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About the Story
Caught up in a time-travel experiment gone wrong, the actions you perform in the past will ripple forward in time. Can you find your way back without unraveling the universe? A small town stirs in your wake.
26th Place - 26th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2020)
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Number of Reviews: 5
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I will play any time travel game, full stop. Knowing that Entangled has eight endings had me jazzed to dive in. Unfortunately, after finding the first ending I had little desire to find the rest.
Entangled is a game with a bunch of neat set pieces with little world view or motivation for them existing. The PC is at first motivated to find his friend across town because his friend's wife is being obnoxious. This is interrupted by the motivation to help a delusional man in the street for no apparent reason. The game literally won't let you find your friend until you get rid of the guy but the PC is given no motivation to do so. The actual reason is to force the player to explore the town and talk to all the characters before finding the time machine, but since I was focused more on the puzzle than the exploration, I didn't get much out of it.
After the PC time travels, the objective becomes more focused, though my motivation did not. Getting back to one's own time is simple enough, but finding the other seven endings presumably is done by further exploration and manipulating the lives of your friends/neighbors across town. But other than finding endings, I found little motivation to do this. I have no reason to care about these characters or their lives, because the only thing I know about the PC is that he hates his friend's wife and the only thing I know about the NPCs are highlights from their biographies.
Take for example Nick, one of the primary NPCs. He runs a tattoo shop and he used to play music.
>ask about tattoos
"I've been doing it for around 30 years now. I think I've learned my art. If you're looking for something. Let me know."
>ask about music
"You like it? It's some stuff that I wrote when I lived in Los Angeles. It's a little dated now. But I think it has a solid beat."
>ask about Los Angeles
"Yeah, I used to live out there. Some crazy times. I played guitar for a few bands, but wrote a hit with this one guy. Axl. Made pay dirt there. He went off and made it big. I took the money and ran."
Wait, so Nick could have been in Guns 'N Roses? That's amazing! Except Nick shows no emotion about it. No wistfulness. No regret. Not even interest. He just casually mentions it as trivia, not expecting that anybody even knows who he's talking about. I presume that if I were to play my cards right, I could in the past convince Nick to not give up guitar and he could make it big. But since he doesn't seem to care, I don't either.
Atmosphere is a problem throughout. Most of the things that happen are just cuckoo bananas but the descriptions are so perfunctory one would think that androids are observing. Early in the game when the delusional guy is ranting about UFOs, most people in town dismiss him or believe he's seeing meteor showers. You can humor him by trying to see what he's seeing.
You look up, seeing a streak in the sky for a second. You suppose it's a ufo.
So now the PC thinks that something incredible and life-changing could be happening around them, and they just suppose and move on. Not that I want the author to lay out all of the PC's thoughts out on the table. But there's no sense of wonderment or awe or descriptions to elicit feeling. Everything just is.
All of that said, the game is coded extremely well. It appears the author worked on the game for four years and it was in beta-testing for about eight months, so they did their due diligence. The game responds to most reasonable things you can try and the NPCs respond to a ton of different questions. The game pushes the player gently when needed and the in-game hints are written well. I wouldn't have written such a lengthy review if there still wasn't so much more potential to be unleashed. I really wanted to like Entangled. But when a game's core is about the fate of the lives of humans, more time needs to be spent exploring the humanity.
A particularly well implemented parser game, Entangled is primarily a social realist sci-fi story. The emphasis is on getting to know and understand a typical small town and how it has changed through the years rather than about actually solving puzzles. Actually, in this case there is only a single puzzle: how to get back to your own time. I got the impression that there may be more than one way to achieve this, but it doesn’t seem to matter much. My solution took me to the end in about half an hour.
Exploration is key to understanding the game, but although I felt that I did it quite thoroughly, my final score was only half of the maximum number of points. This probably means I missed out on quite a few details. Regardless, as a story narrated through a parser interface, I regard Entangled as largely successful. Mainly through talking with other characters, who all have a rich set of responses to all sorts of questions, you get a good glimpse of the hopes, dreams and situations of the town’s inhabitants. There were a few things I did not understand, in particular at the very end, but I still quite enjoyed the story.
The Comp randomizer giving me two solid but slightly underdeveloped parser games involving time travel back to back must surely be as statistically unlikely as a mad scientist dragging an unsuspecting bystander along in their trip backwards through time, but here we – meaning both me, who had Entangled come up after Seasonal Apocalypse Disorder in the randomizer, and the player character of the said Entangled – are. There are a lot of differences in the settings, don’t get me wrong: no secret-agent-druids to be found here, and we’re wandering around a declining Rust Belt town rather than a cult’s forest base. And the locals are definitely a bit more chatty. But just as with SAD, I felt like I enjoyed Entangled a bit less than I wanted to because the worldbuilding and puzzles are just a little underbaked.
The game starts as it intends to carry on – you’re given a minimum of information about your character and the task at hand that was initially quite confusing to me, and set loose on a large, sparse map with lots of locations described but inaccessible. As you move through the streets of your hometown – which is clearly on the downswing, with a shrinking population and many folks living in a trailer park – you get a bit more context filled in, explaining that your buddy Sam and his harridan of a wife have moved in with you but now the landlord is cranky and you need to track down Sam at the one bar that’s still open for business in the town (it’s attached to the bowling alley). Then a funny thing happens on the way to the bowling alley and lo and behold, you’re stuck in 1980 and need to gather three weird-science materials in order to fix the time machine and make your way back.
There’s a little more to the setup than this, but not too much. Despite the fact that the player character seems like they’ve lived in this town of 350ish people their whole life, I didn’t feel like I got a great sense that the relationships with the other present-day characters ran especially deep, nor did the narrative voice convey much interest or enthusiasm when seeing the 40-year-old version of their home. While the writing is largely typo-free and communicates enough to understand what’s going on and how to solve the puzzles, there isn’t much affect to any of it.
If the backdrop isn’t the draw here, the supporting cast do much better. There are a wide variety of inhabitants to talk to – I found around ten, and the post-game text told me I missed another ten (this might have been because I didn’t spend too much time poking around 2020). They’re a fun bunch too, running the gamut from the disaffected bowling-shoe girl with dreams of making it big in New York, to a cut-rate fortune-teller and a high-art gallerist with sharp elbows – not to mention the nerdy convenience-store clerk who’s stuck around all these years. Interaction is made simple through a TALK TO command that lists likely topics of conversation, though I found a lot more bonus options were implemented, and probably the most fun I had in the game was talking to these colorful folks about their histories and their dreams. They also serve as a light hint system – when I wasn’t sure where to start looking for one of the three widgets I needed to get back to 2020, asking around set me on the right track soon enough.
The flip side of this, though, is that most of the characters aren’t that integral to the action, and those that are tied to puzzles are among the least grounded, behaving in somewhat cartoonish fashion to make things work. The puzzles themselves are fine, though gathering three MacGuffins isn’t all that exciting – they do boast a whole lot of alternate solutions from what I was able to glean from the walkthrough, and seemed pretty well-clued to me (with that said, one early puzzle(Spoiler - click to show) – giving something to the UFO-obsessed oddball outside the bowling alley – seemed very poorly motivated to me since I’d thought I was bent on finding Sam and didn’t really know who this guy was). But they don’t take advantage of the time-travel premise – there’s no betting on who’s going to win the World Series or anything fun like that – and most of the approaches I found involved swapping item X for object Y, or giving character A thing B so you can abscond with item C while their back is turned.
There’s not really anything wrong with Entangled – the implementation is good throughout – and I enjoyed wandering around its atypical setting and interacting with its pleasant residents. But I couldn’t help thinking that it could have taken its premise and characters more seriously. Like, I never managed to have a conversation with Sam, nor did the scientist who kicked this whole thing off because he wanted to explore 1980 ever pop up after his initial appearance. The time-travel stuff is fun, but again it only goes so far: I couldn’t help noticing that the local fortune-teller charges you a buck to get your palm read in 1980, and it still costs a dollar in 2020. Inflation was 13.5% in 1980! There’s clearly something about this place, these people, and this time that’s meaningful to the author – there’s a lot of loving attention lavished on its creation – and much of that comes through, but I was left wanting a little more.
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