Bigger Than You Think

by Andrew Plotkin profile


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Number of Reviews: 3
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Worlds Collide, February 4, 2013
by Sam Kabo Ashwell (Seattle)

This is a game about exploration, about discovering strange and wondrous worlds. It'd be easy to consider it a companion-piece to Hoist Sail for the Heliopause and Home. In general, it's structured like a classic IF adventure: explore a cave network, collect objects, use each object to solve its one puzzle, thus opening up new areas and new objects. Monsters attack; keys must be found; there's something of the sense of an old-school Zorkian cave, all juxtapositions. The structural difference is that it's rendered in a CYOA format: each exploration reaches a dead-end and then returns you to the start, retaining any inventory. (The protagonist, in each playthrough, is both different and the same.) This is classic adventure gaming boiled down to its structural essence: get thing, go to place, use thing. And as such, it's skilfully executed: it's fair and easy, but not a cakewalk.

Invisible Cities ranks highly among my desert-island books. For me, this puts Bigger Than You Think in a precarious position; I'm comparing it to a book which, well, I would cheerfully throw every IF game written before 1995 into the fire to preserve one page of Invisible Cities. And my intuitive reaction is to see if Bigger measures up. (That general reaction, as well as not being hugely fair, is probably a sign that I'm not really cut out for fanfic.)

Where Invisible Cities is very much about personal experience (melancholy, nostalgia, romantic longing), Bigger Than You Think is less personal, more rational. There is a good deal of aesthetic and intellectual wonder, as well as action-horror adrenalin, but it has a generally cool affect. The protagonist(s) are academically-minded archaeologists; on making a new discovery, they are often described as dedicating the rest of their lives to its study. The strange worlds are ultimately not an unreliable reflection of personal experience: there is a central mystery to work towards, and in doing so you will reveal a unifying logic to the world. The direction provided by that mystery is perhaps a necessary change to make it work as a game. But compared to the rich emotional landscape of Calvino's original, it feels a little arid.

That said, it's a fun game with capable writing, well-established motivation, solid design and an attractive setting, which is not to be sniffed at.

(Also: at one point, the game adopts an Arabian Nights structure, with stories told by an NPC that lead the player into alternate worlds. This was a cool thing that I'd like to see used more extensively.)

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