Posted 31 March 2000 to rec.games.int-fiction
A Review of LASH
*** CONTAINS AWFUL, TERRIBLE SPOILERS!!! ***
*** YES, really! ***
*** Don't even think about quoting some of the spoily text without proper warnings! ***
*** that's probably enough ***
A long time ago, at the dawn of video games, there came a game called Spacewar. And it was good. Little spaceships fired torpedoes at each other. Everyone loved it.
The author decided to try to make the game a bit more realistic. Instead of the torpedoes travelling in a straight line (this was before they were affected by gravity) he decided to implement some random drift.
Players hated it. Vehemently. They were almost exclusively computer programmers, and they expected their machines to do what they were told. The author removed the feature.
The feeling of annoyance of one's machine not responding to one's controls is one of the many feelings that LASH brought out it me. It may or may not be what the author intended; regardless, I found it at least somewhat personally revealing, and certainly enjoyable.
This game is very well-crafted, a refreshing change from the general feeling of low-quality that many of the Comp99 games exuded. Thoughtful, subtle touches are everywhere. The first document of the game refers to us as "Aspirant", a clever foreshadowing of the trope of respiration, inspiration, and expiration. It's dated Aug 22, 2062, 82 years after the birth of Ray Bradbury. A bit of book-burning foreshadowing? Perhaps. Other "packaging materials" provide the solution to at least one puzzle; this harkens back to the good old days of Infocom.
(As an aside, I never thought for a moment that the Usenet announcement for LASH might be a real commercial posting. But that's just me.)
The NPCs can respond meaningfully to almost any noun referred to in the game. In some cases this is too much of a good thing; I found it discongruous to the point of amusement that the overseer was more than happy to chat away most of the day with a slave who really should be doing a bit more work.
The game remains a game without becoming overly literary. Standbys like locked doors, items hidden under beds, and excavating middens are entertaining and familiar, without being worn out. A number of the puzzles are genuinely new, and they're all fairly amusing. The fallen tree puzzle is quite clever, in my opinion.
The characters are not as cardboard as they sometimes are in interactive fiction. Consider the corpse. A person who has seen their country torn apart by civil war. A nuclear war, no less. Possibly a deserter from the army or a militia. And what nickname do they chose for themselves? Something macho like "Death Dog" or "Killer Joe" or "Punk Grrl"? No -- they call themselves "FODDER". To me this reflects an introspection and a wry wit that makes the looter (as if we're any better) much more sympathetic than they might otherwise be.
And then we have the Percys, who are mostly nice, but gave me a distinctly creepy feeling in a number of places. Lisa has designed a virtual environment in which pain and torture are not only plentiful, but inevitable. Just who did she think her audience would be? A bunch of masochists? I was reminded strongly of Bear's "hellcrowns." And I was a bit disturbed that I was about to hand over the technology for virtual torture to an "entertainment company."
It's worth remembering that the booth is a virtual reality simulator, and not some sort of time machine or mind projector. Carving your name into a tree in the simulation isn't going to affect "the present." No matter how many times Linda is freed, she'll still get whipped when we reboot. Are those characters, trapped in the simulation, enslaved any less? Even Matthew is not free; he's in for the same unpleasant surprise every time.
It also implies that everything in the simulation has been put there by Lisa. The alcove room, the wobbly brick -- everything. There is nothing in that environment that was not put there by her, the author.
I enjoyed the game immensely, and I think it has quite a bit of replay value, which is a high compliment indeed. Perhaps the only thing I would enjoy more would be a sequel. Picture this: you're the owner of the rogue MULE, sent to radioactive North America (I bet the Canadians and the Mexicans are pretty upset at the Americans for that) to retrieve the very expensive, very strong and fast, and very insane robot that you managed to break. Can you prevent it from spreading its virus to other robots, triggering the worldwide armageddon of machine life taking over the Earth?
Well, *I* would find it fun, anyways. The best sort of games are the ones you wish wouldn't end, and LASH certainly falls into that category for me.
This article copyright © 2000, Roger Carbol