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About the Story
This game is largely plotless, it has an ambiguous player character, and went untested. I was greatly influenced by the wonder of the vast worlds of Zork Zero and Myst as well as the atmospheric worlds created by filmmakers such as Alejandro Jodorowsky, Federico Fellini, and David Lynch.
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Number of Reviews: 3
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This is IF in a surreal setting, as such it exploits the lack of logical and natural constraints typical of dreams: the geography of the fictional world does not respect natural laws; NPCs act irreducibly strange etc.
At his website Barker tells us that «Chaos was meant to be a descriptive and unsettling work». And at times he does succeed in being unsettling in just the surreal way intended, especially, I think, if you happen up in “the Infinite”, which soon becomes full of surreally sinister things.
The characterization of the piece as a ‘descriptive work’ is correct (and the writing, by the way, is quite able) and this, I think, puts the finger on it’s weak spot, viz. the lack of plot. The work is descriptive rather than narrative; actually it’s a nearly plotless puzzle piece. The problem is that the PC never is presented with much in the way of motive for acting at all: no treasure hunt, no monsters to defeat, no mystery to solve. You’re sent out to find food for a starving vulture; but I’m not sure if you do it out of pity or out of fear of being eaten by the bird. In the end, I felt I was doing it simply because there seemed to be very little else to do in that game world.
Barker, at the web site, tells us his piece was influenced by filmmakers working in a surreal vein. Perhaps the kind of surreal sequences of events that work well on the screen simply won’t work in interactive fiction. As a reader of IF it’s (of course) simply not possible to sit back and observe the series of events as they unfold; you have to take active part in it and influence it, or nothing will happen at all. But to do that in any interesting way, you’re pretty much bound both to have an in-fiction purpose to guide you—the kind of purpose that can, perhaps, not be had without a storyline. Again, I think, it’s the lack of plot that seriously marrs Chaos as interactive fiction.
The surrealism of it all even means that you can’t be perfectly sure that things that seem to be puzzles really are. And at the same time the plotlessness makes it hard to know whether you are making any real progress through the game or not. The scoring system didn’t help me much either. What does a negative score mean in this game’s context? That the game is now in an unwinnable state? Or that I am farther from completing it now than when I began?
Besides, the work has its fair share of bugs, underimplementations, inconsistent descriptions and technical flaws that could surely have been avoided with some beta-testing. That said, however, there were also some nice, unexpected details here and there.
Aptly summarised in the quote above, CHAOS is a weak attempt at surrealism which succeeds only in being abstract. The distinct and immediately noticeable lack of any plot, objective, or character depth make this game little more than an exercise in futility. While CHAOS is busy trying to channel Kafka, Fellini, or Dali, the player is left to wander aimlessly with no inventory, no personality, and no clue.
(Spoiler - click to show)The 'object' of the game is simply to escape one room and continue on to the next in your meaningless quest through a featureless landscape. Ironically the 'vulcher' is "flapping his wings ... with a plot in his mind." Don't get your hopes up. I was expecting the 'puzzle' to be, figuring out what was going on. Then I realised nothing is going on at all.
No technical problems, though copious grammatical errors (and the glaring misspelling of "vulture" in the first room) make the otherwise capable prose a chore to read. Each room is a disconnected vignette, sparsely-furnished with a cluttered description. Much of the writing in CHAOS is so absurd as to be paradoxical and ultimately, "full of nothing."
"In each direction you can see hazy beginnings"... perhaps this is more of a warning to the player than a description of the desert. Unwrapping the mystery of CHAOS' environment would add much-needed dimension to the handful of memorable rooms in the game. Given a plot, some of these hazy beginnings could become remarkable with a little flesh on the bones.
Perhaps there are some spelling and grammar errors but that didn't get in the way of reading the prose, or playing the game. Even 'vulcher' fit in with the setting, referencing a creature similar to a real-world vulture but implying something different (then confirmed with the way it talks to you, and how it's eye's bulge.)
The surrealism was communicated very effectively, the sparsely furnished rooms bring focus to the things that are there and let the surroundings fade from view, much like a true dream. The score, whatever you have negative or positive, it's always "out of a possible 0" underscores the importance of the journey and highlights the plotlessness.
The point of the game isn't to win, or to progress, but to experience. This is a surrealist expression, not a narrative, and it wonderfully immerses you in a fantastic world. Don't expect a gripping plot, you only get out of this game what you put into it. Try to make sense of the senseless symbolism; what does it mean to you? If it seems like a meaningless quest, it is. You bring the meaning with you.