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About the Story
The planning was easy. Committing the murder was easy. But getting away with it? That's another thing.
18th Place - 17th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2011)
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Number of Reviews: 3
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Keepsake is a surreal parser-based game by Savaric, published in 2011. The story begins with the main character having just committed murder. Afterwards, (Spoiler - click to show)the game shows you what happened immediately before the murder through scenes playing in reverse, although this is not explicitly told to the player at any point during the story.
The ambiguity gives the game a sense of mystery at first. The game prompts you to escape the scene of the crime, and you do so, but then (Spoiler - click to show)you start seeing things in double and it feels like you have stumbled upon some strange time paradox. The tone of the game is uncanny, yet it has a sense of creeping fatalism to it too.
The writing is clear and functional, giving the gameplay an appropriate sense of urgency and mystery. I didn't notice anything wrong with the implementation either, although (Spoiler - click to show)having two similar things in many rooms does cause a lot of ambiguity questions.
It's a fairly short game, only 10 - 15 minutes long, but the ending changes a bit depending on what you did during the game and (Spoiler - click to show)you also see the game in a whole new light the second time around so in practice you will probably want to replay it at least once or twice.
But eventually you realize that (Spoiler - click to show)this is really just a very mildly branching and somewhat undeveloped crime story that is told out of order. The only thing your choices affect is whether you are a nice murderer or a slightly less nice murderer; a detail which seems incidental in the bigger picture. In this sense I would say the journey is far more interesting than the destination.
Keepsake could be worth a try if you're looking for something fairly quick yet different. It doesn't have hard puzzles, but it can still be challenging and refreshing in its own way.
As others have noted, it would be difficult to avoid presenting spoilers for this work unless pretty much the whole review is wrapped in a spoiler tag. So:
To start, I want to make it clear that (Spoiler - click to show)I came across this work as a result of the "Doing things backwards" poll here on IFDB, so arguably I came to it pre-spoiled. I believe that this actually increased my appreciation of it, though your mileage may vary.
I didn't find many other reviews of Keepsake in my cursory search, but a couple of the ones I did see indicated proofreading and/or debugging were needed. The version I played this evening (yes, this is a fairly short piece) was release 3, and I saw no evidence of any such issues. Both the coding quality and the writing quality felt above average within the story's limited scope.
There are two things I really liked that I think speak to the author's potential. Neither of them is the overall concept itself(Spoiler - click to show), which the author makes clear is inspired by the film Memento (from which the title is derived via synonym).
First, the opening sequence does an excellent job of plunging you into the role of protagonist. The leading quote very subtly frames your expectations about the kind of situation the PC is in, and a few deft touches in the details set up the tensions of that situation very well(Spoiler - click to show). I love the way the initial description of the brass casing practically screams that you need to start cleaning up the crime scene, but a few simply-repeated words ("the sirens are getting closer") scream just as loudly that you need to get out NOW. It was a great opening(Spoiler - click to show), it's just not the opening that goes with this story.
Second, the first encounter with the central mystery is extremely well done(Spoiler - click to show). In the alley scene, the author has taken great pains to ensure that descriptions of things and events are precisely ambiguous enough to work whether you do or do not understand what's happening, i.e. whether they are presented forwards or backwards. It quickly becomes clear you are being given a choice, and it's not hard to work out how to make that choice.
Unfortunately, after these first few minutes of gameplay, Keepsake falls apart. Emily Short cuts right to the heart of the matter when she asks "[Do the choices the player makes] matter? What story is told by these details?" Gimmicks are not necessarily bad, but carrying this one through to the point where people would stop referring to it as a gimmick would probably take a mind-numbing amount of work in both the writing and coding departments. It almost seems that the author realized exactly this mid-project then just decided to wrap things up and be done with it.
The only thing that looked like a mistake at a high level was the epilogue presented once the story is finished(Spoiler - click to show). While I appreciate the effort that went into it from a technical standpoint, the effect is similar to playing Memento scenes in their "correct" chronological order... that is to say, it pretty much ruins the story completely. Rather than providing an instant replay of the scenes already seen, some other device (a police report reconstructing the protagonist's actions?) is called for to reveal the mystery. Then again, maybe my perspective here is driven by the fact that it wasn't really revealing anything new to me, due to knowledge beforehand of the story structure.
Again, I remind readers that my rating system is unusually harsh, and the two-star rating does not mean that this piece isn't worth the time it takes to experience it. Keepsake shows the marks of real talent: If what's on display here were paired up with more attention to story construction and consistency of player experience, I would expect to see future efforts from this author perform much better in the IF Comp.
The word "keepsake" makes me think of a small object: precious, of course, beautiful, perhaps, but above all exquisite and rare.
Keepsake is small and unique. Unfortunately, its idea is a bit too bold, and the details a bit too out of proportion, for it to form an aesthetically perfect whole.
I let that simile get away from me, didn't I? Let's rewind.
Keepsake has a very bold concept that can't be discussed without spoiler tags: (Spoiler - click to show)you are playing through a series of events in reverse, taking things from bystanders instead of carrying out fetch-quests, handing over important items, on your way away from the climactic moment. It's not a completely original concept: I haven't see Memento, but I was also reminded of Martin Amis' novel Time's Arrow, another example of a bold work of art that perhaps doesn't quite work. This conceit is wrapped up in a very simple but emotionally powerful revenge plot.
So I like the plot, slight as it is, and am impressed by the conceit. I'm in two minds about the puzzles. On the one hand, they're clever: solving them requires having figured out the conceit. On the other hand, once you have done so, the puzzles are 1) essentially the same, and 2) very simple acts of giving or using an item. The simplicity is justified: in this type of story, more complex puzzles might have been very difficult to solve, let alone implement. Still, it meant that while the first puzzle I came across (the old man's cane in the coffee shop) impressed me, the next one was just more of the same.
The writing is good, rather than great. It's not strikingly beautiful prose, and some sentences felt clichéd, but conversely, there were also times when the writing struck a psychologically accurate note, and I feel like those moments outnumbered the duds. The style is a clear window to observe the story through, rather than an artwork.
The epilogue, again, has me in two minds. On the one hand, it's well implemented and serves as a good coda to the story; on the other hand, it made me realise that unplayable epilogues might be rare in IF for a reason.
The version I played was very well implemented: the set-up by necessity causes a bunch of disambiguation issues, but the game is streamlined enough that I had very few problems getting it to understand me. As I mentioned before, the epilogue is also a good piece of implementation.
One of the more original games out there, and perhaps it implements its gimmick as well as can be realistically expected. In the end, however, between the somewhat flavourless writing and the simplicity of the puzzles, I found it not-quite-exquisite enough to live up to its name.
Keepsake on IFDB
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This is version 1 of this page, edited by David Welbourn on 25 October 2011 at 12:08am. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item