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About the Story
Your surgery went very well. But you couldn't really afford it...
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Number of Reviews: 4
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Last night I picked this game at random from the IFComp2012 folder hanging out on my laptop. And lucky me--I stumbled onto a gem!
BODY BARGAIN, while informed by Lange's musings on (Spoiler - click to show)plastic surgery and body modification, isn't a game weighed down by these topics. Approach this piece like you would, say, an episode of MONSTERS, or a particularly wild TALES FROM THE CRYPT comic, and I think you'll see what I mean.
The game's scenario is set in a sci-fi world, that scenario is tinged with horror (the kind of horror depends on how you play--(Spoiler - click to show)some decisions lead you towards a slasher-style story, other decisions a quieter, more disturbing tale).
Applause to Lange for her great handling of this game's atmosphere. BODY's tone is well-executed in both setting and its star NPC, Dr. Overclock (Could that name get any cooler? No.). Previous IF horror works (like DIVIS MORTIS) sometimes trip themselves up by inserting goofy jokes that detract from apocalyptic settings, but all the off-kilter stuff you find in BODY fits with the world of the story.
I was obedient during my first playthrough, unsure of where the scenario was heading. Upon replaying, I was delighted to find that a variety of decisions and scenarios had been implemented, dramatically changing the outcome of the story. Kudos to the author!
As one-off comics, TALES FROM THE CRYPT never gave you any more info than needed to get the scare across. What's really fun about BODY is how the extras fill in more backstory. Curious about Overclock? There's something there for you!
Regarding the content: (Spoiler - click to show)I don't go in for gore and splatter. (Did I read the author warning? Heck no! I just jumped in and played!) But the nice thing I find about reading horror (versus watching it) is that, in text, my inner director can adjust the gore level as needed. Sowas it squirm-inducing? Yes. But was it overkill? Nope. The author's choice to use clinical language for these bits was pitch perfect, in my opinion.
In short: a short game, smartly done--if you're the right audience for it!
In this horror game, you play a woman who recently underwent radical surgery to improve their body image. In order to pay for the surgery, you must assist the doctor in other radical surgeries.
This game has a high amount of gore, and deals indirectly with issues such as anorexia and cutting.
There are multiple endings and you are essentially free to act as you wish in the game. You are given instructions throughout the game, and following them gives you the easiest ending.
Overall, it was a bit too gruesome for my tastes, but the writing was good. There were a few implementation errors, such as messages persisting after you left a room or two rules printing contradictory text at the same time.
(I originally published this review on 7 October 2012 as part of my blog of IFComp 2012. This was the 10th of 26 games I reviewed and it has been updated at least once since the review was written.)
Body Bargain is a horror game set in a near future world of cybernetic body modification. It reminds me of the film The Human Centipede in its aesthetics and ideas, and while none of the characters here get sewn together, I will echo the consumer advice displayed by the game on startup, that if you're squeamish of gore or violence or clinical disturbing-ness, this game will probably squeam you. It also deals with something that remains challenging to successfully negotiate in IF, the continuum of moral and ethical boundaries between the actions a PC might be likely to take based on his or her personality and the in-game situation, and the actions different players might be prepared to take based on their out-of-game personality. Body Bargain doesn't evade all these complications, but even as raggedly implemented as it currently is, I found it morbidly engrossing and definitely interesting. For horror fans, a must play.
The PC wakes up after surgery she has opted for to transform her whole body from that of an overweight human to that of a toned blue elven woman. The story suggests, through the tone of its conversations and the thoughts of the PC, that such fantastic transformations are now contextually acceptable in society, maybe even common. You have paid for your own surgery by becoming the new assistant nurse at the illegal practice which performed it, presided over by the more-machine-than-man Doctor Overclock. However, a big early problem in this game was that it was not clear to me that I had made such a deal. Why some robot doctor was expecting me to help him perform surgery on a stranger just because I had walked into his operating room baffled me. It caused me to fob off his request and look around other areas in the game. In those areas I found information to fill in the gaps, but I don't think it was the author's intent to let this point slip.
The first episode of surgery is a good litmus test for whether or not any particular player will have the taste or stomach for what is to come. You have to scalpel shoulders, handle severed limbs and put up with the spray of gore from the doctor's sawing, but the result appears to be what the patient requested. (Spoiler - click to show)Not so for the next patient. His grotesque fantasy drawing of the giant-schlonged dragon he wants to become prompts the doctor to euthanase him as a "pervert". It's this moment that is likely to mobilise the player, especially when they discover that the next patient is their own sister. She already has a punk hairdo and piercings. Will she attract the pervert label?
You can now continue to follow the doctor's orders or start to do otherwise. The game is ready for many permutations of what can happen, impressively so in retrospect, but some of its positions are significantly weakened – (Spoiler - click to show)in the first place by the sketchy implementation of the sister character. She is attended by numerous bugs, gives the impression of being asleep even though she is awake and has nothing of use to say to the player. Surely my character is likely to alert her to the murder of the second patient that just took place? My character does not, creating a blank stage for action in which the player can choose to blithely butcher the sister character or not. This is simply an unrealistic presentation of the situation, stealing power from the choice the player makes and what results from it. The PC has demonstrated that she is not a blank canvas upon many previous occasions; with her thoughts on the grossness of her old body and the grossness of the second patient's dragon fantasies, and with her shock at the murder of the second patient. But she seems to become a moral vacuum, as far as the prose is concerned, after that murder. I believe these kinds of inconsistencies can be incredibly difficult to deal with for any author. They have often stumped me just at the stage of thinking about creating a game in which the player might be called on to perform actions generally considered repulsive. Body Bargain has not overcome all of these problems, but that doesn't mean it's not an interesting game for playing with them.
There are a lot of technical troubles with the game, ranging from duplicate and erroneous messages (automatic doors are always opening and closing, sometimes more than they should) to under-helpful implementation (typing "cut X" always asks "With what?…" in a game about surgery and stabby violence), verb guessing (the keycard reader – I'd never have thought to type AUTHORISE) and synonym weakness ("card" and "key card" are not accepted for "keycard"). There's also an unfinished feel to some of the emptier locations in the southern vicinity of the hospital. Nevertheless, I found the core design of Body Bargain to be clear, distinctive and effective. I like the way the operating rooms are laid out diagonally from the hallway, the device of the doctor leading the player from one operation to the next and the grisly but clinical depiction of the operations. Again with The Human Centipede, the incident with the dragon patient's fantasy sketch reminded me of the opening scene of that film in which Doctor Heiter gazes with fascination at the photo of the three dogs he has sewn together.
Body Bargain is novel and has all the ingredients to be a really high quality piece of horror gaming, but technically it needs a lot of work and it faces conceptual challenges, too. These factors make for rough play and work against the game's ultimate effects. I'm glad to have played what's here already and would certainly designate this as a must play for horror fans.
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