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A tiny gem, November 30, 2021
(This is a lightly-edited version of a review posted to the IntFict forums during the 2021 IFComp. My son Henry was born right before the Comp, meaning I was fairly sleep-deprived and loopy while I played and reviewed many of the games, so in addition to a highlight and lowlight, the review includes an explanation of how new fatherhood has led me to betray the hard work the author put into their piece)
The Last Doctor is one of the slightest games in the Comp – my first playthrough took less than ten minutes, and there are only two or three substantive choices on offer. There’s basically zero context provided for anything, with the central-casting post-apocalyptic milieu only barely sketched and the doctor protagonist getting only a word or two of backstory and certainly nothing as specific as a name. And yet!
Since IF Comp is primarily concerned with text, writing that’s good enough can turn even the most prosaic game into a killer app – and the prose in the Last Doctor is quite good indeed. In the author’s capable hands, even a few details or a single line of dialogue are enough to conjure up an image or reveal character. As with most of the choice games, I played this one one-handed on my phone while Henry was napping, but atypically, I actually went to the trouble of typing out some of the bits of writing I liked so I could include them in this review. Your clinic is host to “two medical beds [and] a chessboard of pill bottles”, for example, and the choice to ask a patient a bunch of questions about their condition is labeled “introduce her to Socrates.” And the writing is good enough to enliven the central moral dilemma, which could feel hackneyed and contrived if told by a weaker pen, but here feels satisfying and just right, regardless of how you resolve it. Again, this is a small thing – but it’s a small, beautiful thing, which is no bad thing to be.
Highlight: I’ve singled out some of the favorite bits of writing, but I also admired the laconic scene-setting of “Your days are long. Your hair is short.”
Lowlight: I may have found a slight bug having to do with how the game tracked my choices: (Spoiler - click to show)opted to treat the scavenger with all the supplies I had, and then tried to save the syndicate boss but failed due to not having what I needed. But in the final conversation with Baba, he said a line that implied the boss had died because I’d refused to provide him treatment.
How I failed the author: I don’t think I did, happily enough – the effort to type out that Socrates gag one-handed was definitely worth it.