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Not quite the masterpiece it's often touted as, but still well worth playing, April 12, 2008
This is easily one of the half-a-dozen or so most important games of the modern IF era. Importance does not always equate directly with quality, however. I played it again recently out of a desire to know how it holds up a decade later.
Well, it still plays reasonably well, although it's by no means without problems. Most of the complaints one can level at the game have been discussed ad nauseum by this point: it is minimally interactive (often little more than a short story with occasional > prompts), absolutely linear, and offers its player no plot agency whatsoever. Just the idea of a puzzleless work was quite bold in 1998; in 2008, it's old hat, and thus Photopia must completely live or die on the strength of its story.
That story is a pretty good one, but doesn't move me to the extent it does some others. From a purely literary perspective, it's a bit heavy-handed and emotionally manipulative. Alley, the teenage girl at its emotional core, is more of a sentimentalized geek wish-fufillment fantasy ("She's beautiful and charming and she likes science!") than a believable character. Still, and even if Cadre's literary reach exceeds his grasp a bit, the story is head and shoulders above the sort of fantasy or sci-fi pastiche that still marks most IF even today. And there is one moment when the story and gameplay come together beautifully, a moment that still stands for me as one of the most magical in all IF: that perfect guess the verb puzzle in the crystal maze.