Ghosts Within

by Kyriakos Athanasopoulos profile


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Number of Reviews: 3
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Too long for IFComp without a walkthrough, but lots for horror fans to like, December 6, 2021
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2021

GW is a big game, much too big to tackle without a walkthrough, and as a result, when I saw a rather large hint thread for how to get through it on the forums, I sort of ran away from it. It was the last entry I looked at in IFComp 2021. And boy, did I get off to a rough start. It was move 600 before I got a point, mostly because I wanted to take time to map things out. Perhaps TADS's technical boosts Inform lacks were such a crutch I enjoyed tinkering with them and forgot lateral thinking. The module to forgive bad spelling, which I always forget until the next TADS game appears, is quite nice. And in-game, the ASK and TELL were well-organized. There was already a map on the forums, but the thing is--there are three people you can start as, based on the direction you go to start. So the map seemed off, and I didn't know why. This was all overwhelming, but as it turns out, GW is a pretty good game overall.

I confess I decompiled the game to get as far as I did. I wound up having to ask for something slightly outside the box, and once I saw what I missed, I realized I could've typed ABOUT. But these are the risks of a big game, especially one that forces you to do so much concrete preparation to get your bearings. So I never considered asking for materials I needed to make certain areas accessible, namely, oil for the lantern I'd found. Once I did, I got clued/pushed to the right person. In the context of a game being a game where you find stuff and combine it to make new stuff, I should have remembered this. Though, as a person who's new to a village and probably better-off than the villagers, it felt weird to ask them for anything. Maybe that was too far outside the box.

But once that block was gone, I felt more comfortable/less uncomfortable, if slightly less immersed, asking around for what I needed. The story had fit together nicely even in the one-point-out-of-fifty state. I'd started off with a new job at FARMA who, apparently, did research on fog (and where better to do so than at the outskirts of a town called Foghelm?) but also with some injuries from a surprise attack. There was an odd man in a hut that villagers didn't like to talk about, an eerily simple twentysomething daughter of the mayor, a cloying gas station/hotel owner, and a captain and smith who both seemed to want to help me. Some places, it was signposted I couldn't do anything without the right item. For instance, there were rusty chains blocking me from an entrance, and elsewhere, someone offered to loan me a hammer, if I fed them, which was (again) a bit odd. The big mystery unfolding had to do with a ship crashing on the rocks, with a fatality, and whose fault it was: the lighthouse keeper, or a young lover?

So the story was set well, and the main block seemed to be finding the right nooks to find stuff in. I wasn't quite able to do this. GW suggested look and search were different (ugh,) and I wound up remembering this some of the time, which left a lot of ground to cover. I confess (again) I peeked at how you scored points, and that gave me a boost. I probably went past two hours. But I liked what was there, even/especially the directions I couldn't quite go in, and why. Once I understood different starting paths blocked off different paths in the town, I was glad to know the game-world was bounded. But this, in addition to everything you had to do to gather in-world evidence, was tough to fit into a two-hour comp judging period. Which is too bad--once it clicked that different directions made you a different person, and it all seemed sensible, I took time to be impressed at how well it was organized.

However, I still feel a bit odd asking for the things I needed to ask for: "Hey! can I borrow the gloves you're wearing?" or "Mind if I use your stove?" It felt slightly invasive towards others. I mean, yes, interactable NPCs are a good thing, but I never quite shook this off, so GW provided the wrong sort of creepy at times, not illegal creepy, but just violating people's boundaries. Nevertheless, I was entertained, because there's a lot to like, and reading about the different paths through felt proper. It's neat to see different stories GW has to tell. The author has been great with help on the forums and accepting that, okay, people might mark GW down a bit, and they should be proud of what they've offered us. But I have to draw the line. I've seen two of the endings, and I don't want to get stuck on any one game. I may play through the full ending, but I found the world and map vivid enough to recall, and I know where I spun out. So I'll be able to process the full story, so I can move from "hey, this looks and feels right" to something more rigorous.

Overall, there is a lot to like and look forward to, but unless you're a horror fan, I don't really recommend diving into GW and trying to find everything without serious guidance. I read someone on the forums say "I got all 50 points! What a great game!" and I believe them. And I hope that's not an "oh sure some people will like this." I'm going to wait until a full walkthrough is posted. I know there are four endings: one is a quick failure where it's strongly hinted beforehand that you're begging for trouble, two are qualified successes, and one is the "true ending." I'd love to see the differences between paths through. I know from experience that different villagers can react more positively depending on whom you start as, though most of the core puzzles stay the same. I'm not really sold on one of the three directions, as it seems a bit improbable, but I do want to look for it.