To Burn in Memory

by Orihaus


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Gorgeously designed, densely written, November 21, 2015
by CMG (NYC)

In this hypertext game you explore a ruined city that's stuck in time, or abandoned by time, or abandoned by the world at large -- it's all the same. The era this city exists in (or the era that it died in, anyway) shares similarities with early twentieth century Europe, and certain characters are mentioned as being French and German and so on, but its connection to real history is tenuous. Fantastical elements play a large role. There are clocks that don't tell time as we know it.

Gameplay involves poking around, finding keys, unlocking doors, opening safes, and gaining entrance to new areas. Sometimes you can activate memories that reveal how the city came to be in its current condition.

Despite the focus on memories and exploration, though, I never got a good sense about what was going on or what the city even really looked like. The text is written in an abstract, verbose style that often aims for higher marks than it can hit. And when it doesn't hit them, it produces confusion. You have to be an extremely skilled writer to pull off a style like this.

The game's opening references Umberto Eco, but I found myself comparing it more directly with Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, which is an Italian book from 1499 about a man wandering a dreamscape. Almost the entire book is dedicated to explaining the architecture of buildings in the dream, and the text will go on for pages lavishing elaborate philosophical descriptions on columns and fountains. I found it suffocating to read, and while To Burn in Memory is not nearly as overwrought, it does share Hypnerotomachia's interest in allegorical architecture. Both these texts also prefer complexity for its own sake, for its flavor.

Hypnerotomachia is a famously beautiful book, and To Burn in Memory also has a very lovely physical design. But they sit heavily in your gut and are hard to digest.