A Calling of Dogs

by Arabella Collins


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Number of Ratings: 14
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1-14 of 14

- Kinetic Mouse Car, August 7, 2022

- dollweiss, April 7, 2022

- Jade68, September 14, 2021

- EJ, April 8, 2021

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Brutal yet thoughtful thriller, March 16, 2021

A Calling of Dogs is, at its heart, a character-focused work. Solving the problem of survival is a large part of the experience, but what makes it truly distinctive is the extent to which one gets to know the protagonist along the way.

The prose is highly effective: punchy, dripping with tension, and revealing much through a mix of subtle and not-so-subtle details. The surface-level stuff is told directly, but much deeper characterization is revealed through other means, shown rather than told. Subtle tonal shifts; the nature of the options presented to the player; the choice of things which the protagonist notices or remarks upon in their internal monologue - all of these devices are used to craft a rich sense of who they are.

I feel that the game achieves an excellent balance between acknowledging the protagonist's present victimhood, and the constraints it entails, while also acknowledging their agency and their broader identity. (Spoiler - click to show)They, the protagonist, are capable of exceptionally cold logic in spite of their hidden rage. They are capable of exceptional deception and manipulation, weaponizing their own sense of empathy for those purposes, in a calculated yet desperate drive for survival. This isn't who they normally are, and indeed, they do a complete emotional 180 and have a breakdown as soon as safety gives them the luxury of doing so. It is clear that the circumstances of their confinement forced them into an extraordinary headspace. Even so, their reaction to these circumstances speaks to who they are more generally. One gets the sense that they draw upon skills and attitudes learned over a life that has often been punishing. This should probably go without saying after everything I just wrote, but I feel that the protagonist is a complex, well-realized character with the ring of verisimilitude, and this is something I appreciate greatly.

I encountered some technical issues: occasional typos and a continuity error (Spoiler - click to show)where the antagonist looks at himself after the protagonist has already destroyed his eyeballs, but I felt that they just barely detracted from an otherwise deeply gripping, emotionally-charged experience.

*Edit a few hours later. Now that I've thought about it some more, I think there is a strong symbolic component to this piece as well. (Spoiler - click to show)Consider that the protagonist, according to a flashback, is implied to be someone who was assigned female at birth but who does not identify as a woman (that's why I've been saying "they" all this time - for lack of a better term since their actual gender identity/preferred pronoun was never clearly revealed in my playthroughs). And then consider that, according to the protagonist's observations, the antagonist's previous victims (i.e. the previous occupants of the cage in which the protagonist is trapped) have been women. Some of the language also seems to imply that the antagonist perceives the protagonist as a woman, i.e. he does not know about their gender identity. It's fair to say that the protagonist is fighting to escape from a cage, and a fate, to which womanhood is attached in some sense. This can easily be read as a metaphor for, or a parallel to, a struggle against the confines of gender norms.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Intensely unpleasant (but in a good way!), December 6, 2020
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020

So this is quite a good game that I really did not enjoy in the slightest. It starts in medias res, but the premise is immediately grabby: your character has been kidnapped by a serial killer with (thankfully) unknown predilections, and must try to manipulate him into creating an opening that would allow her to fight back and escape the murderdungeon. The prose makes this premise no idle backdrop: it’s sweaty, immediate, and immersive, planting you inside the main character’s head in the middle of a deeply, traumatic event – and it doesn’t let up over the course of the days you spend in the basement, until you reach the incredibly violent climax.

ACoD doesn’t wallow in awfulness, let me be clear: there are ways of doing this setup that would objectify the main character’s suffering, or that would linger on the awful things the killer has and will do to her, and the game steers clear of them. And I got to a “happy” ending that was quite grisly, per the prominent content warnings, but did allow the protagonist to get out. I wouldn’t say it’s a tasteful take on the in-the-den-of-a-killer genre, because what would that even mean, but it’s not out to purposefully alienate the player or push any buttons just for the sake of getting a response. In fact, in my playthrough at least, the killer, while clearly plotting something awful, never made any overt moves towards violence, and stayed relatively polite throughout. The violence came from the protagonist, who in addition to envisioning the awful fate awaiting her, also vividly fantasizes about wreaking bloody revenge against her captor (and then, of course, actually does so). This is an interesting reversal because it puts the violence more under the control of the player, or at least the player character. It also highlights that while the killer presents a bit of a social puzzle to solve, as you try to figure out how to build his empathy and lull him into letting his guard down, so too is the protagonist something of a conundrum.

She’s by no means a blank slate, and there are hints of backstory sprinkled through the game. They’re appropriately vague and allusive – she’s hardly going to be putting her memoirs in mental order under the circumstances – but I found them the most intriguing bit of the game. There’s one that I think provides the title for the game, where she reflects on the way attractive women get cat-called, while unattractive ones (like her, the implication goes) are called dogs, which triggers her towards anger. She also seems very comfortable self-consciously playing a role and suppressing her actual feelings so that others will see her differently, so much so that for the first few minutes of the game I half-thought that this might be a really, really intense S&M roleplay session. And while being fixated on violent escape makes sense in the circumstances, my impression at least was that she was far more likely to dwell on inflicting (deserved!) harm on the killer than on the possibility of being able to get away and live. These hints weren’t paid off in the ending that I got, unfortunately, because while I obviously was invested in trying to help her escape, I was more interested in figuring out what was going on with the protagonist.

Implementation-wise, there are a few stray typos and possibly-intentional comma splices. I did find a few places where the choices went wonky or there appeared to be continuity errors (the options for what to eat for lunch sometimes repeated oddly, and in the first sequence, the main character starts referring to a cookie that I don’t think had been previously mentioned). But on the whole things were solid, and the choices really feel like they have weight, forcing you to sweat as you realize that one wrong move could have catastrophic consequences. So all told this is a well-put-together entry in the Comp, with more going on than it needed to have and strong writing that really puts you in the situation. As I mentioned in my opening, I very much did not enjoy it because this is not my preferred genre or style in the slightest, but that’s on me – and of the number of games in the Comp with somewhat adjacent themes, ACoD seems to me to be the strongest so far.

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- Karl Ove Hufthammer (Bergen, Norway), December 4, 2020

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A darker place, December 2, 2020
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020, choice-based, Ink, horror

A Calling of Dogs is a choice-based horror / thriller by Arabella Collins, published in 2020. In it, you’re a woman who is being held captive in a cage. Interacting with your kidnapper and (Spoiler - click to show)thinking about how to escape or gruesomely murder him make up most of your choices inside the game.

The tone of the game is intense and unpleasant. The slightly rambly and at times very graphic writing creates an impression of a feverish thought process where it’s mainly hatred that keeps one sane. I thought the characterization of both the hero and the villain worked well - I was always interested in seeing what would happen next in the story.

The game has an ambiguous lack of polish. The writing has a lot of typos and odd turns of phrases, but that might be an intended part of the expression here to create that aforementioned feverish, raw feeling. However, I did find one softlock too, which is a bit harder to defend. (Spoiler - click to show)During day three, right after being let out of the cage, I examined one of the choices twice. This resulted in a dead end with no more choices appearing.

While the game is short - only around 15 minutes - it has some significant branching paths and therefore replay value, in case you want to relive this harrowing scene. It’s simply a potent experience, if you don’t mind entering a darker place for a moment.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Didn't like it at first, then got into the suspense, but the ending disappointed, November 20, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: Less than 30 minutes

So I think I'm coming to learn something about myself: I don't like IF that starts in media res if, whether through flashbacks or clues in the writing, you are never given enough context to help anchor you to the story. I don't need long, detailed backstories, but I need something to help ground me. I don't feel like I got that in this piece. Eventually, the pure atmosphere of it did hook me a bit, but I feel it could have been much better.

You play a girl, kidnapped and imprisoned in a large dog cage. Your choices are largely how you decide to interact with your kidnapper as you attempt to plan an escape. This isn't my favorite kind of environment to be thrown in to, so the lack of any information about who these people were really left me confused and disconnected to the story. Eventually, just the sheer tension of the situations did grab me and made me eager to see what the next turn would be. However, the ending (at least the one I got) was (Spoiler - click to show)so abrupt and out-of-the-blue, with no denouement, that I felt cheated out of a satisfying resolution to all that tension. I needed more.

Your mileage may vary.

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- Mr. Patient (Saint Paul, Minn.), November 16, 2020

- Zape, November 3, 2020

- Sobol (Russia), November 2, 2020

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A visceral experience, October 9, 2020
by deathbytroggles (Minneapolis, MN)

I suspect that this piece could be retraumatizing for some, so please note that this is an uncensored portrayal of violence, both emotional and physical.

I have to admit that when I first loaded up this story I was convinced I was going to hate it, and it didn't help that there's a few glaring spelling mistakes in the first few minutes. The prose was also jarring at first, not so much because of the profanity (apropos of the situation), but because of the often aggressively stilted manner in which the victim's thoughts are voiced. Punctuation is also inconsistent, with missing periods (sometimes) and random capitalization or lack thereof; intentional or not, it helped elicit the raw emotions the authors were trying to convey.

Beyond the words themselves, I'm impressed with how well I was drawn into this character and being in the moment with her. While I've never been kidnapped, I have been held at gunpoint, and reading this brought back a loud whisper of the terror I felt that day. The pacing is effective and the choices feel raw and honest.

One more comment on the game structure below the spoiler:

(Spoiler - click to show)I am quite grateful that the only possible endings appear to be positive (relatively speaking). I don't think I could have coped otherwise.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Murder/kidnapping Ink game with some rough edges, October 8, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

This was an Ink game, longer for me than suggested (listed as 15 minutes, I took around 30 to get through), but I think the greater length worked for it.

In this game, you play a woman kidnapped and thrown in a cage by a cruel, murderous man. Gameplay is linear at parts but others felt like it could make a major difference; I'd have to replay to find out.

The game is somewhat visceral. Its content warnings are completely appropriate: " Gore, sexual harassment, physical assault, graphic violence, blood" (not that sexual assault itself isn't in there). It also contains frequent strong profanity.

It lacks polish in parts. There are frequent spelling/grammar errors, mostly capitalization. I thought it might just be an author technique, but a typo in the final line of the game (for my playthrough) made me think that perhaps the game wasn't completely checked for bugs ahead of time.

The action sequences of this game were intense and descriptive and the main NPC has a well-thought out personality and set of actions.

-Polish: Some typos and grammatical errors.
+Descriptiveness: It was easy to picture what was going on.
+Emotional impact: I definitely felt more on edge.
+Interactivity: It worked pretty for me. Options were logical and I could strategize, whether it affected the game or not.
-Would I play again? I think once was enough.

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