Posted 16 November 2005 to rec.games.int-fiction
Yuki's 2005 IFcomp reviews.
What I want to see:
- A decent plot.
- As few errors as possible.
What I don't want to see:
- Surrealist crap.
- Lame puzzles.
- Troll games.
I will occasionally make exceptions to these rules, but those are rare. As I've said in the previous comp, don't be bitter if I've trashed your life's work. 90% of the interactive fiction games made in the early-mid 80's were what I'd call "crap", too. Most of these reviews contain spoilers.
Space Horror Part One by "Jerry"
What's this ? An html game in the form of a choose your own adventure-type book? That's not something you see every comp. Well let's have a look : The game begins with you, a college student, studying for your finals while sitting in a restaurant. You go to the bathroom and come back out only to find yourself in a "silent earth"-type situation. All of the people, except for you and a young lady you meet, have been abducted (or eaten, I'm not sure) by aliens and the town you are in is being patrolled by werewolf-like creatures. If you think that sounds strange, then you'll be even more surprised to hear that coffee is the only thing that keeps them away (this is reminiscent of the movie Evolution, where the only thing that kills the alien monster is shampoo). There are multiple threads to the story and this turned out to be just one of them, giving the game some potential replay value after you're done. Because of the html format of this game, there is no parser as such to comment on, but let's just say that there were no "404s". Not much else to complain about, but I'd imagine that most people won't like the lack of interactivity.
This turned out to be a fairly well written, if short (and somewhat melodramatic) adventure. It's easy to cheat too, but I'm not going to hold that against it.
Chancellor. By Kevin Venzke
First of all, this game starts off in a fairly generic fantasy setting with you being sent on a "quest" by your father, which is really a dream sequence that you wake up from later. When you do wake up, you learn that you are really a college student who is trying to finish an assignment. Okay so far, but it all goes downhill from there, or rather, it didn't go anywhere from there. The accompanying text file promises an adventure of "legendary difficulty". Some people just don't learn do they? The author's last game (Kurusu City) was extremely difficult too, mainly thanks to the unsolvable-without-a-walkthrough puzzles and lack of clues (which it was slated by many people for), however, what makes Chancellor difficult was the fact that I didn't have a clue what I was supposed to be doing or why. "So why didn't you just read the walkthrough?" I hear you ask. Well unfortunately there wasn't one, nor were any clues provided beyond the aforementioned dream sequence. At first, I thought that the goal of the game was to try to finish my assignment, but after attempting this I was told that I still had plenty of time to do it later. I explored the building I was in, but there wasn't anything especially interesting to look at in there or anyone around to talk to. Wandering aimlessly around an uninhabited dorm while being hounded by inane pizza references is not my idea of an adventure, so after enduring this tripe for two hours, I quit. Was something exciting supposed to happen? Or did I render the game unwinnable? Someone please enlighten me.
PTBAD by Slan Xorax
Mortality by David Whyld
Now this is more like it. Although there isn't as much freedom in this as there is in other IF games (you are limited to multiple choice decision making for most of the game), this one is rather good. You've been employed by an old millionaire to guard his wife, which eventually leads you into a sinister plot to kill him off. Throughout, the game has a nice atmosphere and is well written. Nice ending(s) too.
Ninja 2 by Paul Allen Panks
"This has got to be better than the last one," I thought to myself as I downloaded it, remembering last year's appalling entry. You, a ninja, start off in a Shinto shrine, along with an ice dragon who is playing games on a computer. I kid you not. I was about to put this immediately into the "troll" category, but something made me give it a stay of execution. So what's this version like? Well, let's just say that those random and irritating "insta-deaths" are still there, the parser is still appallingly bad and there still doesn't seem to be much of a plot. Like the original, Ninja 1.30, this version has plenty of howlers too:
"The ancient Chinese ice dragon appears to be smoking something...or is it breathing fire at you ? Only the Kami know!"
You mean I can't tell if it's breathing fire at me or not? Yeah, right.
Jesus of Nazareth. by Paul Allen Panks
Lord, why hast thou forsaken me? What eternal sin have I committed to warrant playing yet another game by that mangy mongrel Paul Allen Panks?
Name : Christ, Jesus H.
Mission : To convert people to your faith. (Well, sort of.)
To be honest, this game is marginally better than Panks's other effort, Ninja 2, but it's certainly not without its problems. You see, it's funny how the man who can feed the five thousand and turn water into wine can't even successfully talk to a Roman soldier:
You cannot do that here.
Erm, why not ? An explanation would be nice.
The parser is as bad as ever, too. It doesn't understand commands like "south" unless they are abbreviated to "s", yet you cannot go, say, south east by typing in "se". Sorry, not good enough. So I started the game and wandered around a bit, before finally bumping into a Roman centurion who tried to arrest me. A fight ensued. I must have missed the part of the bible about Jesus scrapping with a Roman, but unfortunately it would seem that I had got myself into another one of those "Ninja 1.30"-type fight scenes (with incomprehensible commentary to match) :
You raise your hands to attack the centurion...
Oh sweet mercy ! You DESTROYED centurion !
The sins of the son now outweighs the sins of the father.
@Press any key to continue...@
Your hit points are now: 97
The enemy centurion has: 69
Uh, I thought I'd just destroyed him...? Well it didn't really matter because he killed me after this anyway. This was yet another stinker of a game by Panks, so Lord, please forgive him of his sins because I'm pretty sure the comp judges won't.
Mix Tape by Brett Witty
According to the readme file accompanying this game, Mix Tape is "heavily story-based". That said, the story wasn't that impressive and there wasn't anything special enough in there to redeem it; Mix Tape is about two people ending a relationship and from what I gathered, CDs and music were somehow involved (most of the music/artists that were mentioned in the game I've never even heard of, so the numerous references didn't mean anything to me). Maybe if I knew what the music was all about then it might have all made sense, but even trying to "ask character about music" didn't clue me in. But that wasn't the only gripe; even if I had understood the music references, I didn't particularly warm to either of the characters (the guy in the game is a jerk with no perceivably redeeming qualities) or understand what they saw in each other, so I didn't care anyway. There were no puzzles as such, yet somehow I only managed to get 40 out of the 82 points in this game after finishing it. God knows where the rest of the points went...and who the hell is "Cibo Matto"?
Beyond by Mondi Confinanti
Now here was another one I thought was alright. It has a pretty surreal plot that I can't be bothered to go into detail about, but it was good nonetheless (let's just say it's a murder mystery). I didn't encounter any parser problems and the conversations that took place throughout the game were well structured and laid out. A couple of the tasks you have to complete are awkward to do without the walkthrough and I noticed one or two spelling errors, but nothing too bad (considering that English was not the author's first language, it was very good). Overall, an above average game.
Plague—Redux by Laurence Moore
Before this game begins, you are asked if you want to read the introduction. I wanted to, but couldn't- selecting "yes" or "y" just starts the game, as if I'd said no. Never mind, I'll let that one pass. Despite that, the game looked very promising to begin with. It was a little weird having it written in the first person, but the scenery was alright and the characters seemed realistic enough. There are a few spelling mistakes and punctuation errors in there, but those are forgivable. Unfortunately, two minutes into the game I encountered a bug that placed me in a completely blank room with no means of escape (i.e. the game was rendered unwinnable). Strike one. I emailed the author about this problem and he told me how to get around it. It worked, and I was able to continue. Okay, I'll be fair and give it another chance. In Plague -Redux, you play a young woman stuck in a zombie-filled London (think of the movie "28 days later") and presumably, the goal is to escape alive. You wake up in a mall (why wasn't I eaten like everyone else?); everything is covered in blood and no one is around to help you. That was when it all went to pot. First off, let's establish one fact: Blood and gore are wonderful attention-grabbing devices, but only when used occasionally. When they are thrown around like confetti and put in almost every single location of the game, they start to lose their pizzazz very quickly.
The puzzles in this game (or at least the few I saw before I quit) were contrived and poorly implemented. For example, picture this: anarchy has broken out and zombies are running around eating what few people are left in the city. You encounter a task that involves you trying to get a bottle of water from a vending machine in a blood-stained room. You need some money to get it, but don't have any, so what would you do in this situation? Go on, be honest. You'd break into it, wouldn't you? I tried it and here's the response I got:
What on earth would I need the vending machine for? Presumably, I'm now expected to go hunting around for money to put in this vending machine (try finding it without the walkthrough) instead of following the most obvious, logical solution of simply putting my size six though the front of the damned thing and just taking what I need. Sorry, I'm not buying that. Strike two.
So I explored this blood-covered place a little bit more and ended up in a blood-covered toilet (noticed a pattern developing yet?) where some zombies were busy munching on someone from inside a closed, blood-covered cubicle (the parser didn't understand "open cubicle", but understood "open door"). I opened the door and the zombies came after me. I then tried to fight them off, or at least I tried because I was asked to choose between "[F]ight" or "[E]scape" and it didn't understand the command "f", so I then typed in "fight" and was greeted with:
So I tried "escape" instead, but the parser didn't understand that either. I then (L)ooked, and to my amazement the zombies had apparently disappeared(!). I couldn't be sure if they had or not, because e(x)amining the zombies gives the same response in every location in the game, whether there are zombies around or not. I moved out of the blood-covered cubicle and lo and behold, the zombies were back inside it again (did I mention that this cubicle was covered in blood?). It didn't matter, though; by this time, I'd already had enough of this blood-soaked comedy of errors, so I quit. "Plague - Redux" certainly lived up to its name, because the game is bug-ridden and judging from the fact that nothing in it has been edited since May 2005, lack of time cannot be considered an excuse for this. "But isn't the game scary and atmospheric?" you ask. Read the above review and tell me- would it matter?
Strike three; you're out.
3/10 (Might have got about 5/10 if there had been fewer bugs.)
That's all I could take for this year, so there you go.
This article copyright © 2005, Yuki