Posted 21 June 2000 to rec.games.int-fiction
**Interactive Fiction Review Conspiracy**
Review of Suzanne Britton's WORLDS APART
by Sam Barlow.
At the end of the last Millenium (not officially, but according to TV), in the month of December, I played World's Apart (it was the first weekend that it was released) over a period of two days. Then, having been immersed its world, I emerged from the conclusion as if leaving a cinema after a forty hour film-- disorientated, pupils large, hungry--and quickly wrote a review praising the game to the highest heavens and making a fair few astute critical observations.
Then along came this thing called the "IF Review Conspiracy". They needed reviewers, so I put myself down for the cause. I held my review of World's Apart back, expecting the author, in turn, to put the game forward. And she did. Then I read the reviewing guidelines for the 'Conspiracy. They said no spoilers. Bear in mind that my review was rife with spoilers. So I prepared to rewrite the review. And, just as I was preparing, I got my work visa through and had to relocate my life from the UK to the US, start a new job and suffer acute culture shock (harder than the simple transposition of a K for an S makes it look). So the review was put to one side.
(a few months later...)
OK, I have a house, a job, a car, a social security number, a driving license, bank account, etc, etc. But the review hasn't been re-written.
And now I can't wait any longer. I've got to do do the review--I owe it to the Conspiracy, to the author of World's Apart and to myself.
It seems obvious that it makes more sense to write the review from scratch rather than try and rehash the original by removing all the spoilers (which basically amounted to referring to scenes from the game and saying "didn't she do that well?")
So I get out my old copy of World's Apart and dust off the cover (actually it's not my old copy of World's Apart, it's the *new* 2.0 version). Slowly I realise why I've taken so long to get back to the review... this is a game which took my weekend and ate it whole and right now (with the American Work Ethic) I don't have too many spare weekends to give up as game food. You see, I do not remember playing World's Apart. I remember exploring World's Apart. The way I don't remember reading some great books. That immersion you get from a good book--
Because World's Apart set the puzzles at the right level to allow the reader to keep reading. No jarring full stops. If I think of a work of similar size--So Far, say--I spent several months in the first area (the one with the animals and the people running into houses). Whilst So Far  did a very, very good job of maintaining the illusion during these months and whilst I only got really irritated towards the end (NB: It wasn't that I couldn't solve the puzzles, but that I thought I couldn't solve the puzzles... of course if I'd sat there another five years I'd still think I couldn't) it wasn't the same. I managed to play through World's Apart in a weekend, without being jarred. And whilst the involvement was swift, it was also deep.
Not that there weren't puzzles, per say. There were. But they were immaculately keyed and suggested. There were puzzles requiring leaps of logic, leaps of syntax--but leaps with the author's hand in ours. The puzzles were ways of discussing the ideas with the player and having them confirmed--like a gentle lecture course; the author and player study together--the puzzles are a way of checking the reader has been keeping up.
World's Apart plays to the tried and tested IF Amnesia model, and does it damn well. Revelations are never forced and never over-emphasised (cf: Delusions and to some extent Babel). There is no artificial structure for revelation (cf: Delusions) or out of sync PC/player knowledge (cf: Babel). There is no hunger daemon (cf: Amnesia).
The story itself really pleased me. I'm not a big fantasy reader. The last thing I read in this genre was back in my early teens when I read some Stephen Donaldson books. So I can't say if the ideas in World's Apart are original, genre wise. I can say that there are some interesting twists of sorts and cute ideas floating around. Some nice visual metaphors too (I can only read fantasy as metaphor, I don't know if that's the right thing to do). The only problem I had was with the PC's nievity and lack of sexuality (esp. in the third quarter).
The story is revealed through cleverly meshed flashbacks and the game is full of interlinked themes and symbols that add dimension to the experience. The most satisfying of the game's puzzles are meta-puzzles, requiring the player to think outside the game whilst moving through the game--not in the sense of relating acts to an external system (the meta puzzle of 'what does it mean?') but in the sense that there is often little way of providing feedback on some of these puzzles--you either get it or don't--so the 'working out' of the puzzles goes on externally.
What you get for your money (in the sense that time is money) is a richly textured game world and a cleverly layered and unfolding story. World's Apart is a really solid example of how to use traditional IF means, within a traditional Infocom sized game but with well thought-out puzzles that are so incorporated into the story that they cease to be puzzles and are more correctly 'confirmation between author and player of a shared experience.' Note, when I say 'Infocom sized game' I mean by "size", the amount of work required of the player--there is far more detail here than in an Infocom game and there's certainly more story; whilst most Infocom games were either simple stories in the now, exploration of the remains of stories past or puzzle-strings led by story bookends, World's Apart has a lot of genuine *story* to get your teeth into.
So, to finish: If you're reading this because you haven't played World's Apart yet, stop wasting time and do so. If you have, good wasn't it? If you're Suzanne, stop reading this and go write the IF sequel. Please.
 Note: I think So Far is a bloody brilliant piece of IF. I did however seek assistance a LOT.
This article copyright © 2000, Sam Barlow