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About the StoryIt is set in October 1940. Jack is a newly-commissioned sapper
officer on his way to his first posting somewhere on Salisbury Plain (in southern England) when his car breaks down. The weather is starting to turn nasty, and his first task is to find shelter from the brewing storm. When he finds it, he'll encounter a whole lot more than he bargained for, as it becomes gradually apparent that things are not as they are meant to seem.
Play This Thing (review by Emily Short)
Shelter from the Storm: Protagonist vs Player
The story is set during the grim beginnings of the second world war. The protagonist (whether "I", "you", or "he") is a soldier on his way to a posting near Salisbury when, thanks to a storm and some bad luck with his car, he's forced to seek shelter with a bunch of people who aren't what they seem. The result plays a bit like a murder mystery -- everything turns on finding evidence and understanding what that evidence really means, and there are multiple twists before the whole thing stops. Barring a few bits where the player has time to explore at leisure, it's fast-paced, too: the NPCs are all active types and have plenty to say and do. The story never rises above the level of period melodrama, but it does that reasonably well.
But here's the curious thing: by the end of the story, I started to want that narrative voice option again, and I set my narrator to first person past tense because I was more comfortable reading/playing that way.
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First, I think the story is neither convincing nor charming. It's unconvincing in the sense that the characters are not psychologically convincing, the plot is vastly implausible, and the actions of the characters are not realistically motivated. None of this would matter if the story was told as a charming or even an intriguing espionage tale with period charm, a la Buchan or Fleming. But in the final analysis it lacks this sort of spirit or charm.
Secondly, in terms of its interactive characteristics, the game is rather manipulative. It has clear, even dicatorial, ideas about what you should do, where you should go, what you should be asking whom. It will nag you and cajole you, and ultimately even force you to do as it wishes. There's a lot of rather pointless searching for some object the game has just decided you must have. For me, at least, this gets tiresome--not so much a question of guessing the verb, as guessing the noun, as one tries to work out what object might repay searching. Even with a very solidly and deeply-implemented environment this is not all that enjoyable.
This leaves what is most interesting about the game, which is the ability to control person and tense. But, interesting as this is (and impressive as the implementation is) it's not interesting enough to carry the whole game.
So, certainly a game worth playing, both to experiment with tenses, and for its intrinsic interest. But not, to my mind, truly compelling.
The cliche horror-style opening doesn't bode well, but once inside the "old dark house" it really takes off. Not one, not two, but *three* well-implemented, well-characterized NPCs who are not only chatty but can take the initiative to direct conversation, and can wander around the house like real people. Lots of detailed scenery descriptions, solid parsing, gentle puzzles, and a cracking yarn to boot. Go in blind, and you will really have no idea where this story is leading. I was expecting further twists and revelations right down to the very last turn. Play it.
You explore the house while trying to patch together the truth on your own. Some puzzles are much easier if you remember what everyone is doing.
The gimmick of this game is that you can select past or present tense x and first, second, or third person. It didn't make much of a difference to me.
Overall, a nice game. Recommended.
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