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About the Story
I was heading for a new life and my train brought me here. Nice town: friendly people, corn cuisine, mysterious architecture...
So why am I sure that I need to get out of here as fast as possible?
30th Place - 28th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2022)
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Number of Reviews: 3
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This is a large, custom-engine choice-based game that takes place in a surreal world like the Phantom Tollbooth or a Roald Dahl book.
The player is on a train that mysteriously stops in a giant field of corn. You get out and explore a town full of odd people.
Gameplay revolves around having a big notebook full of thoughts or ideas as well as a bag of items. Each location has some intro text, following which you can use the map or click on one of these ideas.
This is essentially quadratic in nature, then, with interactions of each item with each location. This was manageable at first but grew a bit out of hand for me. I also found the movement in the game extremely tedious as I had to click a location on the map, navigate its initial text for the dozenth time, then click on the next location, etc. especially when running back and forth to check for missed things.
After about 2 hours of gameplay I found trouble following the walkthrough, as a woman I had talked to earlier was supposed to appear in the Center-West Tram Station but never showed up.
Overall, I would be interested in seeing the rest of the game at some point, but the interactivity was pretty frustrating.
Midway through this our mortal life: “The train seemed to be slowly moving towards its goal. To my goal, to be exact. The iron car, puffing to its destination, will go back in just a couple of hours — for me it was a one way ticket.” When the train breaks down, waylaying us in a mysterious village, we’re primed for a metaphorical journey of pilgrim’s progress paused, but quite quickly we’re handed a map, given a quest, which opens up another quest, which requires us to manage our inventory, and voila – you have stumbled upon the latest Russovian convergence!
Through this custom system, Twine in form but parser in spirit, characters nod us toward puzzles with glib pretenses: a character wants to get into the train for Reasons, but “I am not on the best of terms with the miserly driver, and without his cap it is simply impossible to get into the cab!” Yes, to get into the driver’s cab, apparently all you need is the driver’s cap. This whimsically arbitrary knockabout of “asking questions will only slow you down” fetch quests sets the tone for a puzzlefest that delights in both continually posing story elements while also subverting them with cheerfully blatant gamey surfaces: ““That the train is drawn on the map, as if it always stands there, like buildings in the city! What is this nonsense? And then, when did you manage to draw the train on the map?” / The mayor slowly drew the tobacco mixture into his bowels and passed his hand in front of my face as if he was stirring something in my head. / “Firstly, relax. Secondly, you are mistaken about buildings. Thirdly, the train stands exactly in the place where it is drawn, I don’t see a mistake here.”” Don’t be concerned about the how, definitely not the why, but the what, oh, we’ve got plenty of the what around here.
Charmingly surreal enthusiasm keeps you always one headscratch behind. You stumble onto the public transportation system, only to be taken for a ride: ““Why doesn’t the tram go?” / “Because there are not enough passengers, it’s clear!” / “Let’s say your passenger is in front of you.” / The man slapped himself on the forehead so that dust rose: / “Kh-kh! Oh, and I wonder why this face is unfamiliar. Are you off the train? The whole town is already talking about you. Let me explain how our trams work. / I tell you: trams run very rarely, basically we can do without them. But sometimes we have to poison jackals, otherwise they rush to people.”” So many questions, but rest assured, none of them will be answered. One Way Ticket commits to the bit, even as it enjoys thinning the bit as much as possible without causing the fourth wall to snap. Taunting you through the graphene grins the game’s humor: “The fence did not look very unapproachable, but I had absolutely no reason to pretend to be either a bee or a monkey, which at all costs had to get close to the flowers.” The implication being, of course, that you will need to puzzle through the fence to collect the flowers.
That creative tension between offhand grabbagging ideas and then committing to them with ebullient certainty bestows brilliant paint, “even yellower than the yellowest cadmium sulfide used by artists to represent the color yellow”, on what might otherwise be industrially mechanical. A statement like ““And what is this city?” / The little man beamed with genuine joy and answered: / “This is the city of which I am the mayor!”” manages to turn a character’s utilitarian flatness into a disarming joke. One character, having finally had his state changed by your successful completion of his fetch quest, shares your relief as we progress to the next set of unexpected whatsits needing whotsits: “"I’m so glad I can finally leave this basement. Frankly, I’m already fed up with the taste of the local hookah — it’s like playing with someone who knows only one opening: boredom is death, the very sense of the game disappears…” The sense of the game, then, appears in the dislocating weirdnesses that keep you guessing, not just through the puzzles, but in the much harder to parse contexts.
Unfortunately, the game dislocates you much more than I think it intends to, which dials up the confusion to migraine. Firstly, the inventory management necessary to solve puzzles is kind of unclear. You have two inventories, a journal full of notes you’ve made and a bag full of items you’re carrying, and you oscillate through them basically at random: to meet the priest for the first time, you need to use a note from your journal about meeting him in the evening to solve a puzzle about turning the sun to change the time, but when you get the fetch quest item for him, you have to use that item from your inventory to turn the sun to change the time. Then, once you give him the item, you need to make it day again, which requires you to use a journal note to change the time. In each instance, the UI obliques the puzzle through an obfuscatory layer roughly correlate with “guess the verb” frustrations.
Secondly, the occasionally haphazard translation can make disambiguating between what’s weird intentionally and what the language barrier has rendered confused difficult: ““Here is the last passenger!" the tram driver exclaimed when he saw me. / “An extremely curious passenger!” the python passenger looked at me angrily. “Here you are, in order to dispel possible misinterpretation.” / The passenger pulled out of his high boots first one, and then another one… hand. / “I’m a right-four-handed, haven’t you met someone like me?” / I was petrified to the point where I couldn’t even shake my head. The two right hands were fingering with the numb fingers pulled out from narrow boots.” So in this scenario, we have the zany puzzle that someone has all their limbs on one side, but when I first read this, I thought it was someone with four arms but who was right handed, a misconception that obscures the puzzle solution you have to later intuit. And uh, why is he a python? “He was like a python put in a box for a hamster serving a python a light breakfast.” Uh. Okay. I guess, um, that clears it up?
Thirdly, the Twinesque UI requires you to click through a lot, but requires precise input on specific screens, which is both more difficult than it needs to be and results in a lot of lost time cycling through or pausing to think if you should intervene in some new way before moving on, etc. Plus it makes movement around the map much more difficult, since each location requires you to click through the same introductory material each time, which can be annoying. Compounded this annoyance, the map is segmented into quadrants, which slows you down by forcing you to travel through hubs to get to the location you want. Given with the sheer amount of needing to wander around and try random things or notice random things that might have inexplicably changed from one moment to the next, it can become exhausting.
But if you can keep pace with the wayward logic, you can enjoy its complex layers of interdependence that lets you trace disparate elements as they course to an emotive core, slowly recognizing the life inside the inexplicable architecture: “The whole building looked crooked and oblique and rather resembled some kind of creature, molded from plasticine and not falling apart only because somewhere inside there were thin, but rigid wires hidden, with invisible ties connecting all unsightly protrusions and corners into a single whole.” Indeed, the game’s delight in inventiveness manifests most obviously in that everyone you meet, even the tavern hostess, is an inventor in disguise, and your job is to help them build their machines and improve the world in excitingly unexpected ways. Perhaps the game describes its madcap inventiveness best: “Some kind of harnesses and chains, which seemed to be randomly wound on the axles and gears of the mechanism, led from wheels to pedals, and from pedals to other wheels, creating a kind of mechanical tangle that I could not unravel at first glance.” And if it all breaks down, leaving you stranded indefinitely? Well, you ought to try the local corn wine.
One Way Ticket is a surreal custom choice-based game about being stuck in a strange town after your train runs into an accident… the railway is covered in a big mountain of corn. These circumstances only get stranger. If you want to leave you will have to show initiative by pestering the locals, worming your way into off-limit areas, and maintaining your sanity is this odd, odd adventure.
This is a town where (Spoiler - click to show) people use golden sand as currency, night and day are determined by adjusting the arms on a clock, buildings have legs, everyone only eats corn, and lions hang out in the valley. There is also an NPC (Spoiler - click to show) who has arms and hands in place of legs and feet. Soon after your arrival, the mayor gives you a town map that already has the broken-down train marked on it, almost like a historical landmark. His also attitude suggests that the train (which, by the way, has *(Spoiler - click to show) eyes for wheels) and its passengers were meant to be trapped here, but that won’t stop you from looking for a way out.
Despite this weirdness, this is not a horror game, more akin to a demented version of Thomas the Tank Engine (not Thomas himself but the human characters). These themes are subtle, and that is the whole point. If you like vague, slightly unsettling themes right under the surface in a surreal game, this might be for you.
After an intro in the train, you are essentially dropped into the middle of town to fend for yourself. This means wandering around and asking people questions. Later on, the gameplay becomes more complex.
The gameplay is structured for convenience and frustration, a surprising combination. The central mechanic revolves around the two icons at the top of the screen: a satchel icon (for inventory) and a notebook icon. The satchel icon keeps track of clues and observations which are added as you play. Any noteworthy information in a scene is underlined and sent to this section for future reference. For me, there was a learning curve with how the gameplay implements these two icons. In an interaction you can open the notebook or satchel to select an entry to be used in the encounter.
"By the way, if you want to eat or something else, say, do not hesitate!" she added cheerfully, without turning around.
Ask about the driver and conductor.
Above is an early scene where you talk to the hostess in the tavern. “Say goodbye” and “Ask about the driver and conductor” are action links, the latter of which only appears if you open the notebook section and select the clue about the driver and conductor’s whereabouts in the notes section. Easy enough. The problem is that later in the game the objectives and puzzles become increasingly cryptic, technical, and confusing. I found myself just randomly trying every clue in an encounter until I found one that did something. At times, the number of clues and details can be overwhelming, especially if you have a hard time following the story.
The reason why I am giving this game three stars instead of four is because the last third of gameplay involves excess backtracking for solving the dozen or so final puzzles. You navigate by opening and clicking on a map which translates into, (Spoiler - click to show) go to the tavern, the trolley, another trolley, the cemetery, the trolley, another again trolley, the tavern, the southern trolley, the workshop, the southern trolley, the tavern, the- and so forth. Usually this is just to switch between night and day via the tavern, but it feels so repetitive, even more so since this is a long game. At least it was fun to see the night and day art for each location.
The gist with the story is that a mountain of corn is covering the train tracks, and that the only way for it to be removed is to eat it…………..it is hard to keep track of events in this game. It largely has to do with (Spoiler - click to show) dealing with the lions in the valley, but to get to that point you must do all these odd jobs (like obtaining some golden sand so you can actually buy something) to acquire the resources need to achieve that.
I was using the walkthrough for most of the second half of the game (Initially, I thought I was making speedy progress, but when I saw the walkthrough, I realized I had a long way to go). By the time I finished I was not even sure of what I accomplished. It was (Spoiler - click to show) snowing and everyone seemed miffed that I banished the lions. I can’t even remember if I managed to leave.
It feels like you have to jump through hoops just to get some answers about the story. It is not as if the game simply skips over discussing exposition about the town but having played it for several hours, I find myself unable to piece it all together. While it is not really something I plan to play more than once, the optional achievements and bonus art galleries make it awfully tempting.
The game vaguely suggests that the protagonist is male, but there is a scene on the train that may or may not be an opportunity to choose your own gender. It has to do with examining and entering the bathroom doors, but it does this so vaguely that I cannot say for sure.
I thought it was interesting how the game uses a first person and past tense narrative. The protagonist is telling a story that already occurred, which I do not see as often in interactive fiction. We also do not get much background on the protagonist, only that they are on the train to leave an old life behind. Obviously, this debacle with the corn-oriented town derailed (hey!) their plans of starting a life somewhere new.
Some of the NPCs are a little intense, but others are mysterious in a cool way. It is hard to pinpoint characters’ motives. Combined with being stuck in a strange town, that is a little worrying, but also the whole point.
I really like the art which uses basic lines and shapes to form an image but at times it’s a little unsettling. Imagine taking several sticks and lining them up perfectly side by side except for one that is slightly bent. It is barely noticeable, but something at the back of your brain thinks, “huh, that’s weird.” This is not a complaint since it contributes to the bizarre weirdness that is lurking about. Most of the art though, is not like that. A great feature is a gallery section that collects the art you have found. There are quite a few.
There is also a handy in-game map of the town that expands as you explore more areas. You just click on where you want to go. If I had to describe the map’s style, I would say that it looks like it was hand drawn and then processed through Microsoft Paint, but much nicer looking. And I like the style. It is just hard to describe.
A downside is that I noticed some mildly frequent spelling errors sprinkled about. The game is certainly not sloppy, but a final round of proof-reading would have added some polish.
One Way Ticket does an effective job at conveying a surreal setting featuring a flustered protagonist forced into bizarre and unexplained circumstances determined not to succumb to the wonderful life that the town claims to offers. I must say, this game’s story is probably the most eccentric, but also memorable, out of all the entries I have played so far for this IFComp.
Ultimately, this is a quality game, and quite an adventure. However, based on its length and repetitiveness near the end, I recommended it if you are looking for a creative take on surrealism and have the patience to be in it for the long haul.
*When I saw the cover art, I had the impression that this would be a kids’ game. It’s not. But it was not until I played the game that I noticed the “wheels” on the train are supposed to be (Spoiler - click to show) eyes. I think since they blink on the menu page in the game.
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