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About the Story
Necrotic Drift is a survival horror text adventure... but with graphics and sound! An homage to the old Magnetic Scrolls game in presentation, Necrotic Drift follows the story of gaming store employee Jarret Duffy when all hell breaks loose in his mall.
Nominee, Best Game; Nominee, Best Writing; Nominee, Best Story; Nominee, Best Setting; Nominee, Best NPCs; Nominee, Best Individual Puzzle; Winner, Best Individual NPC; Nominee, Best Individual PC - 2004 XYZZY Awards
Dead to Rites
"Necrotic Drift" is easily the best of Robb Sherwin's games to date with the most solid design and implementation, and the best blend of story and interaction. The writing is excellent, and the characters are some of the best-written in interactive fiction. If you were planning to try some Sherwin and just never got around to it, this would be an excellent place to start. Emily Short
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Necrotic Drift contains all the elements you'd expect of Robb --
bittersweet schmaltz, randomised combat, human, sympathetic characters,
tangential epigrammatic title, brilliant squick-out humour, big
textdumps and a streak of geek a mile wide. There are plenty of
references to previous Sherwin games, particularly Fallacy of Dawn and
Chicks Dig Jerks. It's his biggest and most skilful game to date.
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Jarret Duffy has life skills problems. He's earning $5.51 an hour as the assistant manager of Benji's Gaming and Role-Playing Emporium, is fumbling his way through an on again/off again relationship with Audrey Case, and keeps renting The Fellowship of the Ring to point out trivia to his roommates. Years ago he was voted Best Role-Player at an RPG convention, but he's missed a few saving throws since then.
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Number of Reviews: 4
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Duffy, the protagonist of Necrotic Drift, is a loser of epic proportions. He's 28 years old and working in an RPG and card game shop for about $5.50 an hour while living with three roommates in a roach motel of an apartment. His biggest accomplishment in life so far has been winning an award at a Dungeons and Dragons convention five years ago. Stuck in perpetual adolescence as he is, his life is going absolutely nowhere. He has just three positives to look to: he's NOT living with his mom; two of his three roommates actually manage to make him look good by comparison; and he has a girlfriend, Audrey, who is by any objective standard far too good for him. Positive #3 may not stand for very much longer, though, because Audrey is just about to finally run out of patience with him.
After some character-building, Necrotic Drift kicks in for real when Duffy, Audrey, and a few others are trapped inside the mall one evening by an array of undead pulled straight from the Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual. Duffy, who knows the D&D rules by heart, at last can apply all this previously useless knowledge to saving his friends, and perhaps begin to repair his pathetic existence in the process.
Necrotic Drift is a Robb Sherwin game. That means plenty of gross-out frat-boy humor, a bewildering blizzard of gaming, sports, and pop culture references, and a general wallowing in American suburban mall culture. Luckily, that also means plenty of genuine wit, some surprising character insights, and some real soul underneath all the gags. Certainly some of the jokes are going to resonate more with some than with others. If you grew up nerd in the 1980's, you'll likely find a lot of this -- such as the just-mentioned fact that all of undead in the mall are just D&D Monster Manual entries brought to life, strengths and weaknesses intact -- funnier than others might. Of course, and for better or for worse, a pretty good chunk of us playing IF today are indeed aging 1980s nerds.
Couched within all of the gags and puzzles is the real heart of the game, which is Duffy's relationship with Audrey and his need to grow the hell up. I wouldn't say it's amazing storytelling -- some of Mr. Sherwin's attempts at earnestness, particularly in dialog, are downright clunky, and there's a curiously unresolved feeling to the whole thing in the end -- but the game manages to be touching in spite of it all.
Did I mention this was a Robb Sherwin game? Well, that always means a nice collection of bugs and other technical flaws. Certainly they're not as bad here as in some of his other efforts, but they're noticeable enough nonetheless. The menu-based conversation system broke on me toward the end of the game, offering totally inappropriate remarks applying to stuff I'd done ages ago. There's also piles of unimplemented scenery, and not enough attention has been paid to the parser, leading to occasional frustrations. Many perfectly reasonable actions were left completely unprovided-for. (Spoiler - click to show)When I was looking for a virgin to drink the holy water for the ritual at the end of the game, I wanted to call on Trett, my fellow employee at the game store. I would have bet money that guy had never had sex. But then in the epilogue we learn that the plump little fellow not only had sex but filmed it (ewww...), so what do I know?
Still, and like much of Mr. Sherwin's work, Necrotic Drift is somehow endearingly more than the sum of its parts. Oh, and the graphics and music are pretty cool too, as is the Magnetic Scrolls homage of the game's on-screen presentation and accompanying manual. (There's that 1980s nerd culture again...)
I fell in love with New Haz and its universe while playing Sherwin's Fallacy of Dawn. The story in Necrotic Drift occurs mostly in a nearby town with an entirely different cast, though frequent references are made to the events in the first game. And while this entry into the series is more focused, I unfortunately found myself missing New Haz and its citizens.
You take control of Jarret Duffy, a D&D and fantasy buff who is in his 20s and aimless (a Sherwin staple). You are introduced to your mostly grade-A lowlife friends and your incredibly patient yet frustrated girlfriend Audrey. She comes dangerously close to being a manic pixie dream girl: kind of quirky, attractive, always available to Jarret despite their numerous breakups and his utter lack of maturation, and her existence here seems mostly to highlight the protagonist. We barely get to know anything about her despite a lot of opportunity. And we are continually told that Jarret is the only guy that has made her happy, even though we are never really shown (or told) why outside of his ability to make her laugh with referential humor. We get to know her a bit better in the epilogue as a person outside of Jarret's world, but it still winds up being framed around his journey.
Drift has a slightly more mature story than its predecessor, though it plays like it was already written (dialogue and all) and then puzzles and conversation trees were shoehorned in anywhere and everywhere. The game is divided into four chapters, and the first three are more or less on rails. There is very little to do outside of talking to other characters and picking from very limited conversation topics. Objects highlighted in room descriptions or the game's pictures are routinely not implemented (e.g. the pictures in your bedroom). And during this time the characters we get to know the best are incredibly disgusting and are then never mentioned again.
So I was inpatient by the time the fourth and final chapter rolled around and we finally got to the game's plot: a seance gone wrong at the mall where you work has dumped a horde of fantasy genre baddies in between you and the exit. Using your fists and your wits, you need to dispose of each creature in succession.
While I love this idea, the execution is really lacking. Jarret and his friends mostly underreact to the Pandora's box around them, showing brief flashes of emotion before just sort of moseying around some more. Ergo, the tension that should be there is non-existent. While Audrey and your friends occasionally chip in with advice or support, it's pretty much the Jarret show as he gets to save Audrey again and again while she gets a bit turned on. The monsters don't interact with each other and generally stay put, allowing you to look around for the obvious key that unlocks their death. For example, you are explicitly told that a wraith can be killed by silver, and in the same room you encounter the wraith, the only object not locked down is made of silver. Puzzles do get a bit better as the game goes on (I especially like the solution to defeating the poltergeist), but by that time my interest had waned. And there's a soft inventory limit that, while not a significant barrier to anything, is difficult to gauge and does nothing to serve the puzzles or the story.
Sherwin certainly made improvements with this game. I didn't discover any bugs while playing. There were no confusing room exits. The parser understands more commands. And puzzles are better clued, if not overclued at times. And I likely would have forgiven the game's faults if I had been entranced by the writing. While Sherwin characters have always been acutely clever (and do a lot of their self-reflection in parentheticals), it gets too much for me even at times. Admittedly, I am not a fantasy genre fan and have never played D&D, so the characters didn't speak to me like the 80's video game buffs in Fallacy of Dawn. But more than that, the characters rarely have genuine moments as they're too busy trying to out-clever one another, and it gets exhausting. That being said, the writing is still above-average. I laughed out loud a few times and enjoyed the turns of phrase. My favorite example is when Jarret describes Audrey as having been in "various states of flabbergastation with me."
The ending and epilogue really push hard for the genuine moments (with some huge text dumps) that were barely present in the main game. But as I wasn't really invested in the characters, I wasn't moved like I was with Fallacy of Dawn or Sherwin's most recent game, Jay Schilling's Edge of Chaos. Your mileage may vary, especially if you are familiar with and enjoy the fantasy genre. Meanwhile, I look forward to playing Cryptozookeeper, the final game in the series.
(Sorry for bad or awkward English, me is french)
As a total puzzle hater, I felt in love recently with Robb Sherwin's games (whose puzzles are still too hard for me, but at least, they are rare and they're not the main point of his games). Sherwin's writing is unique, both creepy and funny, sometimes melancholic - its melancholy being hidden under ten tons of dirty words and cynism.
Playing Necrotic Drift I had the feeling of reading a novel, but it wasn't a problem : reading a novel and sometimes typing the obvious actions of the main character, to continue the story, is enough to make an « interactive fiction » for me. The « feeling of being playing » is playing. But I'm sure Robb could become a « real » writer too.
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