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About the Story
"The train stops at the rain slick station.
The lights are going out on the platform.
No one has ever seen the sky from here, but you can tell it's black outside.
It will be black here too, very soon.”
Lucid is a surreal adventure game in which the player explores a city at night, struggling to overcome bad memories and outrun the darkness. Break free from the nightmare, or stumble through the streets forever.
Content warning: Emotionaly intense, violence, trauma, cancer.
32nd Place - tie - 28th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2022)
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Number of Reviews: 5
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This is an interesting game, and kind of intimidating at first.
Basically, you are in a surreal landscape, perhaps a dream. There are many, many options at first in this Twine game, so many I felt a bit overwhelmed. They are all bizarre, like someone with a singularly non-descript face or a host of voices telling you to avoid a specific thing.
As you explore, it becomes more clear how to navigate around the map. You will also die, or end, many times, resetting in a loop. Sometimes things can carry over.
I peeked at the walkthrough a bit at first to gain confidence. I really like how this played out; the surreal imagery was cohesive and coherent to me, and it really felt sinister.
I think I would have appreciated some way to have more guidance at first without using the walkthrough, and I was a little frustrated with the very last choice (Spoiler - click to show)going into the light resets the whole game so you can't try the other option without replaying everything. Great writing overall, fun game.
Loop-til-you-win Twine entries always interest me. They feel efficient and tidy. You have some feedback on what you're doing right, and you will have to lawnmower a bit, but there are places to skip. The gold standard of loop-til-you-win may be Spider and Web, but we don't have to scale those heights. "Keep poking until you get it right" works, if there are enough tries, and you are told–hey, this part isn't useful yet, or that other part is. Lucid has the added advantage of remembering critical things you did, so if you die, you don't start entirely from scratch. It seems to combine the best parts of save points and also giving you the freedom to do things wrong. This may not be perfectly realistic without an explanation. Lucid gives none, because it's trying to invoke surreal supernatural darkness, and I think it does so–it's also a small enough world that the lack of undo makes you feel helpless but not frustrated. I wound up feeling uneasy with the knowledge and powers I'd gained, and the main character seems blown away by the writing on a cereal box underscores that nicely. I prefer this sort of thing to physical descriptions of gore.
You're not told who you are, as you explore a dark city, but the false branches (it's easy to get killed or escape, neither of which is meant to seem satisfactory) make it pretty clear you're here to do something, to sit and fight. But what are you fighting against, and what are you fighting for? That's what you discover. And Lucid , written in poetry form, hides certain things and makes others clear. The part mentioned in the walkthrough–that you stack progress even after a death–doesn't seem to appear in-game, until there's something clear. Then, I felt like I was off to the races. There were some places that should be inert but weren't. Some deaths were of the "don't bother again" sort, others of the "it's not time yet." And there were in-game shortcuts too. There's a high-rise apartment you have to climb the first couple times, which set atmosphere, but all the same I was glad I didn't have to repeat that once I'd figured things out. There's a man on a park bench who'll help you out. It's not idyllic.
With each power or item you acquire, Lucid feels more constricting, and this makes sense, given the ultimate ending. You have a destiny, of sorts. Your character is slightly aware of their changes, but you the reader may be even more aware.
I can't speak to precisely how good the poetry is, but given that it had definite high points for me (the grocery store and the residential tower) I think it's more than just "hey, look, I decided to make a line break after every 6 words and give the finger to strict capitalization!" I think reviewers more competent at that than I addressed details elsewhere, but they found a lot to like (so to speak–the game is not lovable.) So did I. I found it a bit rough around the edges, but that seemed more due to ambition than inattention. So it was a very worthwhile experience for me. That first bit may seem forbidding, and you may wonder what you're doing here, but it's worth holding tight until you find that first clue.
(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2022's IFComp).
OK, I gotta get this out of the way before starting the review proper: “Caliban’s Revenge” is by far the most metal pseudonym in this year’s, nay, any year’s IF Comp. Whoever you are, O author of mystery – massive, massive kudos.
On to the substance! It’s a funny coincidence that I played Lucid right after A Long Way to the Nearest Star, because I wound up having similar feelings about them, despite them being very different in just about every way (beyond them both being implemented in Twine). Once again, we’ve got a game that presents itself as belong to a hoary genre – here, we’ve got an allegorical, confusing flight across a dark and menacing city, with the protagonist’s outer conflicts obviously mirroring some underexplained internal ~trauma~. Once again, we’ve got a plot that hits familiar beats before a final twist. Once again, there are some fairly straightforward puzzles to solve (albeit they’re much simpler here). And once again, I very much enjoyed the game despite all this, almost purely down to the care taken with the implementation, and the quality of the prose.
Let’s switch up the order and start with the writing this time. Lucid is written in a noirish, blank-verse style that would be very, very easy to mess up and thereby make the proceedings seem ridiculous. It does veer close to that shoal from time to time – there’s an early mention of a puddle reflecting a streetlight “with a chitinous gleam”, which is almost successful – but for the most part it paints the city in compelling, concise imagery. Inevitably, you arrive via a train:
The station is brush-stroke clean, grime describes its edges.
Later you have to climb an interminable number of flights of stairs (it’s 13) in a public housing project:
The seventh flight
Is dark and stifled like
Sleep after middle age,
Never quite enough,
You wheeze on the unseen stairs
Last one – here are moths, found sleeping in a fridge that lights up when you open the door:
False eyes flutter on their
Mascara wing tips,
Orbiting a false moon,
In the midst of a false waking.
It helps that the prose isn’t entirely po-faced – there’s a bit where you can buy a box of cereal that conceals a special prize:
The legend tells of Frosted Flakes.
But the box is heavy.
Heavier than flakes however frosted.
Because the game’s well-written, the author’s able to evoke a number of different moods across a fairly short scenario. There are fewer than half a dozen distinct locations to explore, but while they’re all recognizably of a (gloomy) piece, the recovered-memory horror of the school feels quite distinct from the Lynchian terror attendant on the project-dwelling witch and her twin salamanders.
Lucid isn’t just a mood piece, though – after trapping you in what feels like it’s going to be an endlessly-repeating maze of shadow and fear, it reveals that there might be a way out, if you enact a prescribed set of highly ritualized behaviors in just the right order. I hesitate to describe this as a puzzle, since the steps don’t turn on conventional or even cartoon logic – it’s all free association, and somewhat inconsistent free association since in different circumstances the game takes varying stances towards violence, and towards the darkness/light dichotomy – but the solution’s close to spelled out by a particular character, so it doesn’t wind up presenting much of a challenge.
It does provide a prompt to slow down and engage with the metaphors, though, and appreciate the way the evocative prose resolves the various conflicts the game’s set up. Ultimately I’m not sure Lucid is saying anything especially profound, but it’s expressing a fine sentiment, and what it says it says eloquently. Similarly, I’m not sure I’m taking away any deep insights into mental health, but there are definitely some turns of phrase that are going to stick in my head for a while – not to mention those pale, cruel salamanders…
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This poll is part of the 2022 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the best surreal game of 2022. Voting is anonymous and open only to IFDB...
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This poll is part of the 2022 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the best surreal game of 2022. Voting is open to all IFDB members. Eligible...
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This poll is part of the 2022 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the most underappreciated game of 2022. Voting is open to all IFDB members....