Number of Reviews: 6
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Remapping life, November 30, 2015
In Map you play as a dowdy housewife who finds that her house is expanding. Rooms take longer to cross. Ceilings feel higher. Suddenly, one day, there is an extra doorway that wasn't there before. When the protagonist enters this doorway, it takes her into her own past, where she is given the opportunity to remake certain major life decisions.
The game does not have puzzles in the normal sense, but as more and more doorways appear and you're given more decisions to reshape the protagonist's life, the entire story becomes a sort of master challenge. Once you change an individual moment in the past, you cannot redo it; you have to enter the command "tomorrow" and advance the current timeline to the next day to see how the present has altered. And while at first it may seem like you want to change everything you can in the past, you soon realize that these changes are impacting each other. You're gaining one thing only to lose another.
Once you've come to this point, no decision in the game is easy, and none is right. There isn't a "good" ending you're trying to reach. Every outcome involves compromise.
Photopia is the nearest relative to Map that I know about in the text adventure world. There's a stereotype about the "my shitty apartment" genre that many games fall into, and I'd say that Photopia and Map both fall into the "my shitty middle-class life" genre. They deal with realistic problems, sure. They deal with tragedies. And they're uplifting in the end, even though they don't iron out life's complexities. You're meant to relate to them. But personally, this is not my style whatsoever. It is everywhere in modern literature -- in fact, it's what the term "literary fiction" often means as a genre label (poor literary fiction, being saddled with that). I can appreciate Photopia for what new tricks it did with the parser, but if I came across its story as a novel, I would pass right by that novel without looking back.
Well, for me, Map was better than Photopia, even though Map suffers from what I call the Moll Flanders Effect. If you don't know about Moll Flanders, here is the book's full title:
The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, &c. Who was Born in Newgate, and during a Life of continu'd Variety for Threescore Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own Brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv'd Honest, and died a Penitent. Written from her own Memorandums.
All the novel's major events are summed up in this title, and even though the events themselves are very serious, when they're compiled into a laundry list they become silly. Moll Flanders is doing this on purpose. Most stories that suffer from the Moll Flanders Effect are not. Map does not mean to be silly, but when it hits you with major event after major event, the story strains beneath such a dramatic load. You've got everything from teenage pregnancy to extramarital affairs to Aunt May being shipped off to the nursing home, and more.
Again, these are realistic issues. They happen to people. They sometimes even happen all together as they do in Map. It's not the issues themselves that I'm talking about, but rather how they're being handled by the narrative.
But whereas Photopia remained mired in its "my shitty middle-class life" muck for me, Map broke free. That's partly because the interaction is integrated really well into the story. You are seriously making these choices, and you seriously feel their weight every time you make them. By the end, it's as though you're performing a high-wire act, aware at every step that the wrong decision might send you plummeting -- and as I said before, there are no "right" decisions. You will make sacrifices, and you will feel it.
The other thing that Map does really well is ramp up the tension. As you approach closer and closer to the ending, one horrible past event slowly unveils itself, and you know where you're going, you know you have to face it. It almost becomes a horror game, with the supernatural house bending around you, driving you toward this confrontation.
One thing that Map does need, objectively, is a copy-edit. It has lots of text, and there are lots of typos. I also felt that the text could've been trimmed back at certain places. It will always go for more explanation rather than less when it has the chance, even once something has already been established clearly.
Those quibbles aside, this is a game that everyone should play. It shows what you can do when you put the story first and use the parser to full advantage to tell that story.