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Disorienting and literary, December 24, 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 Library posits the player as a force of chaos, using the possibilities of Borges’ Library of Babel to haunt a dozen-odd works of classic literature. In pursuit of a conventional goal set out by an ersatz Morpheus (er, from the Matrix, not the god) – help Ulysses escape Polyphemus, or make sure Edmond Dantès makes it out of the Château d’If – you'll bumble through other books as well, sometimes simply reenacting the plot points but as often upending their plots or cross-pollinating their characters and stories.
This is a fun time! I enjoyed wandering the labyrinth, excited to see which book I would come across next – they’re well-chosen, with familiar characters and situations, ranging from The Divine Comedy to Moby-Dick. Each book sucks you into a brief vignette, requiring you to solve a single simple puzzle to progress. Despite none of the puzzles being real brainteasers, I still struggled with many of them, though. Partially this is because the game is quite linear – while you can access any of the books from the off, I think at any point in time, there are at most two where you can actually accomplish anything. Making this worse, the navigation system is pretty confusing, with right/left/back directions that change depending on where you enter each room from, so even when I wanted to check whether something had changed in a particular book, it was a real struggle to find it again. Finally, I didn’t initially twig to the fact that I needed to manually click through the provided excerpt for each book to make sure my character could act on the knowledge provided there, even if I was personally familiar with a passage and took the shortcut instead.
These niggles did unfortunately undermine my enjoyment for the first part of the game – then I decided to make use of the walkthrough to at least figure out how to get from book to book, and had a much better time of it. When you can focus on the literary playground offered by the game, it’s quite a good time indeed.
Highlight: The twist ending of the Odyssey section made me laugh with surprise – and had a satisfying denouement in one of the other sections.
Lowlight: Without getting too spoilery, the action required in the Treasure Island section seemed a little rough, all things considered (I haven't read the book, though, so maybe it feels merited to those familiar with the characters?)
How I failed the author: As mentioned above, despite having figured out how the relative-direction navigation system worked in theory, I could not use that knowledge to get from Point A to Point B if my life depended on it – thus going to the walkthrough sooner than I probably should have.