The Weapon

by Sean Barrett

Science Fiction
2001

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Number of Reviews: 5
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Amazingly fluid play in a thoroughly enjoyable sci-fi scenario., April 21, 2010

After reading the fake newspaper provided as a virtual feelie for The Weapon, I was already hooked by the work's fictional universe and eager to see what the story would be. A few turns of experimentation showed that the protagonist had an interestingly different internal monologue, while the fairly convincing NPC who is your main antagonist provided some clues to the situation at hand. Sean Barrett's expert writing subtly (and, if need be, directly) clues you in that this will be a game of cat-and-mouse, that you will be the one providing the misdirection alluded to in the tagline.

At the point where the NPC asks you her first question, I took a cue from the protagonist's apparently close-mouthed nature and tried the command "nod". It was tremendously pleasing to see a realistic response. After the number of clunkier pieces I've reviewed lately, it was refreshing to see a work composed with such forethought and attention to detail.

I won't go into the details of the game, but this was definitely the best "hard SF" piece that I've played since Infocom's Starcross. As with Starcross, the logic of the puzzles was grounded in realism and did not require any feats of mind-reading to solve. In fact, one of the most remarkable aspects of this piece is the number of well-crafted puzzles that the author, Sean Barrett, manages to wring out of the relatively few moving parts implemented. It's like a haiku -- all the non-essentials are stripped away, and what's left really works.

The flipside of this is that the interaction lacks some of the meatiness that would be welcomed in such an intriguing game world. I found myself wishing for the ask/tell model of conversation just so I could pump Cheryl for information about the things mentioned in the feelie.(Spoiler - click to show) While the ending does not leave room for a sequel, I would have been very interested to see another story written in this setting. On the whole, however, I think Mr. Barrett's sense of balance is exactly right; more details might simply have diluted the experience and reduced the level of focus the current writing inspires. It says something about how engrossing I found The Weapon to be that I had nearly reached the end of it before I realized it was going to be a one-room game.

The Weapon took most of an evening of on-and-off play to complete; total length is probably about right for the IF Comp, though it seems this piece was not entered when it was released in 2001. While it made finalist for Best NPC and Best Puzzles in the 2001 Xyzzy Awards, it did not win in either category.

I teetered back and forth between 3 and 4 stars for this and ultimately decided on 4, on the grounds of its exceptionally thorough implementation, nearly frictionless gameplay, and memorable characterization and story. This is a great introductory piece of IF for sci-fi lovers, and I would heartily recommend it to anyone who likes the genre.