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Well-written, bite-sized head-scratcher, February 27, 2012
The hook for this game was the writing style. That was clear right away. I was immediately delighted, not just by the authenticity, but by the class with which the culture was portrayed. Another reviewer called the protagonist a caricature, but if there is a meaningful distinction to be made between a caricature and an archetype, I'd call him the latter. The text is not full of derisive contractions and phonetic spellings, but instead is made from playful constructions of a kind that I haven't often found in IF, and were therefore a joy to read. In fact, I haven't had this much fun acting out the narrative voice in my head since Varicella. (It may have helped that I happened to be eating applesauce at the time.)
All this only made the experience more disappointing, since the game as a whole is over before you know it, and the initial character even sooner.
Unfortunately, the game manages to squeeze some problems in before the end. One thing in particular confused me before the halfway point: Belief in the supernatural is fine, if it comes from a tradition of some kind. But if I watch a movie, say, and then develop a belief that those specific characters are waiting somewhere to interact with me -- to me that's not superstition, that's madness. Again, meaningful distinction? I think it is, and it's one that muddies the game's message, such as it is.
The other main objections I had were to what I saw as questionable design choices, which, to be fair, an experimental work like this risks freely. First, I noticed that the game seemed to be taking a page from Photopia's Red chapter when constructing the map. In other words, you'll find new locations in a predetermined sequence, no matter which path you take. OK, fair enough. But if the game is going to do this (and we're on, you know, terra firma and not Dimension X), the game should learn from its own protagonist and leave stuff where you put it. I don't want to loop through the same sequence of rooms in random directions. I did not notice myself feeling lost, but I did notice myself feeling annoyed.
Finally, the transition. Bing! You'll know it when you see it. Since I had already read the instructions for this section in the last section, all I had to do was follow them, without knowing why they were necessary in the new context. For this reason, and since this new guy wasn't half as interesting as the old one, I rushed through and missed most of the impact of the latter half (which, again, is over almost before it begins).
Cold Iron certainly does one thing well, though -- it employs the Zarfian mystique that I'm apparently such a sucker for. The fact that it can do so in such a small space is interesting in itself. This experiment will make you think, even if it ultimately leaves you scratching your head.