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About the Story
The world is ending, and you are still paying rent.
Content warning: optional sexual content (non-explicit), illness, death, transphobia, homophobia
Winner, Outstanding Worldbuilding of 2022 - Player's and Author's Choice; Winner, Outstanding Science Fiction Game of 2022 - Playerís Choice and Authorís Choice; Winner, Outstanding Game in an Uncommon System in 2022 - Authorís Choice - The 2022 IFDB Awards
IFComp 2022 review: The Archivist and the Revolution (Autumn Chen)
The Archivist and the Revolution is a game about surviving in a post-acopalyptic dystopia, balancing work with social needs while trying to scrape together money for rent, food and medication. It takes a little over an hour to run through, and it was written in Dendry, an engine which I know nothing about, but this game in particular behaves a little like a Choicescript game.
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Number of Reviews: 9
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I loved the concept of this game, where you decode archival information from bacteria and decide whether or not to keep the information. It has a simulation element where you need to find food, medicine, and rent money. I wanted the game to focus more on ethical archiving practices, but it seemed more practical from a simulation standpoint to ask my friends for help. The game did address (Spoiler - click to show)the negative mental health effects of persecution on trans people very effectively. There were some similarities to pandemic stresses as well.
I liked that the game gave me many choices in interacting with my friends--I could ignore them, I could interact with them, and I could choose to have romantic interactions with them. At the same time, I felt a disconnect between the player character's (PC's) interactions and my own feelings. My interactions with were reduced to this bare-bones of asking them for money or helping them out, without me really growing to like the characters like the PC had at some point. In a short game like this, there isn't a lot of time for relationship-building, so maybe the caregiving tasks the PC can do can stand in for that.
One of my favorite things about†this game is its ability to capture†that feeling one gets upon discovering historical connections and commonalities with†gay and trans people of the past (not that they would have used the same terms we use, something the game itself notes).
As the protagonist searches through old records encoded in bacterial DNA, she uncovers diary entries from more hopeful times, scientific articles, and more recent entries from the revolution. Decoding the DNA is her job, and, fascinating as some of her discoveries are, the work drains her of energy. Sometimes she can complete many tasks, and sometimes she can only decode one sample before exhaustion takes her.†
The archivist, Em, struggles with chronic illness and survivor's guilt. She is a sick woman in a dying world. She was not radical enough for the revolutionaries, and not conformist enough (or rather, not cis enough) for those in power who would do her harm. Even as the world around her falls apart, she needs to find†ways to pay rent,†or face eviction. She numbs herself with news bulletins demonizing her and those she cares about. Her struggles are all too familiar and at times heartbreakingly relatable.
And yet, there is hope. More hope than I was expecting from a game like this. Moments of connection with (Spoiler - click to show) her son, S-, and with her friends and former lovers K- and A-, demonstrate someone trying to find connection through undercurrents of hopelessness and despair.
This is a game that manages to pack a lot of emotional weight into a structure that is in large part randomly generated or player-determined. (The DNA fragments are randomly occurring; Em's energy levels fluctuate based on fixed probabilities; the player decides how Em spends her limited time and energy.)
In whatever ways Em spends her time, she is ultimately trapped in a lichen-encrusted, underground city, trying to cling to what life she can make for herself. In several paths, she finds (Spoiler - click to show) a home and a family, however imperfect.
Many of this author's games have made me cry while playing, but not this one. The tears didn't come until the day(s) after. This story seeps into your bones and lives there. A remembered future, a future we can only hope to avoid, even if much of what is depicted only mildly exaggerates what too many people are already facing.
One thing to take away from this game, though, is that in either today's world or in an imagined dystopia, our salvation will surely lie in each other.†
This is a Post-Comp Version review. Also maybe biased because I really like Autumn's work.
In a far future, after centuries of conflict, the Earth's population has been reduced to small communities stuck inside arcologies (city domes). In one of them, lives Em, an Archivist (sorta), trying to survive the best she can (sorta), and maybe (re)form relationships to better her situation. Throughout the game, you must ensure Em is on top of her duties and health.
As with her other Dendy games, A&R works in layers. On the surface, it is a resource management game, where your savings, energy level (hidden), mental and physical health (hidden) must be minded when organising one's day or spending.
While you have agency in this, how far you can go with the different actions will depend on whether you've unlocked certain storylets, or Em's current health at the time. Since she has chronic issues, you won't be allowed to churn through hundreds of files for your job, or even do anything at times.
Underneath, two other mechanics come to play: the relationship/storylet aspect with Em's old acquaintances, and the archiving loop, Em's job. Both will affect Em's survival (savings/health) and the ending of the game.
The first is relatively similar to Autumn's previous Dendry games, in which a side-story will be parsed throughout the game, requiring the player to meet specific characters multiple times to uncover the story at large. In this game, clearing more than one path in a playthrough is quite doable.
The latter is a mechanic I had not really seen before in an IF game, but one I enjoyed greatly. Your job entails decrypting and archiving files, each with a specific code (hint hint), requiring to be either placed in a specific slot or discarded (or you can keep it for yourself). Combing through the documents were quite fun.
The first time I played the game, I thought I could survive all on my own, leaving past relationships where they were, focusing only on my job and keeping myself afloat. I remember it being incredibly stressful (I almost cried when Em was on the brink of eviction). Everything felt hopeless, and the almost-clinical-at-times prose, as well as the UI, accentuated that feeling.
This time around, I followed Autumn's advice and shamelessly begged my acquaintances for money. I didn't want to recreate that very anxious feeling I had the last time - and wanted to see what else I had missed. Indeed, it was much less stressful to go through. I didn't really have to worry about money (thanks A-), I didn't have to exhaust myself with work, and I could explore more different facets of Em's life (her past relationships, herself, how she had to navigate the world). The world is still wretched, but there is more hope. You almost believe that surviving through it is... doable.
The storylets manages to offer a bit of levity in this wretched world, in which Em can find a community helping others, rekindle her relationship with a (re)closeted trans person, rekindle her relationship with her ex who you had a child with. In (re)making connections, you can learn more about your past and how you (don't) fit in this world. You can go on a date, cook with someone, spend time with your child... have a "normal" life.
I quite enjoyed how grounded and raw these storylets felt. They, at times, seemed like a commentary on our present, with the tribalism of social media, the lack of trust in the news, the grueling life under capitalism, and the treatment of transfolks. Strip away the sci-fi/post-apocalyptic future, and they could could be right at home with our current time.
I still hated the news part... its description changing the 'a form of self harm' was on point considering the comments...
Even if you don't interact with anyone, you can still learn about the world and your place in it through the notes (essentially a Codex page) or DNA files you decode. From old recovered chats between yourself and other characters, science articles, old journal entries, and documents regarding the Arcology's founder - Liana -, you can build together a bleak image about the world, the state of the environment and human condition, filled with disenchantment and conflict.
Depending on what you do with your day, you may find some Easter Eggs, like the TV Series you can watch or the Games you can play, little winks to Autumn's other games. Some characters of the game, made obvious by their names, share a resemblance to ones from the Pageantverse.
With the implementation of the Autosave, I was able to reach a lot more endings than the first time around, especially less bleak ones, without having to replay the game. Those endings are highly dependent on the actions you took during the game, some being sweet (especially with K-), some being maybe critical (imo A-'s, Alone), and one specifically blew my mind (Ending 1 - didn't find before).
Ending 1 is by far the most interesting one in my book. While it might seem a bit like a Deux Ex Machina or coming from out of nowhere (depending on your playthrough it may feel like a whiplash), it is the one that has not left my brain since I've replayed the game - maybe because of how strikingly different it is from the others. I think this ending might work best if connections with other characters were not made. It also made me wonder whether Em's life would have been that different if her arcology was still in contact with the others, or whether contact was severed between all arcologies. Honestly, it brought a lot of questions about the world after reading through (sequel of Ending 1, when?).
I don't know if there is a point or a moral to the game. If I were to give one to it, it would be that communities are important for people to thrive, maybe even necessary, and that the world can be a very difficult place when you keep to yourself, worse when your situation is dire in the first place. Even if it seems bleak, there is a glimmer of hope and goodness there...
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Just you and your car, alone on the open road. You haven't seen another car for weeks. You haven't spoken to another person in months. And if you want to stay alive, you'd better keep it that way.
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2023 - Top 50 short list by manonamora
Tentative list for the Top 50 IF of 2023 It will help me remember the games that really did an impact on me... bc I am terrible at remembering titles There is no ranking here. Also not complete. I will add more stuff before the deadline
Outstanding Slice of Life Game of 2022 - Player's Choice by MathBrush
This poll is part of the 2022 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the best slice of life game of 2022. Voting is open to all IFDB members....
Sublime Moments by Sam Kabo Ashwell
I've been thinking about games that provide really brilliant moments. This is not about the overall quality of the game: there are plenty of excellent games that never deliver a clear, standout moment of unalloyed excellence. And surely...
Outstanding Science Fiction Game of 2022 - Player's Choice by MathBrush
This poll is part of the 2022 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the best science fiction game of 2022. Voting is open to all IFDB members....