Number of Reviews: 5
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Very quick and effective, December 30, 2021
The author, like me, put two entries into IFComp this year. I think I see eye to eye with their methodology, too: don't make anything too long, because there will be more than enough entries, and you don't want to hog the oxygen. Let people revisit if they're interested. And I was, and I was glad to have something not in my genre(s) energize me for the next few entries. They've done well to present everything clearly and not leave any loose ends, except for the ones you need to chase down to find a few interesting details, and the translation is strong. On my first reading through, I thought "Why isn't it WHEN the monsters...?" but on re-reading, I get it. There's a bit of sleuthing to do, because you're not spoon-fed everything. It's that sort of entry that has a bit of everything, even up to causing tension without having any way to get you killed.
It seems HtmaiW is intentionally light on aesthetic details, and I think that's the right choice, because listing the technical specs of whatever armored vehicle you're using to transport the goods, as well as the how and why, would take away from the emotional punch. You are mercenaries doing a job. You don't have a lot of time for the technical stuff. You just have to make sure the power works. And at the start, it doesn't work well. Lights flicker. The fridge compartment's power is flaking, and your orders are to keep the cargo cool–which leaves various macabre suggestions as to what the cargo IS, and why it needs to be moved from the Enclave to the Citadel. It's a weapon, of sorts.
And very quickly, after the first repairs, you realize WHY this run may be so tricky. Nomads want to either steal or destroy your cargo. Again, both possibilities are workable, and your conversation with your android, uh, co-worker, Doho gives a sense of urgency. Yes, you need to fix that door in your vehicle that's on the blink. No, you don't have a lot of time. The vehicle isn't super-huge, but it's big enough to know this is serious business. The player's unfamiliarity with the GUI (well-presented as it is) also contributes to the tension when Doho exhorts you to hurry up. Doho's like that throughout.
And after you shoot down a few stray nomads, you get overwhelmed. Doho, being an android, sees things quite level-headedly up to the end. And it's his physical head you need to preserve, as you need to do certain things to ensure your own safety. This is a good creepy way of giving the player instructions without a full instruction sheet. You know what to do, but you're worried about Doho, even though he's irrelevant in the big picture and knows it. I certainly experienced some fear of "what if I arrived at the Citadel without even Doho's head, with the memory card in it."
Through all this, no mention of monsters, though probably some monstrous behavior and leadership contributed to the whole situation. You just can't call the monsters ... that. And of course, when they appear, they make sure you're safe from the nomads attacking you. It's unclear to me whether Doho predicted the monsters would destroy your potential captors, but either way, they're not the sort of entities to care about memory chips in an android's head.
I was able to escape, and I don't think there's much more, though I had lingering feelings something was missed. I suppose I could not have stopped the monsters from spreading, and I wound up not getting killed, but not much more. I'm curious if I could've done more. I feel like I missed something. Maybe I wanted to do more with or for Doho, or I expected to do more with the toolbelt, which had an interesting interface where links changed colors when you examined it. But HtmaiW was effective even before that. For all the Bad Things that it implies happen behind the scenes, it's the sort of entry that clearly adds to IFComp and won't bog a lot of people down, even if they get stuck fiddling with some mechanics. That's part of the game. It doesn't intimidate you with importancy, but it definitely provides a quick rush. And it has some nice touches, such as small passages in Arabic you can just google-translate, or a choice between Russian and English text, where later the English version gets some Russian text. This just made me smile.
So I think it's well worth a visit. And it definitely feels like there could or even should be a sequel.