by Paul Michael Winters profile

Apocalyptic Horror

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Number of Reviews: 9
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1-9 of 9

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Clever Puzzles, Strong Atmosphere, December 6, 2020
by Joey Acrimonious
Related reviews: IFComp 2020

Alone is a gloomy exploration of post-apocalyptic survival. It has some nice, succinct writing and some implicit commentary on current events, but I read it first and foremost as a vehicle for puzzles. In classic parser fashion, you’ve got a problem to solve, and you have to work out how to do it through exploring and using the tools you find. For the most part, I thought the challenges were very well-designed: neither too obvious nor unfairly hard, they require a bit of logic and sometimes a bit of an inductive leap. I found them satisfying to solve.

Framing the central problem-solving task are a cast of characters, a story, and a world, all of which are successfully employed to buttress the action, but none of which are really the focus. The level of polish is good, with no bugs that I encountered.

I would have liked to have seen a bit more on the storytelling front. What kind of person is the protagonist? Where have they been? Where are they going? Exploring details like these, I think, would have made me feel a bit more invested in the problem-solving. But even so, it was a good time and I reckon fans of oldschool text adventures will be pleased with Alone.

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A foreboding puzzler, December 5, 2020
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020

(I beta tested this game)

There are a few games in this year’s Comp that gain resonance from having been written in 2020 – Babyface, for example, where the way COVID limits the main character’s ability to interact with their father is an important part of the overall discombobulation the game is imparting. Alone also falls into this category: despite the fact that it doesn’t specifically mention the current pandemic and draws on common post-apocalyptic and zombie fiction tropes, the game’s aura of isolation and fear of infection would not land with nearly so much impact in a different year. That’s not to say that it’s only because of current events that the game works, to be clear – the prose is admirably sparse and the I found the sequence where you’re at risk from one of the infected fairly tense – but there is a little extra frisson from playing Alone now.

The game itself is relatively straightforward in premise – after running out of gas on a lonely stretch of highway, your post-apocalyptic survivor hikes to an abandoned gas station only to find more than they bargained for. There’s some secret backstory to uncover, but it’s nothing too fancy (though I did find one aspect – (Spoiler - click to show)the rationale behind a collapsing government concealing a secret research facility under a gas station – a bit odd and underexplained). Really the focus here is on puzzle solving, so good thing that they’re solid and fairly well-clued. Most involve using machinery or tools in a reasonable way, with most relatively straightforward though there are a couple that involve some more complex mechanisms ((Spoiler - click to show)the control panel is fun to play around with, though it can also lock you into a sub-optimal ending if you play around too much). There were a few that sparked aha moments for me, which is always satisfying ((Spoiler - click to show)the cinder block puzzle, and figuring out how to use the control panel to get the best ending). The structure is maybe a little more linear than would be ideal – though the map is relatively open, there’s usually only one puzzle you can work on at a time. But since the puzzles are fair and not too challenging, this doesn’t present too much of a problem.

Technically, Alone is well put-together: I didn’t run into guess the verb or disambiguation issues in the release version, and the only typo I noticed this time out was a missing line break that make the paragraph spacing look odd in the dumbwaiter sequence. And it has a deceptive amount of choice built into it as you come close to the end of the game, with several different possible endings. While I found these more compelling as a goad to solve the last puzzles correctly than as alternate narrative resolutions, I think that’s fine – characterization and plot aren’t Alone’s area of focus, and it succeeds admirably in presenting a series of fun puzzles in a foreboding atmosphere.

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Excellent puzzles, good story, December 5, 2020
by Denk
Related reviews: Inform

This game is based on some standard apocalyptic tropes but it is done very very well. I don't want to ruin any surprises in the game, so I will only say that the game starts right after you run out of gas on the highway.

The implementation is quite good. The game is not very difficult, though a few of the more clever puzzles had me thinking for a while. The game is a horror game, though not a very scary one. However, it is possible to trigger some turn-based events, which increases the suspense.

The story is well written, though it is definitely more a game than a verbose story. So it is mainly the introduction and the endings which are verbose. The location descriptions are well written too, but some might find them too short. I found them fitting for their purpose.

Talking about endings, there are more than one ending, but only one optimal ending. It will be obvious if you reached the optimal ending. It took me 2.5 hours to reach the optimal ending without hints.

Even though the story is not highly original, the game contains some rather clever puzzles and everything is very well done. If you like parser games with many puzzles, I highly recommend this one.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Post-apocalyptic puzzling, December 1, 2020
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020, parser-based, Inform, horror

Alone is a parser-based horror game by Paul Michael Winters, published in 2020. The game is about a post-apocalyptic scenario where an infectious disease has ravaged the earth and you’re a survivor, just drifting aimlessly... at least until gas runs out of your car.

It’s basically a tightly designed, gloomy puzzle-fest. The design feels pleasantly streamlined - the game world isn’t overwhelmingly big, and as befits a world half-empty, most rooms don’t have too much to examine either. At least up to a certain point, the challenge of the game feels just right - it’s neither too hard or too easy to figure out what you’re supposed to do.

The writing is terse and subdued, which works with this type of horror. The tone of the game manages to be consistently morose, although to criticize something, (Spoiler - click to show)the setting isn’t particularly original - from a dark forest to an abandoned gas station to the underground bunker - nor is there any major twist awaiting here that would turn it all upside down in the end. This overall story feels a bit ho-hum, although to the game’s credit, the ending is surprisingly optimistic and leaves a nice feeling, and the game’s focus seems to be on puzzles anyway.

The polish is generally good, although sometimes the implementation felt just slightly lacking. Some things don’t exist in the game world that seem like they should, but I don’t think there are any problems that really hamper a regular playthrough.

The game can be finished under 2 hours if you don’t get stuck on anything for too long. It could be worth a try if you want a solid puzzle-focused adventure and don’t mind some unsightly horror imagery.

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Immersive zombie apocalypse parser game, November 30, 2020
by Stian
Related reviews: ifcomp 2020

Alone gives you the role of the protagonist in a zombie apocalypse, and does it well. For the most part, the immersion is quite successful. It's a no-nonsense horror game -- not particularly brutal, but the mood is pleasantly scary. The writing is pretty straightforward and well balanced, neither original nor too cliché, but perfectly effective.

I quite enjoyed Winters' previous entry, The House on Sycamore Lane, and Alone is a worthy follow-up. What I particularly liked about both games are how the puzzles are perfectly integrated in the story; they are all reasonable and natural obstacles for the protagonist. While never really difficult, the puzzles are still challenging enough to make you feel clever for solving them. Finishing the game took me 65 minutes, and I'm pretty sure I got the optimal ending -- a perfect length for such a game.

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Competent post-apoc horror, October 10, 2020
by f-a

Alone is a post-apocalyptic horror which plays along the «man against enviroment» lines. I much appreciated its descriptive dryness; the fallout narrative is told through observations.
Puzzles were OK, sensible if sometimes déjà vu (Spoiler - click to show)(the fusebox one I did not like, guessing which part of the station is powered at the moment).
If you like the genre, this is a very good production!

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Desolate, October 10, 2020

"Alone" plunges the player into a desolate landscape. Its stark, spare descriptions suit the aftermath of an apocalyptic epidemic, but, unfortunately, it doesn't follow through on its characterization of the shell-shocked, exhausted player-character we are introduced to at the beginning of the game.

Nevertheless, "Alone" consistently displays effective game design. Its puzzles lead to each other in a logical progression and establish the game's backstory unobtrusively. The puzzles themselves aren't particularly inventive, but they are engaging and, for the most part, sensible. There are a few exceptions, though. For instance, (Spoiler - click to show)the player is expected to remove a cash-register's money tray, even though the description of the register tells the player that the PC knows money is useless after the apocalypse.

The game's implementation is just as spare as its landscape, sometimes too spare. The PC can't, for instance, open the door of a junk car or examine the food in a hydroponics lab. "Alone" could also use a lot more synonyms for both nouns and verbs to help the player navigate its environment. Scalpels are not also knifes, gas masks and gas cans get conflated with each other, and panels can be touched, but not pressed.

But, "Alone's" combination of a stark tone, suitable to its environment, and solid game design, which guides the player through the post-apocalypse, works well.

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Classic parser based horror, October 5, 2020
by deathbytroggles (Minneapolis, MN)

In 2019 Winters released The House on Sycamore Lane, which screamed potential but was riddled with spelling, grammar, and guess the verb issues. With his sophomore effort, Alone, he has improved considerably and put forth a solid parser game that is a worthy entry in the apocalyptic horror genre.

Alone quickly establishes that you are a survivor, working solo and avoiding infected people at all costs. But a visit to a convenience store to get some gas changes all that. The gas pump is locked, and what follows is a long string of puzzles to get access to additional areas that hopefully have something you can get your hands on to cut the dang lock off. While partaking in the puzzlefest, you slowly learn what's happened in this neck of the woods Babel-style, reading journal entries and stumbling across horrific scenes.

I did not need to resort to a walkthrough at any point as the puzzles are generally straightforward. There are no red herrings, and all items you can pick up or manipulate have fairly clear uses. That's not to say the puzzles were insulting; they just didn't take leaps of logic or require a stroke of brilliance to uncover, which was definitely refreshing.

Another thing that Winters improved upon with this game was that he never tells the player how they should feel. He just lets the setting tell itself. Even the alternate ending (the less favorable one) is not given judgment by the author.

The reason I didn't rate this game higher is that the atmosphere didn't grab me as much as I would have liked. Room descriptions are sparse. Rarely do we get any details other than the objects we need to manipulate. Smells and sounds are not described very often. And with one pretty great exception (Spoiler - click to show)(the timed sequence with injecting Adrian), there's never a sense of dread or urgency, which there should be fairly regularly in a horror game.

I very much look forward to Winters' next effort.

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A solid old-school parser game about an abandoned gas-station, October 5, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

I saw some positive buzz for this game and was looking foward to it.

This is a parser game with a map that slowly expands, starting with a pretty constrained area but slowly branching.

Some have called this 'old-school' and I'd say that that's true, in the sense that the storytelling is mostly environmental, the puzzles are well-recognizable tropes with clever twists (color-coded switches, complicated devices, machines with missing parts, keys and locks, etc.), and the writing is mainly devoted to describing objects and things briefly and succinctly.

The puzzles form an enjoyable whole; I liked figuring out the different ways of handling the fusebox. I ended up needing to use the walkthrough when trying to find the (Spoiler - click to show)spring, and I locked myself out of the best ending accidentally when I (Spoiler - click to show)incinerated the worker and the device for making the cure. I hadn't saved in a long time, so I'll have to go back some time and try again. I got a sub-optimal ending, but still felt satisfied.

If anything could improve this game, it would be additional coverage of scenery implementation and synonyms. Much of the game depends at looking at scenery and looking at its sub-details, yet numerous such scenery objects are not implemented at all or require specific phrases. For an example of specific phrases, I couldn't refer to the (Spoiler - click to show)big red button as just (Spoiler - click to show)'red'. For an example of synonyms, 'push red fuse' doesn't work, but 'turn on red fuse' does. For missing scenery, when you see a faint light in the distance, you can't look at the light.

These aren't major impediments, but resolving this would take this game from good to great. I definitely think that this game will do well in the comp, and that the author could create future awesome games.

-Polish: As described above, I felt that the game could have benefitted from another few rounds of refinement with synonyms and such.
+Descriptiveness: The writing does a good job of describing the various objects you find.
+Interactivity: I enjoyed the puzzles outside of the polish issues.
+Emotional Impact: I felt a sense of mystery and exploration.
+Would I play again? I plan on finding the good ending some time.

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