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The Scent of Defeat, March 11, 2012
Narrative-centred, vivid, weird SF noir, short and fast-moving. If you enjoy Robb Sherwin games or Deadline Enchanter you're likely to enjoy this.
The idea of a PC with a prodigious sense of smell has been floating around the IF world for an awfully long time. And a detective piece seems like a good fit for a smell game: the PC can see evidence that nobody else can, and you can deliver forensic-science details without having to mess around in a lab. The thing practically writes itself, and Nostrils of Flesh and Clay looks almost nothing like it.
Nostrils is a sort of science-fantasy noir. The SMELL verb is, indeed, more useful than EXAMINE, but it doesn't give concrete information so much as emotions, associations and metaphors. This meshes in heavily with the lurid, punchy prose, which would be at risk of becoming purple if it wasn't so admirably concise. The world is grimy, threatening, nauseous, bordering on the surreal; everything is experienced viscerally. There's heavy use of gesture-worldbuilding; China Mieville or Blade Runner territory. You are not meant to understand everything, and there's a significant gap between player and protagonist.
Once the central plot thread emerges, it's pretty clear that things are not going to end well. The protagonist is a bent cop; her special powers bring her little joy and cause her plenty of suffering. The world does not contain anybody trustworthy or pleasant. The IF feeling of isolation is in full effect. There is, in theory, a payoff you're working towards, but this isn't a character who sees any real hope of things getting better. It doesn't wallow in misery, and the language is too tasty to make the experience particularly grim; but the content's still pretty freakin' dark.
Mechanically, it's a rather simple game, without much in the way of deep interaction or significant choice. Cut-scenes feature heavily. The whole thing has the instincts of a short story, with all the unnecessary elements sheared off; it wants to keep the plot moving. At points it's somewhat more sparsely implemented than might be hoped, but mostly (particularly considering that it credits no testers) it's remarkably smooth to play.
Highly promising; hoping for more.