Captivity

by Jim Aikin profile

fantasy
2020

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Reasonably captivating, December 6, 2020
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020

A puzzle-y fairytale with a twist, Captivity boasts a plucky protagonist, an engaging supporting cast, some pleasant challenges, and solid writing and implementation. It’s perhaps a bit too much on the linear side, and weakens slightly in the home stretch, but all in all it’s a pleasant way to while away an hour or two.

Right, setup: you’re a young lady of the minor nobility (or perhaps haute bourgeoisie) who’s been abducted by an evil Duke. While the Duke’s assorted family members, servants, and minions aren’t particularly fussed at preventing your escape, there’s still an array of locked doors, spike-topped walls, and magic necklaces that will strangle you if you leave the grounds standing in your way. There’s nothing especially novel in the low-key, slightly comedic fantasy setting – though there’s a bit of a PG-13 edge that sometimes works (there’s a god-bothered maid who’s a little more excited by lurid descriptions of the sins of the flesh than on the ways to save oneself from temptation) and sometimes can be a bit off-putting (the intro focuses a bit too much on the protagonist’s impending ravishment, though of course nothing bad actually happens). While this isn’t always to my taste, it’s fine as far as it goes, though there’s one late-game incident that I think is a bit too tonally jarring to be successful (Spoiler - click to show)(when the Duke comes home and catches you mid-escape, you stab him in the face with some scissors, drop a chandelier on him, and leave him “expired in a pool of his own blood”).

The puzzles are nothing too out-there, but are generally logical, well-clued, and satisfying to solve, with almost every one opening up a new area to explore or character to interact with. Captivity also does a good job of detecting if you’re flailing on some puzzles, and will add a gentle hint to get you on the right track if you try the same wrong action too many times, which is quite a nice feature. The puzzle chains are quite linear for the first two thirds or so of the game, with only one barrier at a time to work on surmounting, which helps keep the difficulty low but also can make proceedings sometimes feel a bit dull. The structure opens up once you reach a classic collect-em-all puzzle – you need to find three (Spoiler - click to show)ingredients for a spell – but by that point I’d already found one and a half of them so the increased openness was mostly theoretical in my case.

Implementation is generally very solid, with most objects and scenery nicely described and few synonym or guess-the-syntax issues. This starts to break down a bit in the last part of the game, though – I had to look up the walkthrough to solve the last major puzzle because I had the right idea but couldn’t figure out how to input the correct commands (Spoiler - click to show)(I’m talking about burning the objects in the brazier – LIGHT BRAZIER doesn’t work, and in fact returns “The brass brazier isn’t something you can light,” with LIGHT BRAZIER WITH MATCH similarly failing. Per the walkthrough, STRIKE MATCH -> PUT MATCH IN BRAZIER is the intended solution, which feels too fiddly to me), and I noticed a few examples of undescribed objects in some of the final few rooms.

It is possible to put the game in an unwinnable state, though it’s kind enough to tell you so and a single UNDO was enough to fix things. I did run into one related issue – when I reached the endgame, I got a message saying I’d missed something at an early stage of the game and now my “maidenly virtue is but a treasured memory”, but the author “in his nearly infinite benevolence” will take pity and fix things. I’m not sure what this was referring to, since I had on hand everything I wound up needing to finish the game, and when I checked the walkthrough I didn’t see that I had missed anything. Regardless, the tone of this message was pretty off-putting and felt unnecessarily adversarial. None of these issues are that major, but I think would be worth cleaning up in a post-Comp release.

Anyway I don’t want to dwell too much on that sour note, because for the most part the writing is lots of fun. The supporting cast were the major standouts – although they’re notionally on the side of the Duke, they mostly view him with eye-rolling tolerance at best, and are quite content to shoot the breeze with you, force you to look at their embroidery collection, or flirt with each other as though you’re not standing there. Even the Duke’s dagger-happy henchman and lecherous wizard servant come off as entertainingly harmless – it’s fun to banter with, and then get one over on, them.

Captivity isn’t trying to do anything revolutionary, but its few missteps aren’t enough to douse the fun of wandering through its castle, outwitting a jerk of a Duke, and engaging in some light sorcery, all related in breezy, clever prose.