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About the Story
A strange and hopefully disturbing little story...
85th Place - 26th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2020)
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Number of Reviews: 5
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I taught a summer camp in Twine a few months ago. We spent about a week going over adding multimedia, setting variables, beta testing, etc. They liked it and kept working on games even after the camp, some which were pretty cool and impressive.
This game reminds me of that, the game of someone who has recently learned twine and puts in 10-20 hours of work making a fairly complex game. It has a soundtrack, custom styling, and non-linear puzzles.
It reaches for a few things without quite making it. I vividly remember when I entered my first IFComp game, one of the most famous people in IF made a comment about my game:
"I found *Ether* least effective when it explicitly went for pathos in the writing, because it was asking me to empathize[...]and it hadn’t put in the time to build up that empathy."
I was hurt by that at the time, but it's true, and it's true about this game, too. The violence and the blood in the snow aren't as frightening because there wasn't enough buildup. The game is asking us to be afraid or to be disturbed by the death of others, but we know nothing about them.
It wouldn't take a lot to fix that. The difference between an okay story and an awesome story is usually just a few tweaks. In my experience, the best thing to do is just try something, see how people react, and change it if it doesn't work, then repeat. That's why I usually have 10+ beta testers, it lets me work out all the questionable parts of a story before I release it. In this case, if I had to suggest anything specific, I'd give our character some more personality: maybe this is their first cross-country road trip as an adult and they're a little lost and terrified of how dark it is. Maybe they run out of the room at the first sight of blood. If you say something is scary, the reader isn't usually scared. If you say the character is scared, though, then a lot of times the reader will empathize with them.
The puzzle parts of this game weren't too bad. There are a lot of unfair deaths you can't undo, but the game is short enough that you can try over and over again. I still would have liked a few more hints at what works and what doesn't, and maybe expand the story and game a little longer. Overall, I definitely think the author should keep writing; I'll keep an eye out for any future games.
+Polish: I didn't notice any bugs, and the multimedia aspects worked well.
-Descriptiveness: Like I mentioned above, I think the story could use some work.
-Emotional impact: Same as above.
+Interactivity: The puzzle structure wasn't too bad.
-Would I play again? Not at this time, but I would play another game by this author!
The Shadow in the Snow is a short Twine adventure that uses as many IF tropes as possible, including the broken down car on the side of the road, the spooky forest, and the spooky hotel. Using tropes is not necessarily a bad thing, but there are no surprises with this story and thus the tension is minimal.
Beyond the story, there are also several issues with the game design. While the game allows you to ostensibly tackle the exploration and puzzle in any order, there is actually only one path to victory despite it being unintuitive (and rather random) that the actual path is correct. Additionally, you can lock yourself out of victory without realizing it, though the game is short enough for it to be only a minor annoyance.
The writing style also doesn't work well for this type of game. Despite the fact that you are given choices to make for the PC, it is written in the first person, which detaches one's self from the choices. There's also a lack of rhythm to the writing, with many short paragraphs, excessive ellipses, and a lack of sensory descriptions to the surroundings. An awkward simile is one example:
"The back window has been smashed out as if a large beast had leaped through it."
Honestly, I have no idea what that looks like or if windows smash differently if large beasts, small beasts, or table lamps have propelled through them.
This is the first game I have played by Andrew Brown. Looking back at their previous games, many reviews cite the lack of editing and beta-testing, and this game appears to have the same concerns.
The Shadow in the Snow is a choice-based game by Andrew Brown, published in 2020. The game is about getting stranded in some isolated forest area during a snow storm (Spoiler - click to show)and surviving a werewolf attack.
This is one of the first titles I tried during IF Comp 2020, and I ended up playing an early version of the game that had some truly game breaking bugs. For instance, you could softlock the game by simply using a certain text link too many times in a single session. Since then, the developer has fortunately fixed the worst bugs in the game, making it at least playable.
The gameplay consists of clicking text links to move around the area, occasionally examining and picking up things. There is an element of trial-and-error here, since sometimes you have to choose between multiple choices that you can't know in advance which leads to salvation and which does not. Other than that, it's a pretty simple and short game, with a few additional details you can miss during a playthrough if you're not thorough.
The lack of ‘undo’ is an inconvenience - if you get a game over, your only choice is to return all the way back to the beginning of the game. While the lack of ‘undo’ suits horror, in my case it made playing the game feel extra unrewarding since I also encountered those major bugs that forced me to restart several times.
The writing style is simplistic but functional, with short paragraphs and terse descriptions of what’s going on. The brevity keeps the story moving along at a respectable pace while helping to create a somewhat tense, mysterious atmosphere.
The game uses background music. The music track itself is a pleasant if melancholy symphonic piece. It sounds very midi, but it brings to mind a wintry scenery and old video games, so it works quite well for its purpose. The dark presentation and the music together create a strangely cozy atmosphere that makes me like this game more than I probably should.
While flawed, The Shadow in the Snow could still be worth a try for some players. It should only take around 15 - 30 minutes to finish, so feel free to give it a try if you dare.
A short, sharp horror game, Shadow in the Snow doesn’t have much in its quiver besides some effective description of a frozen wood and a single kinda-wonky puzzle, but given its focused ambitions I’m not sure it needs much else. The backstory is wholly elided – the main character has run their car into a snow-ditch in the middle of nowhere, but we get no details on who they are, where they were going, or the state of the world (Spoiler - click to show)(I could by wrong on this, but felt like the characters didn’t seem especially surprised about the existence of giant bloodthirsty werewolf-monsters). Since the focus is on short-term survival, this isn’t a fatal misstep and in fact helps establish a feeling of woozy confusion that winds up being a little effective at drawing the player in.
There’s not a lot to do here – it becomes clear early on that there’s something stalking the main character, and they need to explore a limited set of locations in order to obtain the clues and knowledge to fight back. I’m not sure how fair the puzzle was – I think you need to explore the locations in a specific and nonintuitive order (Spoiler - click to show)(stumbling around in the snowy forest instead of going up the road to a motel seems less than obvious!) and involved a situation I found quite contrived (Spoiler - click to show)(there are just gold, silver, and arsenic shotgun cartridges available off the shelf, labelled only by their elemental symbols? This is why I wonder about whether the supernatural is a known quantity in this world) plus there are a fair number of deaths possible and no save option, meaning you’re in for a full replay if you guess something wrong. Still, there are some clues to most of the key pieces of the puzzle, and I got to a good ending first time through, so I think it works well enough.
The prose generally fits this spare premise. It doesn’t go into a ton of noodly detail, but it does effectively communicate the isolation of being alone in a snowy forest. There’s also an abandoned motel, and some gore, which are described in similar style and which works well enough, but winter landscapes are my favorite backdrop for horror so the woodsy bits were my favorites. The signs the monster is stalking you are also effectively spooky, though I thought the eventual confrontation was maybe a bit anticlimactic – certainly the ending felt more abrupt than I was expecting.
On clicking restart to replay, I found what might be some small bugs related to variables not being cleared (Spoiler - click to show)(if I went to the motel before the cabin, I was able to pick up cartridges and load them into a shotgun I hadn’t yet obtained, and the description for the motel reception area said it was “the same as before” even on my first visit) but otherwise the implementation seemed fine, and I didn’t notice any typos. SitS didn’t knock my socks off, but it’s a pleasant enough ten minutes of being stalked through the woods which is sometimes all that one wants.
A minimalist but effectively scary horror choice IF, The Shadow in the Snow features good writing and a moody soundtrack (albeit with slightly cheesy synthesizer sounds). Even after ten playthroughs I still wasn’t able to survive though, despite following what was apparently clued to be the right path.