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Number of Reviews: 36
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1 people found the following review helpful:
Iconic, December 15, 2021
Anchorhead is probably my most favorite IF game ever, and Iíve been playing text games since the days of Zork. Itís got great writing, a compelling story and more or less realistic interactions (vs abstract), and thereís no sense of feeling annoyed, pressured for time, feeling lost or overwhelmed, etc. itís the closest thing to a perfect IF game in my opinion.
5 people found the following review helpful:
Why improve on perfection?, December 7, 2020
So I played the original Anchorhead the year it came out, and then just finished the 2018 Steam release on my Mac ten minutes ago. It's a GREAT game in the Lovecraft mythos. So much so that I never forgot it, and was pleasantly surprised to discover the reboot. Plotwise, this is a strong game, with excellent pacing and deep details to discover. The main character is somewhat anonymous, compared to the thorough exploration of her husband's entire family, but this game is more about the player's effort than any characterologic development. The game is very, very well written and the parser has been thoroughly programmed, with only extremely rare "guess the correct verb" moments (Spoiler - click to show)Don't "hit" the web with the broom.
What stuck with me in 1998 was how hard this game was. I mean, I may have been just 20 but I was a smart cookie with extensive IF experience, and I could not finish Anchorhead Original without significant help. Anchorhead 2018 is . . . easier. Not by much, and certainly not in such a way that players of the original will feel cheated, but there's a gloss on the game that made the denouement and ending feel a little perfunctory. Several objects and locations serve no purpose except to move the game towards the finish line. (Spoiler - click to show)What is the point of the flute, except as a handy tool for banishing the final enemy? Hell, why have an altar at all with thousands of corpses underground when the apparent threat is in the water? Tell me more about that Zodiac. And so on.
That said, I loved playing this again in my 40s and I'm so, so glad IF refuses to die. If you have a Lovecraft fan as a friend, introduce them to this game!
8 people found the following review helpful:
One of the best text adventures of all time, even better in Steam version., July 6, 2019
Review for Steam Edition:
Anchorhead is a masterpiece of interactive fiction. In this well-illustrated Lovecraftian game, you have to piece together the history of your husband's family as you move to a new town with a dark history.
This edition fixes a lot of the worst puzzles from the first edition, especially the very difficult mill section. It adds some new puzzles, too, some of which I found quite difficult (such as the dinghy), and others less so (the new opening sequence).
The illustrations are very well done, and go a long way to making this worth the purchase price. I love this game, and I'm glad to see it in such good form. I also appreciated the change in the orderly's magazine, which made me laugh. Some of the older texts in the game contain echoes of Lovecraft's racism, and they seem to be written new for the game, not old texts quoted, so I thought I'd mention that.
Anchorhead can completely draw you into its world. The writing and atmosphere are classic Lovecraftian horror, beginning as merely dismal and developing slowly into madness. Early scenes take on far different meanings on a second playthrough.
That said, this is a very hard game. I'm not sure how anyone could solve the (Spoiler - click to show)telescope lens puzzle on their own.
However, the depth of the game and the quality of the writing is such that it is still enjoyable even if you have to resort to hints from time to time. Many of the best moments are also the easiest puzzles.
4 people found the following review helpful:
20th Anniversary Edition well worth the price, April 28, 2019
My introduction to H.P. Lovecraft, and frankly, well-written horror, Anchorhead remains one of my favorite games ever made twenty years later. While the free version stands on its own, the 20th anniversary edition is well worth the ten dollar price tag if you liked the original or are a fan of thriller/horror games.
You play the role of apprehensive wife who has uprooted her life after her husband inherited a spooky house in a spooky New England town. Naturally, as you explore the house and the town, you begin to unravel horrors better left uncovered; except your husbandís life is at stake and so the motivation to press on remains ever present. Gentry does a superb job of encouraging the player to go at their own pace as key events have to be triggered by solving key puzzles. This allows his masterful atmospheric writing to draw the player into his world (not surprisingly as it won Best Setting at the XYZZY awards). I have played this a few times now, and each time I have felt on the edge of my seat despite knowing whatís coming. Even reading through old newspaper clippings or library books intensifies the mood here. The writing is that good.
In fact, there is a sequence about halfway through the game (Spoiler - click to show) (well/mob/church) when things start to get real that was sort of a coming of age moment for me in interactive fiction. It remains one of my favorite areas of any video game, graphic or otherwise.
My only real criticism of Anchorhead is the puzzles. In the 20th Anniversary Edition, Gentry cleaned up several puzzles that were done hastily. The wine cellar puzzle is infinitely more interesting now, and your acquisition of keys seems to be more organic. But there are still too many puzzles that seem to present only for puzzles' sake (Spoiler - click to show)(including one near the end with a broom), and some that practically require you to die in order to learn what you need to do (Spoiler - click to show)(the lighthouse puzzle comes to mind). The game is also cruel at times, allowing you to progress in an unwinnable state because you didnít find an out-of-the-way object you didnít even know you were supposed to look for (Spoiler - click to show)(a needle in a haystack, as it were). Thankfully, the nature of a horror game means youíll be saving often, and even the worst walking dead situation doesnít require to restore back too far. Still, when atmosphere is king, these types of issues can pull the player out of the game. I admit I used a walkthrough near the end of the game, not because the puzzles were too hard, but rather because I was too engrossed in the story to want to solve them.
It would be hard to introduce someone to the world of interactive fiction without recommending Anchorhead. While itís not easy, the gameís parser and design are so user-friendly (thank you trench coat and key-ring!) that it rarely becomes frustrating to play. As of this writing Anchorhead is considered the 2nd highest rated text adventure of all-time, and most of those ratings came before the new edition which enhances the playing experience while also adding some appropriately horrifying graphics.
6 people found the following review helpful:
Unfair, January 7, 2019
I'm not at all sure that Anchorhead has any "fair" puzzles in Emily Short's sense. https://xyzzyawards.org/?p=386
I played Anchorhead about four-ish years ago, but I gave up on it and used the "Guided Tour" walkthrough linked from IFDB. I never felt like I could trust that I was actually solving a puzzle. For many of the puzzles I "solved" by following the Guided Tour, I never understood the solutions at all.
Even for Anchorhead's relatively accessible puzzles, the vast majority of them only make sense in "adventure-game logic" (e.g. the very first puzzle of the game, (Spoiler - click to show)breaking into the real-estate office), but those puzzles are surrounded by red-herring "you can't solve this yet for no known reason" puzzles, so it's unfair to expect the player to apply adventure-game logic to just that puzzle and not any of the other red-herring puzzles.
Good puzzle solutions need to make sense in hindsight. Why does it make sense to break into the (Spoiler - click to show)real-estate office, and not the (Spoiler - click to show)asylum, or the slaughterhouse, or the church, or whatever? Why can I break in on Day 3 but not on Day 2? It just never makes sense.
I'd give Anchorhead one star, but its prose and story are pretty good. So, do as I did: follow mjhayes' Guided Tour. Don't worry one second over the puzzles. Just enjoy the ride. (Note that the Guided Tour hasn't been updated for the 2018 re-release; you'll have to use the 1998 original release, instead.)
6 people found the following review helpful:
Can't describe how brilliant this is! , September 22, 2018
Oh my gosh, Anchorhead is absolutely fantastic. I played the original 1998 version and I loved every second of it. Played it for a day straight and just couldn't put it down; I tried to go to bed at one point and just ended up getting up two hours later to finish it. The writing weaves an incredibly beautiful and atmospheric description of each and every area, character, item - honestly I don't think this game is lacking in any aspect whatsoever. You can examine pretty much everything and everyone, and find tantalising clues and information everywhere you go. The history and backlore is rich and detailed - I found myself starting a set of notes just so that I could keep track of things and make links and connections, which made it even more exciting! The story builds layer upon layer of tension, beginning with just a slight unease and ramping up the mystery and thrill with each and every piece of information that you uncover. It's challenging, engaging, exciting, terrifying, heartwarming, and utterly brilliant.
Just make sure to save fairly regularly; you never know what you're going to find.
2 people found the following review helpful:
Back in the fold and loving it., August 30, 2016
First text adventure I've played for several years. The medium seems to have come a long way since I last played. Finally getting round to writing up some reviews of the few games I've played over last couple of weeks.
Anchorhead - I had heard good things but was really impressed by the level of detail and immersive experience of it all. The puzzles are tight and nicely integrated. I had a couple of verb guessing moments when I had to go on line - I was on the right track but wasn't quite there.
Occasionally I felt I was wandering around looking for something to do - but, then again, you could probably attribute that to the my text adventuring rustiness from so many years away.
I do like gruesome Lovecraftian imagery and Anchorhead didn't disappoint.
Star ratings are hard and comparative. I think four. Especially given the next two games I played.
8 people found the following review helpful:
Not for the squeamish--but a little more romance, please! , July 25, 2016
When I downloaded this game last month, I kept putting off playing it because I thought it would be JUST an interactive novel, with very few puzzles--even the author in his opening notes suggested that the puzzles 'weren't very hard'--so I had it sized up to be a very easy game. In fact, I kept it on my computer while I went along playing one or two other games--as I tend to prefer games with lots of hard puzzles. Finally, I threw up my hands and said that this game wasn't going to play itself, I might as well get it over with.
I was so wrong about this game.
First of all, the game area is SPRAWLING. If you are a 'puzzle-ey' guy like me, you might not be used to starting out being able to explore large areas(many 'rooms'). My instinct when I begin a game or new area in a game, I map all available rooms. In Anchorhead, just about the whole town is free to explore from the start(except a number of not-yet-available places). This almost overwhelmed my compartmentalized male mind. But then I reminded myself that this game is not so puzzle-driven as it is plot-driven. Let the story guide you, I said. Nevertheless, I continued to map the entire city, before even meeting with Michael.
And yes, it did kind of startle me to find out that I was playing a female protagonist, especially as I was (Spoiler - click to show)having fun envisioning myself as Inspector Clouseau, with my trenchcoat and umbrella, climbing through the window of my real-estate agent's office. I don't recall any mention of the protagonist being female. So to me, this promised to make for an interesting experience for me.
It was encouraging to be more or less guided by the events in the story as to what area to address--ie. 'what to do' next--however, it's very important to explore all available areas, examine EVERYTHING, read everything, look behind and under--and in--all things, and know your inventory. There were a couple of things in this game that I missed, that I thought were easy to miss. The author was very descriptive in this game, but there were a couple of spots I thought needed more description. For example, (Spoiler - click to show)I had no idea that there was a book of matches in the kitchen, because the description of the kitchen was so spare, I didn't think to look in the cabinets. The other major thing that I think could have used more attention was (Spoiler - click to show) the study--this was the whole key to the wine bottle problem--apparently you have to be able, at the right time, to follow Michael's movements through the house, and if you do not know to be in the study immediately after you wake up on the third day, and how to get into the secret passageway there, you will be unwinnably stuck--I found this out the hard way. I talked to Michael too long and I made him storm out of the house, and ended up beating my head against meaningless wine bottles. I finally gave in and looked at a walk-through, and got that betrayed feeling like this was something I could have solved had I noticed these little things, capped off with the thought that I just cheated. But more description could have been used there. It would have saved me from (Spoiler - click to show)constantly hitting my head on the wall in the dark area of the asylum, because I didn't find the matches in the kitchen cabinet with which to light the lantern, after I escaped from the rubber room. I was constantly being chased--and eaten--by the madman, because I thought I had to somehow manipulate the light in the stairwell to get light into the rooms downstairs, only to find out from a walkthrough that there were matches in the kitchen that could have been found on Day 2. But then, this is all a part of the territory of IF adventure--part of the challenge. These games have things like SAVE and RESTORE; real life does not. So as IF adventurers, we are actually having it easy.
Otherwise, the game is RICH in description. The atmosphere is excellent, you really get the feeling that you are there. The characters are full of life, even the 'bum' near the wharf. There is even a subplot that is touching. Were I actually a female, I might have wanted a more romantic tone, and I kind of expected the train to play more of a role in the game, at least as a puzzle or the solution to one. I even hoped that (Spoiler - click to show)at the end of the game, while the town was being sucked into the vortex, Michael and I would run with careless abandon, and with perfect timing, the train would speed through and we would jump and perfectly land on a flat car and ride our asses out of town. But such was not to be.
However, the horror angle was NOT underemphasized. This game is not for the faint-of-heart. Scenes of violence and gore--including violence done to the protagonist--are incredibly graphic. One must wonder at the imagination of the author. I did feel a certain vindication at the (Spoiler - click to show)lifelessly prone body of the asylum orderly, though I wish somehow (Spoiler - click to show)the bum, and even William, could somehow have been spared. But then, this is horror. It's the reverse of fantasy land.
In reading some of the reviews for this game, I frequently came across comments that the puzzles on Day 3 had time constraints. Well, yes they do, but I think the author was kind in that he makes the story advance only after you complete each puzzle. In the final sequence, you do have a limited number of moves, but it's logical and intuitive. Be encouraged that (Spoiler - click to show)once you get handcuffed to the rock on the island of flesh, there is NOTHING you can do, so you can pretty much figure that solving this puzzle has to do with what you do with the mirrors BEFORE you are taken captive. I thought that this was the perhaps the best of the puzzles. The epilogue was a bona fide horror ending--(Spoiler - click to show)when the protagonist(s) survive, there is the promise of MORE horror!
In a word, I thought it was fantastic. Would I recommend it to a beginner? Some of these puzzles are tough, and at the beginning of the game, one might be misled by the number of locked doors/hatches, especially if you are puzzle guy like me who sees every locked door as an immediate challenge. I would recommend it with a little guidance--don't be discouraged by having to go back to (much) earlier saved positions, save often, examine everything to the hilt, make an accurate map, and let the story guide you, especially in such story-driven games as this. But then, the author provides this advice in his opening notes.
Four stars--but then I am a romantic, I wanted a (Spoiler - click to show)train-ride ending! And more description in certain places!
5 people found the following review helpful:
Amazing, March 31, 2016
I'm currently on day three of my stay in Anchorhead, and I've loved almost every minute. Sure, there were times when playing "guess the verb" was exasperating and made me want to quit right there, (Spoiler - click to show)like how "pouring" the fish oil was not the same as "putting" it on the rusty hinges, but overall it has been one of the most exciting and engaging pieces of interactive fiction I've ever played. The story is gripping, the atmosphere is almost literally to die for, and the residents of the town have some of the best quirks I've seen in a game like this.
I should point out that I've found a few glitches in the game, such as (Spoiler - click to show)asking the workers in the pub for whiskey made the game tell me that the librarian only served books, and (Spoiler - click to show)trying to enter the paper mill gate in different ways made the game throw a huge fit and essentially forced me to restore a previous save...seriously, try it out, but the fun I've had in the game far outweigh these relatively minor inconveniences. One of the best games I've ever played, IF or not. I can't wait to see how it ends.
11 people found the following review helpful:
A decent Lovecraftian story, but a little frustrating for an IF novice, December 3, 2015
I'm pretty new to IF (though I'm no stranger to video games). I chose to play this game because of the high rating it received. After playing it through to completion, I'm slightly surprised at how it could've gotten such a good rating, given the experience I had with it. The writing in this game is on par with any good Lovecraftian horror story, but as for the actual gameplay, I encountered a number of frustrations and issues that I'm not used to in the other video games and few IF games I've played. Ultimately, my experience with this game was one of frustration and annoyance, but I suspect if I had a few more big IF games under my belt, or I wasn't so used to the fast pace and instant gratification of modern video games but not the pace of IF, it might've been a much better experience for me. That said, I can only judge the game based on how much fun I had with it and compare that to how much fun I have with other games. I took some notes on the parts I had trouble with - I'm sure some of these "issues" are due to my own lack of familiarity with IF, but perhaps it's interesting or useful for future reference to see how someone of my level of experience (and with my addiction to constant stimulation brought on by modern video games) felt and thought as they played the game.
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My main criticisms with this game tend to involve failures of the parser, the lack of sufficient description, a lack of describing "affordances" (or what you are currently able to do in a given situation, a necessary feature when your only interface to the world is text), and several glaringly bad puzzles that usually fail due to parser issues, lack of description, or a failure for the game world to do what you want it to do and having to guess what the author wants you to do. It's hard to really get a sense of the problems with the game without pointing to specific examples. The frustrating experience of this game is caused by many little small, specific issues rather than glaring, generic flaws. So, from here on, I'm just going to go through all of the specific, little problems and issues I noticed as I played through the game, and most of it is going to be spoilers. Just know that knowing a few story points or puzzle solutions isn't going to hurt your experience of the game. If anything, it'll make it better.
At some point, you will notice a locked room in the house attic. (Spoiler - click to show)This door is locked, but it has a keyhole, like so many other doors in the game. You may assume that, as with the other doors, this door will not open until you discover a key somewhere else. Also, if you've been paying attention to the writings, you'll know that, at one point, William was kept in here, locked away from the rest of the family. You won't find a key, though. You are supposed to first decide that you should look in the keyhole. You almost NEVER have a reason to do this anywhere else in the game. There's a hint that light is coming through the crack under the door, but that doesn't immediately make you notice that there ISN'T light coming through the keyhole itself. The absence of this keyhole light isn't noted by the description, but, even if there were light coming through the keyhole, you probably wouldn't expect the parser to say something like that - it's just an irrelevant detail. So, it's very unreasonable to expect the player to think to look through the keyhole. Furthermore, you have to perform several actions before you even look in the keyhole. You look at the door, then the lock plate, then the hole, the you look IN the hole. Why make someone go through all the trouble, risking losing some percentage of players at some step in the process as they decide, oh, everything checks out, no reason to keep looking here.
Furthermore, you have to jump to the conclusion that, because the keyhole is dark, it's because a key is in the hole. That's a very unlikely explanation. First of all, why the hell would a room that's been used to lock somebody inside it have a key stuck in the hole on the inside? Second of all, perhaps there's a piece of furniture or covering over the hole? The description hardly hints at all that the hole affords sticking something inside it, if you're even fortunate enough to realize you can look at the keyhole in the first place. Also, if you've had any experience with keyholes in 1999, you'd probably notice that they don't typically go straight through the door. So you wouldn't really think anything of looking in a keyhole and seeing black - you'd think you're looking at the back wall of the key receptacle for this side of the door. Anyway, once you somehow figure out that there's a key in the hole and you can push something in the hole to push the key out, it becomes a good puzzle.
My main criticism with this puzzle is that it's really not hinted at enough and doesn't really make sense in the first place (because why would the key be inside the door, anyway?). In the context of a text adventure where you have many, many rooms to explore, this dramatically magnifies the problem. You don't even know that you CAN open this door at this point, so you might spend your time wandering and wandering elsewhere, spending countless hours of your life seeing the same descriptions over and over again, making no progress. If this was a self-contained puzzle where you had some knowledge that you were supposed to be able to get into the room in order to make progress, that would be fine. Or, if the description of the door hinted more towards the solution. Like, instead of asking the player to look at the door, then look at the keyhole plate, then look at the keyhole, then look IN the hole, just put all that info right there when the player looks at the stupid door.
In the town, you will come across a bum holding a key. (Spoiler - click to show)The bum turns out to be the obstetrician who birthed Edward and the abomination William, something you can discover by asking the bum various questions after giving him some alcohol. I don't really have a problem with this part of the bum puzzle - I thought it was fun to try asking different questions to try to figure out what he's talking about and cross-reference it with the various documents I had read up to this point.
Eventually, though, in order to get the key, you are supposed to convince him that William, who he thought was dead, was not actually dead. I thought that showing him the pages of the Anna's writing found under the child's bed would be sufficient, because it explained exactly what had happened. And I figured my character would be able to fill in the details. But no, it treats it as if you had shown the bum any other useless item, instead of offering a hint like "the bum isn't convinced by what is written" or something to that effect. So, you need to go to the crypt and open the coffin, which you've probably already found at this point, and grab the bones. Now, why would anyone think that showing some random animal skull to somebody, when that person doesn't know where it came from, would have any effect of convincing someone? I could've just brought any old animal skull. Better yet, I could've just told the bum what happened; it's not like showing the skull offers any more solid evidence than my words.
The worst part, though, is that showing the skull is not even enough. Wouldn't your character be able to explain it to the bum? No. You have to keep asking different questions. The types of questions you have to ask are VERY restrictive, and you don't receive any sort of feedback that "it seems he is starting to realize something" or anything like that. I tried asking lots of different things and they kept getting the same responses. How are you to deduce that you're on the right path? You freaking can't. It makes me mad. It's almost laughable when you finally say the "magic words" and then get a large text dump. Why not just let me show the skull and be done with it? Why force me to guess what I'm suppsoed to do? The only challenge is due to the parser not being able to translate what I want to do into actions. How am I supposed to guess the exact way you want me to phrase the question, you stupid parser? It's just making a game challenge by forcing me to get around the limitations of the interface. This was terribly frustrating.
Here's a more general problem with the game - an occasional, but critical, lack of a clear description of the available exits. There's several spots where a room description utterly fails to inform you about an available exit. And there's no "exits" command. Even worse, a few rooms WILL tell you where the exits are when you go in an invalid direction, but many rooms will simply say that you can't go there and that's that. This causes frustration at several points in the game: When trying to find your husband near the start of the game after getting the manor keys, (Spoiler - click to show)the room just south of the pub doesn't tell you that you can go west, which is where you need to go to get to the college. I wasted a bunch of time thinking I had already explored everything because I assumed that the descriptions were exhaustive. And later on, (Spoiler - click to show) when you get to the path near the slaughterhouse with the stump and the trampled sapling, there's no indication that you can go SW (or SE or wherever it was). You NEED to do this in order to make progress. Why is my character able to go there, but not able to see that they can go there?
In general, that class of problems is frustrating because it's only challenging because the author didn't include an adequate description of the room. You generally trust those descriptions, though. So now, if you decide not to trust them, you have to try EVERY possible direction in EVERY room, lest you miss some possible exit. It's a boring, tedious, time consuming process. If you don't happen upon this realization, you'll be stuck wandering around irrelevant areas of the game, thinking you've explored every option and there's some solvable puzzle in one of the rooms you need to do in order to advance. But no, you just made the mistake of trusting the room description. There should've been an accurate representation of the exits, or at least some indication that there's possible exits not in the description, or an "exits" command.
Here's another small gripe - having to close and lock doors before you go to sleep. I understand how it adds to the atmosphere of the game, about not feeling comfortable and feeling vulnerable in your own manor. But, in practice, it just turns out to be WAY unnecesarilly tedious. It starts with you remembering that you left a door open. So you try to leave the room. You idiot, you have to get up first. So you get up, then leave the room. You idiot, you have to put on some clothes for some reason. So you put on clothes and find your way back to the door. "Lock door". The door is open, you idiot, so you can't lock it. Close door. Lock door. Back to bed. How about this, instead - I go to bed, then I get a brief description describing how my character does all these steps for me, which I would have to manually do anyway? It's just unnecesarry tedium and it doesn't add anything to the game that wouldn't be there with just a simple description. This would give the author opportunities to embellish these descriptions to add to that atmosphere. At the very least, if the only way my character can leave the room is to put on clothes, get me the hell up, put on my freaking close for me, and leave the room. I don't care about losing control of my character, I care about having fun, and Mavis Beacon (or even Super Mario) Teaches Typing is always there for me if I want to have a blast typing words that I'm asked to type.
Your kitchen has a pantry.(Spoiler - click to show) That pantry leads to a wine cellar with a puzzle involving bottles, which could've been fun had it not been so poorly implemented. The actual puzzle involving rotating the bottles is actually pretty great - especially with how you have to use the information you learned about the family history. But, in context of the larger game, there's a glaring flaw. I discovered these bottles earlier. I KNEW that this lead to a hidden passageway because the bottles were fixed in place. So I tried all sorts of different commands to try to get my character to thoroughly search these bottles, to no avail. If I was there in real life, I would be pulling, twisting, and feeling every single bottle. But there was no way to get my character to do this. So, having exhaustively tried all sorts of options, I decided there was nothing to be gained here. Later, though, after your Michael uses the wine cellar, your "look" command reveals some new information. Argh. I had already written off this room because I thought I had exhaustively searched it. Plus, if that really was how you got into the room, I would think there would already be a noticeable difference with the bottles even without Michael using it (since obviously people used it before) - at least a different amount of dust or some scratch marks on the floor or hearing a hollow thud when hitting it. None of which happens. So I wasted a bunch of time, as always, exploring other areas of the game because that's what the help text told me to do. But I got nowhere. This should've been hinted at more when you initially explore the bottles, otherwise you may end up just writing them off and forgetting about them. Also, the dream says that "michael is doing something in the basemenet". But the room from the stairs in the pantry is called the "cellar", not "basement". So you may think you need to find some OTHER passageway. Maybe there's an exit in one of the rooms that the description neglects to mention, as has been done so many other places in the game? Time to waste some time...
Let's talk about the librarian at the library. The interaction here is godawful. (Spoiler - click to show)It's possible to discover this information in another way, but it doesn't excuse this small, stupid puzzle. Let's not even talk about trying to get Michael's ID. It's another "magic word" puzzle, because the parser absolutely fails to produce the desired result, even after trying so many different commands. No "librarian, give book", no "ask librarian about book" (replacing book with the full book name). The actual command that worked for me was "ask librarian FOR book". This is a problem, to me. At no point in the game do we know we can use "ask person FOR". Up until then, we can only say "ask person about", like with the bum. So, to expect the player to know to use "FOR" instead is absolutely rage inducing, ESPECIALLY considering that you get a sense that the parser is not very robust to inputs after trying so many different commands here. So you CERTAINLY wouldn't mess with the established practice by using "for" instead of "about". But no, you have to. You may not even think that you CAN get a book from the librarian, because the description hints that the librarian is a strange fellow. Maybe they'll just always ignore you? This one made me mad.
At some point in the game, you may discover a musical instrument. (Spoiler - click to show)The interaction with this stupid flute is also terrible and clunky. First of all, it took me quite awhile to figure out how to even cover the different holes. I didn't realize I could even do so, after trying so many different commands and not receiving any sort of useful feedback. The description doesn't hint at this. It tells you about holes but doesn't say how you can interact with them. In real life, this wouldn't be a problem, but in a text adventure you need to describe the affordances of the interface. So it fails on that front. Even then, when you figure out how to cover holes, the interaction for covering and uncovering them is woefully inadequate. As far as I could tell, there's know way to tell what holes are currently covered. It could've simply said what holes are covered every time you covered or uncovered one, or told you what's covered when you look at the flute while holding it or use the inventory command.
Then, there's my most hated puzzle in the game. It involves a hatch that you're trying to open. (Spoiler - click to show)In the sewer, there's a rusty hatch that you need to open late in the game in order to get north of the bridge. When I first encountered this hatch, earlier in the game, I assumed rust was the problem and the solution was using the fish oil. So I "put fish oil on hatch", or "put fish oil on hinge". It tells me that "putting something on the hatch wouldn't accomplish anything". Okay, guess I have to maybe open the hatch from the other side or something...NOPE! Wrong! You have to first OPEN the tin, THEN you can use "put fish oil on hatch" to loosen it up. This is unforgivable. The first message makes you think that you shouldn't try anything else, so look elsewhere for a solution. But you literally have to use that EXACT command, it's just that the fish oil tin was in the wrong state. Why not at least say that you need to open the tin first? This puzzle is the true horror of this game.
There's a few random nitpicks I had with the interface for reading documents. Sometimes, while reading a document, the description will shift from the text of the document to a narration of your personal reaction to that document. But there's nothing to distinguis those blocks. Addiitionally, when the length of a document exceeds the length of the screen and you need to press space to scroll, there's no indication of where you left off, so you'll probably spend a moment having to figure out where you should resume reading from.
At some point, there's a wheel you want to turn. (Spoiler - click to show)It's too hot, though. So you have to wrap the towel around the wheel. Again, the parser utterly fails. There's all sorts of commands that totally make sense, like "wrap towel around wheel", "wrap wheel", "grab wheel with towel" or something like that but none of them work. You have to use "put towel on wheel". Ugh. I don't think "put" is a very descriptive verb for what I'm trying to do, and the only time I had to do it earlier was when I wanted to put things inside another thing. If someone told me to put a towel on something, I would just fold it up and set it on top of that thing. A frustrating waste of time that could be easily solved with a little bit of hinting or better description of affordances.
On the third day, towards the end, (Spoiler - click to show)you'll get a key from a corpse. You're supposed to use it to unlock a locked drawer in the real estate office. How are you supposed to know that there is a locked drawer there? Of course, the description for the room doesn't give you any indication that there's a locked drawer. I've been in quite a few offices and I've rarely seen locking desk drawers, so I would assume that a locked desk drawer would be called out in the description. Heck, some desks don't even have drawers, so I would expect that fact to be called out in the room description (it never is, with the few desks that appear in this game, the opening of which is required to make progress). Even then, you would assume that the key on the corpse is just the key to enter the building, which is locked at the start of the game. And it would be a big leap in reasoning to assume that this key ALSO unlocks a drawer, because that's not usually how keying works.
There's a few areas where the unlocking of doors is needlessly complicated. For example, if I'm in front of the lighthouse and I have a key, I can't simply type "unlock lighthouse". I have to type "unlock door". I shouldn't even have to do that - it should just unlock doors whenever I try to enter them, if I have the key. It's just a simple quality of life improvement that prevents breaking up the flow of the game.
Here's one that also had me pretty annoyed. On the final day, (Spoiler - click to show)once you break out of your padded cell, you don't have any of your items. Oh hey, there's actually a closet right next to your door that wasn't mentioned in the room description that has all your stuff. What? First of all, why would the cultists bother to even keep my stuff so close to my room? Second of all, and more importantly, WHY THE HECK IS THAT NOT IN THE DESCRIPTION! I NEED MY STUFF IN ORDER TO BEAT THE GAME! ARRRGHHHH!!!!!
Another small annoyance I encountered at the very end of the game - (Spoiler - click to show)when Michael asks you for the mirror, even if you have the "treated" mirror, and you say "give mirror", it doesn't bother to ask which mirror you were referring to. It just gives him the working one, which you would have NO motivation to do. Also, why doesn't Michael notice that you're holding one mirror but taking a mirror out of your backpack and giving it to him. It's the conclusion of the game, so I'd expect it to be the most polished part of the writing, but there's this big, glaring plot hole. This Crosius guy or whatever his name was has lived for a long time, certainly he is observant enough to detect trickery.
Finally, also at the very end of the game, (Spoiler - click to show)how are you able to physically get the needle from your jacket while cuffed? You're probably not going to happen on this solution if you correctly assume that this simply isn't possible in a reasonable amount of time. But no, you have to use the needle.
Finally FINALLY, I really am not keen on the game's insistence on "save scumming" as the only way to make progress at certain parts of the game (especially towards the end). In general, I'm fine with games that rely on saving and reloading, but only if that interface does an excellent job of supporting that use case. Needless to say, this game doesn't. You're going to have to save often and you're going to have to name your files really descriptively, or else you'll end up in a state where the game is unwinnable. You'll have times where you have to replay through sections you've already been through. It's like if a book or a movie asked you to re-read or re-watch the same scene over and over again before letting you watch the next one. Designers should think more about how decisions to stick to certain generic conventions, like save / restore, affect the enjoyment of the player, instead of just going with them because that's what everyone else does.
That's it. I'm done. That's all the stuff I noticed. Thanks for sticking it out through this long review.
To sum up my thoughts on this game: it's ruined by an abundance of frustrating situations that hamper the enjoyment of the story and the enjoyment of the few good puzzles. I know there's an interesting Lovecraftian horror story in there, but, if that's what you're after, let me let you in on a little secret. There's this site, Amazon, on which you can buy books. These books allow you to experience the story without having to solve frustrating puzzles or re-read the same pages over and over. In fact, there's an author called H. P. Lovecraft who writes stories similar to this, and there's even books that contain his entire works.
Anyway, to avoid these issues in future games, I believe that developers could do a few things. First, more play testing, by people that don't already know the game. During this testing, make sure to collect enough info so you an re-play a player's session and see what problems they ran into. Second of all, be mindful of the concept of affordances. It's a text adventure, so you have to make it clear what somebody can and can't do. This means things like making obvious exits clear and providing feedback on how you can interact with objects and NPCs. This ALSO includes things like making sure all the relevant elements in a room are in the description. If you don't trust your ability to do this entirely through the description text, then provide procedural ways to list the state of a room - like listing all the interactible objects or something. Third, when designing a game, at least for someone like me who wants to enjoy playing a game, actually consciously think about the enjoyment of the player at each point in the game. For every decision, try to maximize player enjoyment. Don't just include generic conventions from IF because it's an IF game. Include them because they make the game enjoyable. Remove them because they suck and make the game frustrating. Avoid saving and loading-based gameplay unless you have a really solid interface for that, because people don't usually like to do that because it hurts immersion when you die and reload. I'm not saying that you should compromise your artistic vision or your message in order to appeal to the lowest common denominator - think about the enjoyment of your art or aesthetics as one aspect of player enjoyment - I'm just saying that there's some design decisions you might be making "on autopilot" that can have devastating impacts on the game. In this case, it took an entire person's many hours of effort and toil and turned them into something I wished I'd rather not played.
In short, if you're an IF novice or you're used to the fast pace and instant gratification of modern video games but not IF, I do not recommend this game. However, if you're new to IF but you generally have a good time with games regardless of whatever problems others might have, I would definitely recommend this. For me, though, it gets two stars because, at least, it's a decent Lovecraftian horror story and quite a few of the puzzles are fun. If it weren't for the frustrating moments throughout the game, it would've received a much higher rating. But, a few major frustrations can completely sour the experience of a game - it doesn't matter how GOOD the good parts of a game are if the bad parts are really, agonizingly bad.