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- Zoem, March 20, 2023
- Wanderlust, February 22, 2023
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The longest freaking Twine game I have ever played, December 18, 2022
(And appropriately, this review is not going to be a short read.)
Trigaea in a sentence: An epic sci-fi Twine game that looks and feels like it walked off of Steam for twenty dollars. When I first saw this posted on IFDB, I did a double take and told myself, “There is no way that this game is free.” It is. The amount of time, brain power, and creativity that went into this thing produced such a polished, cool, and ambitious piece. I am grateful that the author decided to make this game available to play for free.
Prologue: You wake up inside a tank filled with strange green liquid in an unfamiliar room. A step outside the door reveals a wasteland of broken machinery- you did not wake up in a building. You woke up in the wreckage from a major accident, and your memories are gone.
The protagonist, whom you name, has a brain implant called a Rosetta that compresses an individual’s memories and consciousness. Upon death, the information from the implant is transmitted back to a compact AI-run lab called a Progenitor (where you woke up) that grows a new copy of the body with its own Rosetta. The data transfers to the new implant and the protagonist steps out of the tank as good as new with hardly a gap in awareness.
Early gameplay consists of exploring the wasteland to learn more about your surroundings. Combat is a frequent feature throughout the gameplay. When an opponent appears, you have a list of options on how to respond during the encounter. If you win, you earn microchips that are used as currency. If you lose, you die and wake up again in the Progenitor. This is streamlined to make it simple for players to rebound after a setback. Combat is both easy to use and easy to master. Collecting microchips and quartz chips are also vital to regaining your memories. Later gameplay shifts towards contacting the inhabitants of the planet to learn more about the unknown disaster. Rather than just exploring, you start to have more concrete objectives to complete.
I have played plenty of games advertised as having loads of optional content. Not all turn out that way, but Trigaea really is one of those games with substantial optional material tacked on to its already-extensive gameplay. And on that note, the gameplay is extremely long. Absolutely worth your time but you will not fit this in during a lunch break. Just know that once you complete it, (Spoiler - click to show) you can replay without losing your health and stat levels. Skip the intro, that sort of thing. That was convenient.
One of the coolest features in this game is about augmenting yourself for survival. You can spend microchips to receive genetic modifications or cybernetic implants that grant new abilities. This selection of choices only expands as the game continues. My estimate is that this will be a popular draw for players.
There is so much story content I hardly know where to begin. Probably the best thing for me to do is encourage you to play it rather than making this review longer than it needs to be, but I just have to discuss some of it.
Background context: (Spoiler - click to show) Humanity eventually advanced enough to populate the rest of the solar system, but the space colonies often clashed with the Earth government about resources, especial fuel. Riots and altercations became a common issue. A solution was developed: Project Amber, finding another home, and sources of fuel, for humanity. This was a project spanning decades in the making. Correctors were trained at an academy and assigned to govern a ship filled with thousands of people in stasis pods. Upon arriving a new world, Correctors would help settle the planet and guide humanity. Preparation included scoping out potential worlds with high levels of habitability. That way, even if the planet proved to be unfriendly to Earth-based life, terraforming technology could step in and make it habitable. Then one day, the conflict between the space colonies and Earth government goes too far. Project Amber must launch now. Preparation goes out the window as ships hightail it to their designated planets. Unfortunately, all the planets are too inhabitable. Except this one. Two ships, SCC Nuria and SCC Caleuche, end up orbiting Trigaea. Things did not go as planned.
We know that the protagonist was trained to be a Corrector. Part of that training involved receiving the Rosetta implant with a personal AI. Correctors are quite valuable. As you will experience several times, everyone freaks out when they learn that you are a Corrector. Moral choices appear on the horizon as your supposed responsibilities as a Corrector is made known to everyone. You become the go-to fix it repairperson. Someone who can do the impossible. You are a Corrector. Obviously, you are supposed to correct things, right? This is where things get complicated. They have questions. You have amnesia. Recovering your memories is crucial to making informed decisions as the lives of more NPCs fall into your lap.
As you regain your memories you realize that you are in over your head. The situation is not as simple as (Spoiler - click to show) “uh, a ship crashed,” but, to limit spoilers, an Earth ship(s) collided with the planet. Everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong. There are THREE struggling factions on one miserable planet: humans, natives, and robots (by the way, Trigaea is the name of the planet). (Spoiler - click to show) Natives, called X'irii, were on the planet long before this mess happened. Human colonists managed to hack together an existence in the ship’s wreckage. Some humans live as Outer Tribes, but no one seems to care about them. Finally, the robots that survived built their own hive city managed by advanced AI.
One of the strongest parts in this game is how it puts you in the shoes of each faction. The first faction you contact are the (Spoiler - click to show) human colonists, followed by the robots, and then the natives. You may encounter these groups earlier in combat, but contact is when you visit their “homebase.” Your Progenitor allows you to morph into machine and alien forms to blend in. The major clash in perspectives is (Spoiler - click to show) between the humans and the natives. The robot faction is more or less content with minding its own, but they too have an invested interest in the planet’s population.
The human colonists form the baseline perspectives for the first half of the game. From this angle you will look at the other factions and be absolutely convinced that human colonists are the way to go and everyone else are savages. The X'irii have wiped out every human colony except for Delta Colony. They brutally kill human colonists. And yet, when you visit their native home groves you realize that they too have a rich cultural heritage, sense of identity, and drive to protect their own families.
Humanity’s interstellar spaceships came with a Terraform Sphere to assist in colonization a new world. Trigaea is reasonably habitable, but one ultimately foreign to Earth-based biology. As a Corrector, everyone wants something from you: The second half of the gameplay is about finding the (Spoiler - click to show) Terraform Sphere, that is, if it managed to survive the wreck.
So. Eventually, you (Spoiler - click to show) locate the Terraform Sphere. The keystone of the game is moral choices. Get ready to enter Spoiler Land. Seriously, look away. (Spoiler - click to show) Here’s the deal: Activating the Terraform Sphere will make the planet perfect for humans but would wipe out the X'irii in the process. Quite frankly, I was inclined to side with the natives, but naturally the game had to throw some curveballs.
When humanity set to colonize other worlds one principle that was considered while screening for compatible planets was to find one without any intelligent species already living on it. Trigaea happens to be the first planet with sentient alien life discovered by humanity, ever. Arguably, wiping out this race for human benefit would be immoral. Thing is, due to circumstances that I won’t discuss to avoid spoiling everything, Earth is no longer a home. Furthermore, all of Earth’s ships sent to explore other worlds failed. Your own ship had no survivors. The humans on Trigaea are the last of the human race. If you side with the natives in this scenario, humans go extinct. And there’s also the robots to think of.
What would you do?
In this section, I am going to discuss some of my viewpoints in case you want to compare notes (and please do!) I will throw it under one big spoiler tag.
(Spoiler - click to show) I don’t think I would wipe out the X'irii even for the last dredges of humanity, or at least not for the humanity we see in the flashbacks. The humanity in the flashbacks really rubbed me the wrong way. Humanity lost the Earth because of squabbling, and even on the starships there is fighting between former space colonists and those who lived on Earth. I am only touching the tip of the ice burg here. But when put to a vote, nearly everyone onboard was content with squashing the natives to claim the planet.
To be fair, the colonists we meet in the gameplay are descendants of those who survived the disaster. Technically, they are not the same humans as featured in the flashbacks. Earth is a faint memory passed on through generations. Would they share the same perspectives of their ancestors? Thing is, an Earth-old feud still exists, even if the details have gotten hazy. The Outer Tribes are the descendants of the survivors who came specifically from the old space colonies. Delta Colony and its sister colonies were founded by the humans who originally came from Earth. That feuding is still there. And both sides would not hesitate to activate the Sphere. It comes back to the original question: do we commit genocide to wipe out the natives to make Trigaea humanity’s new home?
Oddly enough, the natives are little more receptive, perhaps even sympathetic, about the humans’ reason for being on the planet. You say Trigaea, but the natives call their planet X'ir, which is also the name of the god that sustains life. X'ir follows a reciprocal relationship. If you take care of the planet, it takes care of you. From their perspective, the humans abused their planet (an understatement) and were exiled- and the natives feel pity about that. However, if humans, to put it bluntly, managed to screw up their own planet, what’s stopping them from destroying X’ir? Already, humans squashed countless X'irii simply by falling from the sky. And now, human diseases and garbage from the wreckage has been poisoning the land, causing the natives’ offspring to be deformed. Thus, they feel compelled to fight against the foreign invaders. Besides, [name redacted] is encouraging them to raid the colonies. I am not saying that you should agree with the natives, only that they too have a valid perspective for how they respond to other factions.
What frustrates me about the human colonists that we meet is how oblivious they are to the impact of their presence on the natives. The natives aren’t using the humans for target practice. They are defending their home. But understandably, that means little when you are trying to protect your hovel of a home against an alien race that keeps trying to kill you. Human colonists trying to make the most out of a difficult situation and are so bogged down with daily survival that they probably do not have the time or energy to reflect on the virtues of a species that has shown nothing but hostility. When family and friends are at stake, the last thing you want to hear is, “well, it is their planet.”
I certainty do not have a polarized perspective. Halfway through the gameplay is a pivotal event where Delta Colony calls for your help in defending against a X'irii attack. In this battle you are on the colonists’ side, but the game will continue even if you fail to stop the attack. Failure just means that the colonist population is severely reduced. Despite my feelings for the natives, I would always defend the colonists in this scene. Why? Well, they are trying to kill characters whom we already know on a personal basis. And that is my point: There are no easy stances. There is the faction, and the individuals within it, and each faction has individuals who form a connection with the PC. The game forces you to make tough choices. (If it makes you feel any better, you do not have to kill a single person in this game. You even get a trophy for doing so. If you fight in non-lethal mode, you merely subdue your opponents.)
These dynamics foreshadow major moral choices involving the fates of each faction. The challenges encountered in the gameplay anticipate decisions about (Spoiler - click to show) wiping out one race to save another. At first glance it seems like you must choose either Faction A, B, or C when in fact over a dozen endings offer a spectrum of outcomes. Everyone wants you to side with them but, if you play your cards right, you can put your foot down and consider, “why not all of us?”
Still, that does not make the decision easy. There is only one consensus: (Spoiler - click to show) I would make a horrible Corrector.
The story features two commonly used tropes: Amnesia and experiencing the overarching story primarily through flashbacks. These can be touchy clichés, but the game pulls them off. They do not feel contrived, and instead, provide a platform for experiencing the story.
With amnesia, I like games that slowly construct an underlying context behind the protagonist’s reason for having amnesia that, when revealed, builds upon your understanding of everything you encountered in the gameplay. It creates that moment of insight that makes it all click when you finally piece it all together (If you are interested, Worlds Apart is a master at this). Trigaea takes one big reveal, breaks it into smaller pieces, and places them strategically across the gameplay’s timeline to keep the player’s attention from drifting without diminishing their impact. The cause of the protagonist’s amnesia also has a compelling reason. (Spoiler - click to show) Due to an unknown accident, which we slowly learn about in the gameplay, the Progenitor was damaged, compromising the transfer of your memories. When those memories come back- let’s just say that there is substance to this depiction of amnesia.
As for flashbacks, while the game heavily relies on them for exposition, rich story content about your circumstances is also infused in the gameplay. Rather than merely “watching” the story, you take an active role in piecing it together. A smart design choice is that some flashbacks are optional. They are unlocked by spending microchips or quartz chips that allow the player to learn more about the protagonist’s background and the world that they came from. Collecting these memories provides an objective for players who want to milk the gameplay as much as possible for more world-building. Being optional, you can choose to skip them if you would rather focus on immediate gameplay.
There are a lot of endings. Fifteen. This is the final implementation of the player’s skills and responsibilities as a Corrector. You have already spent hours playing. The game took the good, the bad, and the ugly, rubbed it all in your face, and now challenges you to make a tough decision: How will all this end? The author posted a walkthrough for the endings that organizes them into branches. It is a useful guide if you feel overwhelmed. Some endings will leave a lasting impression.
I won't say it, it is too much of a spoiler to discuss it even here, but one of the ending branches just left me thinking, "you are kidding me," where you are so surprised, you are not sure whether to be annoyed, pleased, or confused. I still don't know what to think about it. It does provide some closure for certain drastic events which I think players will appreciate since this is a rollercoaster of a game. The only mild downside is that it gave me a slightly skewered view of the other ending branches, hence my reason for not wanting to discuss it. It was a surprise and I like how it tests your understanding of reality as you try to navigate this wonderous world of advanced technologies that we can only imagine.
…………………………But then it does it a SECOND time!!! There is an ending (another branch of endings, actually) that tops even that! You are still required to go through the ending branch that I just mentioned to access it which only makes it more surreal. It tricks the player by saying, “oh, you thought you saw the bigger picture? The ‘actual’ layer of reality? Sucker. Think again!” It was wild. The game truly, truly (this time) caught me off guard. The only impulse my brain had was to applaud. I am being dramatic, I know, but it reminded me of the saying, "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” If such a statement could be applied in interactive fiction, it would be here. If the author is reading this, thank you for creating this game.
For a hint, it reminds me of a particular Rick & Morty (I love that show) episode. It is up to you to figure out which one it is.
Esra is one of the most empathetic AI NPCs you can find in interactive fiction, and the first character we meet in the game. You choose whether Esra is male or female but for this review I will just use "they."
Esra operates the Progenitor that allows you to respawn and carries out genetic modifications. They also have access to your Rosetta implant and will communicate with you throughout the game. There is a whole backstory about Esra- you will realize that this is the case for many characters in this game- that reveals how advanced, sentient AI is developed in the game’s world. Even the AI has a backstory? Yes. It’s quite fascinating.
They are also the NPC whom we interact with the most. The early gameplay contains more casual banter, while later conversation becomes more focused on immediate objectives. When I first played the game, these early interactions seemed to suggest that the relationship between the PC and Esra was malleable. Dialog options had distinct attitudes consisting of friendly, polite, no-nonsense, standoffish, and mean demeanors. Because of this, I figured that you could decide on your relationship with Esra and then see how it manifested in the gameplay.
1. "I'm sorry you have to watch that."
2. "I'm glad you're watching out for me."
3. "If you've got time to watch, why don't you help?"
4. "Geez, I don't get any break from you, do I?"
In one playthrough I was a complete (Spoiler - click to show) you-know-what to Esra (tick off the AI NPC to learn if it results in a certain ending, right?) in all the dialog options to see if that influenced character development over time. I kept waiting for them to turn on me, but they never did. Then I reached (Spoiler - click to show) Ending 10. Despite what I did, (Spoiler - click to show) Esra went the extra mile to make sure I came out top at their own expense. I felt so ashamed. Several minutes went by where I just stared at the screen, that's how much it elicited a reaction out of me. I didn't deserve them.
Once the gameplay moves past the introductory parts, the protagonist and Esra go into teamwork mode for survival. There are some small (and interesting) disputes that you can pursue but they will not influence the characters’ overall relationship. Esra is devoted to your success regardless of your attitude.
I am not even going to try to write about every character. As I mentioned earlier, there are three factions on the planet that you will eventually contact in your explorations. It does not happen all at once. Each faction has its own unique NPCs that play a part in the story. Characters are also shown in the flashbacks, but those come with heavy spoilers. Every NPC, whether you meet them face-to-face or not, adds something interesting to the game.
There is (optional) romance in this game, but that part did not really fly for me. Some of it, especially “flirting,” was almost a bit cringy. The protagonist’s sexual orientation is determined by the voice you choose for Esra, and there are about four choices that let you decide how to approach romance, if at all. Some players might like it, but I was too busy with the rest of the story to be interested.
(Confession: When I first picked up Trigaea, I was kind of hoping to play the villain. That honor goes to- major spoiler- (Spoiler - click to show) just kidding, you will have to play the game. Then again, “villain” is subjective, isn’t it? At the beginning, all I had was this wasteland and the ability to come back from the dead. I had an AI who would splice my genome with that of animals. I could have dominated it and made it my own. But as the gameplay started rolling out memory flashbacks and NPCs were added to the big picture, I realized that the PC is meant to be more of a heroic protagonist while leaving “heroic” up to the player’s interpretation. Oh well. Maybe in another game.)
You are probably wondering why I am giving this game four stars instead of five (although it came pretty darn close) after raving about how amazing it is. My main critique is repetition, which is tricky in extra-long games like this one. What baffles me is how the game manages to be repetitive and dynamic at the same time. I know the phrase “repetitive gameplay” can scare players away but know that these occasional lulls are overshadowed by riveting, everchanging gameplay. Repetitiveness is boiled down to combat and exploring the wasteland.
Esra gives you advice on what to do which is helpful. But sometimes the only guidance you have is to explore and harvest microchips. During these parts the game shares the symptoms of a repetitive combat simulator- that is, until something does happen. Then the game pulls a surprise rabbit out of the hat of wasteland drudgery and makes things engaging once more with a new development that redirects the gameplay to something interesting. Yes, eventually you will notice some repetitiveness, but it takes a while before you start to feel fatigue (and even then, you can’t stop playing). I also noticed that even when the randomized combat lost its charm the plot-oriented combat scenes were still exciting.
The one tedious component that grated on me is how you gain microchips by killing things. It makes sense with a person since you could theoretically just search their body for microchips, but why would some random animal out in the desert have them? You kill a man-eating starfish and microchips come spilling out of the beast as if it were a piñata. The logic of that does not quite resonate with me. Unless microchips are the equivalent of oxygen… maybe I should just ignore this technicality.
Notes on formatting
The game occasionally suffers from purple prose. You say that your eyes are blue, and this is how the game interprets it: “Your eyes are scholarly and sharp, and tinted as blue as a old mountain lake. Your pupil looms in the middle like a full stop, dotted with parchment ink.” It seems contrived.
There are also some spelling issues. Sometimes Esra’s pronouns were the opposite of the ones I selected. In one playthrough Shay’s pronouns flipped flopped between him and her. Frequent grammar issues are also present. “They looks heavily injured,” taunted me everywhere. In one case, “googles” instead of “goggles.” But in all fairness, these errors were like drops in a swimming pool compared to how much text there is. This game has been thoroughly tested, and it shows.
Oh man. This is where the game really looks like a professional piece. There are dozens of detailed sci-fi/dystopian backdrops that would put a visual novel to shame. I looked at the credits and saw that the artwork is from contributions of quite a few artists, and it goes a long way. Even if you decide not to stick with the game in the long run, at least you get a glimpse of the visuals.
Trigaea is also a great example of the possibilities of Twine stylization. Design elements are used to create a flashy interface. Experimentation with symbols, borders, colours, and text boxes add a futuristic vibe. It is easy to forget that you are playing a Twine game.
I think a lot of players will appreciate elements of Trigaea, such as the smooth visuals, but if you are not a sci-fi fan, your interest may waver early on. It is also not for the impatient. I love science fiction and was in it for the long haul and yet there were times where I was hoping that the game would just hurry up already and move to the next part of the story. It’s worth it.
Sci-fi fan or not, this game is intense. The story is vast and full of tragedies. Thick backstory. Rugged characters. Bizarre technology. Violence. All packed together into lengthy gameplay. But beneath it all is a solid framework. The build-up of all this is for the player to gradually realize the protagonist’s purpose and responsibility as a Corrector, and then make difficult decisions based on the endless content poured on them over hours of gameplay. The notion of finally reaching the point where a major decision is placed in your hands is what makes this game resonate.
Anyway, great stuff. Thank you for reading this saga-length review.
1 people found the following review helpful:
Fight, upgrade, explore, recover memories, and negotiate between three factions, December 14, 2022
Inspired by Kinetic Mouse Car's review, I tried this very long Twine game.
It is at its core a cycle of procedurally generated combat, with upgrades that can be bought by the player. Upgrades are earned by fighting, and the more you explore and fight the more areas you unlock, which have stronger enemies with stronger rewards.
You play as a Corrector, a figure with unknown properties and goals, and you have the ability to come back from death due to an AI that has access to a cloning mechanism. Both you and the AI are missing large chunks of memories that you have to recover.
This is done by finding microchips to plug into the computer to increase its capacity and give you upgrades. Small upgrades cost just a dozen or so chips, while the biggest upgrades can cost over 500,000 chips.
The storyline is complex, and reminiscent of shows like Avatar (James Cameron one). You interact with three factions: human, robot, and alien.
There are 15 endings, corresponding roughly to which factions you support. There are some romantic figures, lots of literary references, and some psychologically intense scenes.
Overall, I found it very satisfying, and it took me at least 4 hours to complete, much of which was through fairly repetitive combat. But it was enjoyable combat, due to the constant upgrades and escalations.
Like KMC commented, there are noticeable typos, which can be distracting, and I believe the armor plating doesn't actually work (one version of it does). But these are pretty slight faults in a large game.
- E.K., September 4, 2022
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