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Well-Written But Too Easy, August 25, 2020
WARNING: Some very mild spoilers throughout.
This one didnít do it for me. It has some great imagery, and the authors clearly loved making the game. I liked the psychic slant, though it felt more like an extra examine command or hint system in practice. The background story has some promise as well. As a full package, however, itís not as much fun as it should be.
First off, the authors give themselves a pat on the back as they inform us that the game is full of ďstuff". I donít mind a bit of glib smugness, but it has to be earned. If youíre going to make a claim like that, your game ought to be filled to the brim with items, locations, people to talk to. It better not be an empty medical facility with a large number of one-note rooms, a small number of items, and a story told almost entirely via notes and flashbacks. The implementation is standard too. I was expecting tons of things to examine and sub-examine (and sub-examine). But thereís just a few things per room and very rarely do you get an interesting reaction. Very little show, a ton of tell. The Dreamhold this is not.
The writing is very good, though a bit dry in the less exciting sections. I love the vibe here, a mix of Carpenter and Cronenberg, with a little bit of Verhoven sprinkled on top. Body horror and gore, presented with a wink and a nudge (the washing machine in the basement functioning as a large intestine is ingenious). The descriptions of your psychic abilities are also handled nicely, and the flashbacks are remarkably effective in their design. We have some scary scenes, some entertaining descriptions, and some fun ways to die. Though it is odd how there are a few instances where the PC refuses to kill themself, when most of the time they happily traipse into death with a simple >w. I would have preferred a bit more proofreading. Twice are rooms with a flickering light described as ďcinematic". What a mimesis-shattering adjective, one that also doubles, again, as telling in the face of perfectly good showing. Never again, please. Even worse, an exit is left out of one the room descriptions. Being forced to open the walkthrough to see that glaring error made me very unhappy.
There are multiple endings, nine in total, and extra puzzles to solve to obtain them. This may count as ďstuff" but it doesnít do much to entice me, as Iíve never like having to replay a game, or even just parts of a game, just to see a different ending. Usually, thereís only one good one, and its tedious to have to try the others while searching for it. I donít mind extra endings as a bonus, like in the aforementioned Dreamhold, or as a few simple forks right at the end that I can save and retry. But in general, I prefer one ending, one challenge. The tedium, the sense of running in place that I get when going back after seeing The End on my screenÖ itís so unpleasant. This is very much a personal preference, so I donít hold it against the authors or let it factor much into my rating.
The puzzles are mostly perfunctory, though the optional ones require a bit more brainpower. Overall I was just bored. Waiting in the elevator, going through obvious action after obvious action, going to the next obvious point. The beauty of the text adventure is its ability to engage the player by allowing them to become someone else, to think and act and feel in a strange environment, or in a strangerís shoes. When what youíre doing is this straightforward, you lose engagement. Again, the extra puzzles mitigated this, but having to veer off the beaten path just to have something interesting to do is a problem. I recently reviewed an older game that also had fairly simple tasks; Noah, for the Spectrum. That difference is that in that game, you had a more compact area, open-ended design (no locked doors or items you have to wait to get), and less tedium. I also consider the standards of the time. In 2010, you can make puzzles that are far more sophisticated, with more moving parts and NPCs. This isnít a CYOA game. Itís you wandering around a big, empty facility, discovering fragments of a story. Take a page from Silent Hill, not Slender. Youíve created a surreal hellscape, give me some hard puzzles, a way to interact with it that's more complex than pushing one button or collecting a page. Give me some psychic skills, some psychokinesis maybe. Put a real stumper in, make me work for that good ending. I just want a bit more.
I know Iíve been harsh, but I donít want to hurt anyone's feelings here. This game did have stuff I liked, mostly the writing, which is a very important part of interactive fiction. The game design is just bland when compared to the prose. Iím sure that this game would be great for a novice player. As a more experienced adventurer, I just found it kind of dull. A 2.5 that I'll round up to a 3.