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About the Story
Your new job as a time traveler may be harder than you thought. A simple heist in the ancient Library of Alexandria turns into a murder mystery.
22nd Place - 17th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2011)
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Number of Reviews: 4
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The Hours has an intriguing opening which leads into an exciting and consistently unpredictable sci-fi adventure. You don't initially know what/where/why you are, only that you and your frantic NPC friend are being pursued by something. As soon as you think you've got a handle on this state of affairs, the state of affairs changes. And as soon as you think you've got a handle on the next state of affairs, that state of affairs changes as well. Though the game may be more linear than some players would like, it is great at pulling the rug out from under you time and time again, while also building up a complex set of rules about the time-travelling shenanigans that are going on.
This mythology is fascinating but complex, necessitating a lot of exposition; a Philip K Dick kind of premise with some of the black humour of Total Recall. The Hours moves quickly through many different moods, successfully conveying the disorientation of the Hours agents as they step in and out of their time-gating pools of water. The twitchy tonal changes between suspense, danger, mystery and paranoia kept me interested and on my toes through the whole game. The Russian doll-like development of the story's varying realities and the characters' clones is excellent, given the swiftness and smallish size of the adventure.
While the pacing and delivery of the writing is pretty good, the tone of the player's conversational choices sometimes proves elusive. I don't recommend choosing any of the "none of the above" conversation tree options because they can cause your protagonist to behave unpredictably, and The Hours is a game which subtly pays attention to how you treat the other characters.
I only became stuck twice, and in both cases, one use of the "help" command immediately got me unstuck. Both cases occurred during the game's introductory sequence (one involved an exit appearing that I didn't notice - there can be downsides to keyword based movement schemes) so the rest of the game flowed forward very well. Some obvious commands and synonyms don't work, or lead to (harmful to the suspension of disbelief) default-ish responses, but this is no big deal for someone's first Interactive Fiction game.
I imagine some of the import of The Hours's expositional dialogue could be moved into imagery or action, but I'm fine with the game the way it is. The number of complexities that open up as the mythology is described creates a kind of pleasurable tension (can I follow this? what will happen next?) which is then relieved by parcels of explanation. Some of the explanations are lengthy, but I can imagine this game being pretty hard to follow if it became too cryptic. It could in fact become an entirely different kind of game, a far more abstract one where you're left to ponder what the hell just happened. The game that is balances forward movement, action, doses of mystery and doses of explanation. And I think action can be hard to drive without motive. I always had a clear sense of what I was doing in each scene in The Hours, based on my understanding of my particular situation in that particular moment - which was often apt to change during the next moment. These are the surprises of The Hours.
This game is a short, linear time travel story about a person working for a time traveling antique company. A system of technology is developed, and a complex and intriguing backstory.
The writing is adequate and doesn't get in the way of the action. Navigation takes a bit of getting used to, and I didn't like a few sequences where you are told to wait but 'wait' doesn't work (you have to complete tasks in your area first).
There was a bit of gender stereotyping and some hamminess, but I would recommend this story to fans of time travel stories.
I thoroughly enjoyed this game. It's quite short and largely linear but the story is engaging and well paced. In some places, you are whisked along through the plot without little control of what happens to you. Though that may seem very un-interactive, it enhanced the emersion of the experience for me. After all, one doesn't always have the opportunity to make decisions that shape what's happening.
Another reviewer mentioned a Philip K. Dick-esqe premise and I strongly agree with that characterization. The overall premise and the abrupt changes to the frame of the narrative echo Dick's style very well and create the feeling of a short story to be interacted with rather than a game to be played.
There are just a few negative points that keep me from giving it five stars. First of all, there is a plot hole or two. Nothing major but just enough to pull me out of the narrative flow and make me say, "What?" Also, the system of interacting with NPCs, while interesting, leaves a bit to be desired. The player simply chooses an emotion that reflects how they want to respond to something said by an NPC. When there is an option that matches the emotion you feel and the PCs actual words match what you might have wanted to say, it feels very smooth. But if those things don't happen, the system can be a little annoying.
Despite my criticisms, The Hours is still a solid, enjoyable game that does an excellent job of putting story first and interactive gimmicks second. And that is a huge plus in my mind.
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