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Lost In The Dark, December 15, 2009
Shade is a one-room puzzle game, but what a room it is! Technically, this game is very accomplished. The room feels large and cramped at the same time. While there are no other real locations to go to in the game, the room has distinct areas that you can enter or exit but which don’t really impact the scope of your actions. What I mean by this is that you can enter the ‘kitchen’ area of the room, and the status bar will even reflect that, but if you then type ‘sit at desk’ (which is in the living room) the game will seamlessly make you leave the kitchen area then sit at the desk without complaint.
So it feels like one room but actually has distinct areas that you can look at and interact with, which makes it much easier on the player when he/she is trying to examine everything in the room trying to figure out what to do next, which, unfortunately, is something I was doing quite frequently in this game.
For all its technical achievements (which I admit all Plotkin games excel in – technical fluency), I simply wasn’t interested in much of the game.
The story starts out simple enough: You are going on a trip on an early flight and haven’t been able to get much sleep when suddenly you realize you can’t remember where you put your tickets. We’ve all been there before, and the charming familiarity of the scenario definitely piqued my interest at first. But then, as the game progresses, your room starts to lose a bit of its solidity. The descriptions of objects change almost randomly, and slowly the game descends into dream-logic.
There is a problem with dream logic in games: it changes the rules. While it can be fun to read a book where a character watches his sofa turn into a thousand snakes and then slither off, and halfway fun to watch it unfold in a movie or TV show, in a video game it means every gameplay mechanic up until the leap into dreamtime falls into question and the player is left in a lurch not sure what to do anymore.
I feel Shade fell into this problem and there came to a point in the game where I was doing things simply because the game wanted me to and not because I understood the reasoning behind them. Obviously since it was following dream-logic by that point, there was no reason behind it, but that was not very satisfying.
In the end, I sort of figured out what was going on, and the cause of the delirium the player stumbles into, but it’s never entirely stated that my supposition is correct, only vaguely gestured at. Personally, I like to see closure in a game, even if it is not a victory condition for the PC, and the strange happenings, and unclear ending of Shade didn’t work for me.