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Vicious and insipid., March 1, 2013
This short piece received fairly positive reviews upon its release in 1999, and, when judged in the context of what was available then, I can see that it must have compared much more favorably against the field than it does today. By today's standards, it is poorly implemented, weakly written, and lacking enough positive qualities to outweigh its negatives.
My introduction to this work was via an IFDB poll, the very title of which serves as something of a spoiler for Bliss. As a result, after making my way through the implementation problems plaguing the opening scene, there was little surprise in the revelation that (Spoiler - click to show)All Is Not What It Seems.
Ultimately, this twist is all that Bliss has going for it, and a twist by itself can't provide meaning to this story any more than it does in a typical M. Night Shayamalan film.
The lack of greater meaning is what dooms this piece. The activities you (as the PC) engage in are revealed to have quite horrific consequences, so horrific that they demand more than just simple derangement of the protagonist to justify their commission. If I'm going to find out that "I've" done something as awful as (Spoiler - click to show)committing infanticide, the author better have prepared that ground pretty carefully to leave me with anything more than a sense of revilement and disgust.
Unfortunately, Mr. Wilkin does not. (Spoiler - click to show)The protagonist's home life is shown to be plagued by a drunken, abusive father, but, without minimizing the tragedy of such a situation, it must be pointed out that countless people have lived through similar unpleasantness without being driven to a sudden killing spree.
To make this piece work would have required a) much deeper characterization and backstory for the PC, so that the reader is left at minimum with a sense of pity for him, and b) a substantially more well-thought-out mapping of things happening in the PC's fantasy world to reality. The insult of the baby's death is further compounded by the fact that, apparently, it was unrealistically posed by the author as inexplicably unattended on a city sidewalk in the real world.
In my view, everything past the reading room calls for some well-developed conceptual framework to support the PC's delusion as he flees the asylum. I don't care what that framework is, it just has to attempt to make internal sense of the PC's actions. Does the PC know the shopkeeper beforehand? Does he have some unreasoning fear of babies? Is the victim who takes the form of the dragon someone significant to him?
None of that supporting framework is present. It seems that, akin to the "lazy fantasy" setting that frames the game's opening, it concludes on a "lazy psychothriller" note.
I initially gave this piece two stars, but, upon further reflection, discounting the problematic story leaves only the multiple programming errors, guess-the-verb challenges, and weak puzzles to define it. As such, I find myself left with only a lingering sense of distaste that marks this work as belonging to the "better off avoided" category.