Number of Reviews: 13
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Innovative & Flawed, January 1, 2008
If you are interested in designing Interactive Fiction, Lock & Key is a game you should play: the role of the player character in this game is so different from that in every other piece that it is well worth exploring. Unfortunately, this exploration is made less fun because the central puzzle is frustratingly obscure and you can only interact wiht it through a tiresome interface.
In Lock & Key, you play a dungeon designer. You will be spending most of your time placing traps in a 16-room dungeon. Once you are satisfied with your efforts, the dungeon will be built and you can sit back and watch while Boldo the Hero attempts to escape from his cell. If he does--well, you'd better try again.
This idea is original and fun. Instead of being a static environment for you to explore, the game world becomes yours to design and someone else's to explore. Watching Boldo walk through the traps you have laid out in advance is a real treat, especially with all the humorous commentary that the different characters give.
Of course, it becomes less fun when you are reading the same description for the tenth time--and you will read them more than that, because solving the puzzle of optimal dungeon design is a frustratingly slow process based entirely on trial & error and the discover of often very non-obvious chains of causation. Bring whatever mental powers you have to the task: solving the puzzle will still be 80% brute force and luck, as traps that seemed to do nothing turn out to be essential to the final result.
If there were an easy mechanism to tweak one setting of your dungeon and replay the corresponding part of Boldo's journey, this would be a forgivable problem; but since every redesign is followed by at least fifteen intervening turns of background story, this is not the case. This makes solving the puzzle a slow and boring process, and though there is nothing wrong with some brute-forcing as such, slow and boring brute-forcing is not to be recommended.
Should you play this game? Certainly. The writing and the innovative design make it well worth your time. But unless you are a hardcore puzzle addict, you might want to save yourself some frustration and grab a solution once you've seen your first ten designs come to nought.