visionary moments, November 15, 2009
The Shadow in the Cathedral doesn't feel surprising or blatantly experimental. It's mostly using well-known techniques effectively, rather than charting new territory. Nonetheless, it succeeds where lots and lots of IF has failed: it's a big plotty work with lots of events and lots of action, full of energy and adventure. There are twists you guess might be coming, and other twists you don't. There are chase scenes that don't suck.
It goes out of its way to be fair, but without becoming dull. There are many potentially frightening moments in the game, but as far as I can tell no ways to get to a no-win situation. And despite the intended audience of middle-schoolers, I also didn't feel that the game condescended to me. It was, perhaps, a little less violent than the same plot might be if pitched for adults, and sexuality doesn't come into the story much at all, but the language, the puzzles, and the characters are all sufficiently sophisticated to hold an adult's attention.
Shadow takes place in a steampunk world, but one more individual and deeply thought-out than the average steampunk. This affects everything from the protagonist's attitudes towards mess (clockwork precision is the ideal) to the setting details (the glow of gaslight, the huge clock faces) to the puzzles. These are of easy to moderate difficulty, and most of them involve machinery in some way -- and often not "figure out which button to push" machinery puzzles, but "crack open the front panel and tweak the machine itself" puzzles, or "apply basic principles about levers and counterweights." They're mostly things I haven't seen before, they're a great fit for the setting, and I really liked them.
One small gripe: there are more non-reciprocal pathways than I'd like, where you go north one way but you have to go east to return. I had to make a map. That's rare, for me. But it's totally worth it.
The design is smooth. The story is fairly linear and there isn't a lot of scope to change the outcome of anything, but I played for seven or eight hours and was rarely at a loss for long. With a small handful of exceptions, interaction is well-clued without being too horribly blatant. It's one of the best-paced long IF works I've played.
The ending is a cliff-hanger, looking forward to sequels. In spite of this, there's enough of a shape to the story that I was content for the time being (mostly; I would have liked a little more wrapping up).
Bottom line: this is extremely accessible and very satisfying. I ran into a couple of cosmetic bugs (now reported and, I believe, already ironed out by Textfyre), but overall it feels solid. There are fun things to play with, surprising and memorable images, and neat turns of phrase. I keep going back over the good bits in my head. I'd especially recommend it to people who enjoyed the plottiness and period-specific puzzles of The King of Shreds and Patches.
Obligatory disclosure: I played a free review copy of this work; and, because I run MacOS X, it was necessarily the Glulx version. I haven't worked with the Standard UI for Windows. I can say that the Glulx game file played smoothly, without the delays that some people reported in Jack Toresal and The Secret Letter. It did take a long time to come back after saving the file, but that was the only significant slowdown I noticed.