antimony: "Want some Rye?" with animation from Beyond Zork (want some rye)
[personal profile] antimony
So the annual Interactive Fiction Competition just started, and apparently we don't have to hold reviews until the end of the IF Comp any more, so I might as well post these as I play. (Feel free to wait until after to read if you're going to; I am going to do that with other people's reviews after feeling odd about reading a few which disagreed with me on games I've played.)

I'm not putting numerical ratings on now, as I do tend to grade on a curve for the comp. Instead, I'll just do pretentious hipster-restaurant menu descriptions. :)

I've mostly stayed spoiler-light with these reviews, so that they won't spoil the experience if a description sounds intriguing, but they're not spoiler-free.


1: With Those We Love Alive
[twine, played online]
Okay, first I have to get headphones and a pen. The headphones don't seem to be needed -- there's ambient music going on, but speakers would be fine, and so would turning the music off -- it's definitely mood-setting, but it's supplemental. And I'm not going to draw on my skin for a game, especially without instructions.

It didn't occur to me until later I could draw on paper, but at that point I'd been bemused by several "draw the symbol of severing" type instructions, with no description. I thought perhaps I was missing something. Maybe I was; possibly this thing is "creativity".

This sounds like a lot of complaining, but the game is definitely good at setting up an ambiance. I haven't played much Twine-based IF, and it makes it easier to go with the flow and just click things. I missed a bunch of options not realizing that you could change things in the early setup, but I quickly relaxed and went with the flow.

It's a fantasy-setting that's never quite fully worldbuilt for the player (I did get a feeling the author understood it), and rendered in lurid colors and hyper-florid language in the browser. The dialogue doesn't quite match the rest of the game -- too modern, jarring -- and since this story so far seems to be all about atmosphere instead of narrative, that's an issue. The plot never comes together, and I'm at a blank screen with music rolling and still not sure what I played. Atmosphere is important, but atmosphere alone isn't enough. Maybe it's just not my sort of game -- I need either more gamification or less -- I wanted it to give me symbols if I was supposed to do something with the pen; if it wanted me to design them I needed more. With all the choices for materials -- I felt like I couldn't tell if there was a right choice I'd missed or not, or if my choices were changing anything.

I finished the first play-through and writeup somewhere just short of the 2 hour mark; I did not want to start again.

Claustrophobia, tedium, pink, confusion.


2: Eidolon
[twine, played online]
Technical: I have to side-scroll. Not sure if this is the game or my computer, but it also happened on the iPad. It was playable on both, though.

After the previous game, this one was too similar in some ways -- metaphorical language with a mundane setting instead of a fantastic setting. Very traditional magical realism plus teenage protagonist opening. I mis-assumed the narrator's gender (embarassingly enough, with all the discussion on gender and gaming), but otherwise sort of clicked along for quite a bit, getting a little bored as nothing seemed to be happening. And then, boom, seeming (see below) linearity spilled into puzzles, which was refreshing. A dumbwaiter! A funky library! And then it -- the game, not me -- got stuck. Not having the ability to save in a puzzle game: annoying. Not having the ability to save in a puzzle game that hangs: really, really annoying. I'd like to play this when it's fixed, though; it started slowly but kept getting better.

That was my original review; the game was bugfixed early in the comp, and I found myself super-excited to play it again. The language felt like less of a barrier this time; I think I definitely was importing some of my reaction to the previous game. The narrator felt very real, as did the main NPC, and I found that I'd taken an entirely different route to the big shift in setting, which was fun -- there's a lot of world in one little tiny house in the beginning. What had seemed very linear wasn't, and what had seemed very open was more linear (since the puzzles only had one solution, after all), which was interesting on replay.

The puzzles themselves were straightforward but fun -- they didn't have too much fussing around, but I also didn't feel railroaded to the solution at all.

Moonlight, intrigue, teenagers, books.



3: Venus Meets Venus
[twine with save/restart options, played online]
Finally, save/restart options...on a game that seems straight-up linear. It felt too much like a social-justice polemic in places -- I didn't care enough about the main character to feel invested in her growth as a human (or not), and while I don't mind stories with a clear political bent, it has to work as a story as well.

The format is very good for it; it's all clearly in the past, so the linearity of it makes logical sense; there's no changing the past (at least not in this game). It feels like a confessional, like therapy, but not quite an entire work. But much more coherently and evenly-written than the previous two; the narrator/narration was absolutely consistent. Fairly literary, but of a style of literature I've never liked.

Confessional, detachment, vintage blogging.



4: Caroline
[online, odd parser/browser hybrid]
...it's a Twine-style game via a parser with prompts. Ow. Though it is nice to type; the problem I personally have with the movement towards Twine and Twine-style games is RSI-related. Mousing bothers me more than typing. But here, I had to exactly mimic the text in CYOA-style links. Eh.

It also had typos and hung, and where the previous one had sex because it was about sex, this one was just strange with it. The text is amateurish -- very Dick and Jane, which, along with the typos and creepy adult subject matter was very offputting. It also consistently hung for me at one point, although it has since been updated to fix the bug. I got past the hang by pulling open the source and slightly altering my path to that point again and...boring sex. Boring, boring, boring. And kind of dubcon. With at least one straight-up non-con path, though I didn't actually take that branch.

I was slightly surprised to be a dude after the first three games, though. :D

This is the one I've read other reviews of -- other people had a different reaction, taking the oddly constrained parser and the dub/noncon as a form of commentary. It was too poorly written to work in that way for me; it came across as sniggering at the sex rather than successfully making social commentary. Blah.

Boring, prurient, sophmoric, flat.


And those were the games I played on my first day. Next up: The Contortionist, Fifteen Minutes, Unform, The Urge, Zest, Missive.

Note: if linking, link to my ifcomp 2014 tag so that the spoiler cuts are intact.

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