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Ambitious game with a lot of promise hampered by implementation and some bugs, September 10, 2014
Bibliophile is a long, ambitious game, full of characters, locations, and lots of walking. The premise is a familiar one for readers of interactive fiction; a Lovecraftian horror is being summoned to Earth, and you are the only one who can stop it. The game genuinely shines in a few places, but could use some extra polish and love in many others.
You will need to manually walk through many locations that donít feel necessary and which serve purely as window dressing. Error messages suggest that certain locations will later be relevant, but they remain unavailable for the entire game. As the game progressed and I realized just how linear it was, I felt frustrated by the arbitrary local flavor, which made me walk extensively around the map. A game this linear would really benefit from using a simple go-to mechanism.
In such a large setting, Iíd typically expect to spend time exploring and uncovering various nooks and crannies, but that was missing here.
Compass directions to your destination were good and helpful; however, they also contributed to the overall sense of linear gameplay without player agency. At times, this felt like a series of RPG fetch quests. Clear directions lead me to my goals, which really just required showing up, and didnít require much creativity.
The tone of the writing is humorous and used to good effect to establish incidental characters. However, it felt too glib at times, and lacked characterization. One of the principal characters, an elderly librarian, tells me to go into a basement and find something because ĎIím too old to go all down there and rummage. But youíre into that shit,[...]í
Young, hip, and slightly snarky; it felt more like the omniscient narrator than a member of the world around me, and when I get down to the basement, the description text tells me no one has been down here in sometime but the librarian.
Proper names are sometimes are only mentioned once in introductory text, and you have to scroll back to read them again; the opening of the game has you visited by special agents who are checking to see if you have a specific book, but they only refer to it by a pronoun after their initial greeting. If you donít remember the actual name, you canít look up the book in your electronic catalog. If you canít scroll up to re-read it, youíll need to start a second run of the game & get the name.
Experiences like this made the game feel a bit on-rails, which clashed with the realistic locations and open areas that I was enjoying exploring. In general, the descriptive writing was strong, and made objects feel real; there were nice touches, like the dinosaur sticker adorning my laptop. These little bits gave my character a concrete identity outside of the parser response to actions, and gave me a quick sense of who I am and what Iím about.
I donít mean to bash this game. In the end, I enjoyed it, and thought it was impressively ambitious. Iíve played a few other games by Tenner, and think that this shows progression from earlier attempts, but coming slightly short of the initial promise and suggestion of a larger, more open game experience.
I recommend this game for anyone who enjoys this type of theme, and just be aware that the game is a bit crueler than the rating may suggest; I suspect it is a bug, but there are a few places and areas that make the game impossible to finish with no acknowledgement by the game.
If youíre worried about falling into this, read the following very minor spoiler.
(Spoiler - click to show)Pick up the letter opener in the Librarianís townhouse when you see it.
I've omitted my rating. While the current experience is a 2 star in my book (enjoyable thematic game with some serious bugs/poor implementations), it's not a bad game, and I don't want to hurt the average rating. I suspect people who enjoy mysterious Lovecraftian games will appreciate this game regardless of the quibbles I've listed above.
If the game is updated, I'll play it again, & revise my star rating.