Healy Reviews the IF Comp!

So hey, I’m gonna be reviewing the games in the 2014 IF Comp! Before that, though, some caveats: First, I’m not going to be able to review every game in the Comp; heck, most years I only judge 10. I might not get around to that one game that you’re dying to see a review of. If you feel strongly about it you can talk to me in the thread, although I can’t make any promises. Second, my writing’s not very refined, so my wit’s not going to be as sharp as other reviewers, my prose won’t be so sparkling, etc. More importantly, I may have trouble articulating why I did or didn’t like a game. I’ll try to be honest if that’s the case and move on. Which brings me to my final caveat, which is that I have my biases same as everybody else, and one thing I really, really, really really, [i]really hate[/i] is when games try to push my buttons. Some games do it skillfully enough that I don’t made, but certainly not all, or even most, and I’ve already made a mental note to avoid certain games based on their blurbs. So keep that in mind if I come across anything nasty in the games I review.

(Oh yeah, and these reviews might have some heavy spoilers. I’d really recommend playing the game before reading if you care about that kind of thing, especially since I can’t guarantee these will even make sense if you haven’t.)

Okay, so the first game up Caroline, which is a game about a relationship that takes a weird turn. [spoiler]So it turns out your girlfriend is in some kind of cult, which is trying to bring a second savior into the world. Depending on your actions, the priestess in charge may declare you and Caroline the future parents of the above-mentioned savior, and after that, if you choose to stay with her, there’s a sex scene where you and Caroline try to conceive this miraculous infant (and possibly succeed, depending on how you view the ending).

I have a couple complaints about the story: first off, I’m not a big fan of sex scenes in IF, because it seems it’s really hard to write them without coming off as awkward. I admit, this is mostly a matter of personal preference, and the author acquits him/herself well under the circumstances, but I still think there are still some rough bits here and there.

Second, and most important, is that the story is rather loosely sketched; most people might take issue here with the characterization of Caroline, about whom we don’t know much about other than she likes cooking and reading and being flirty and signing up for weirdo cults. Oh, and Pink Floyd, too. But what I really wanted to know was, what the heck is up with this cult?? Is it contained to one city or is it a national/multinational phenomenon? Was it founded by the priestess lady, or did she just take the reins over when the original leader died/moved on? Honestly I feel like not enough attention was given to the cult, even though it’s kinda the centerpiece of the thing? I mean, telling people to procreate for cult purposes is basically a Jonestown maneuver (right? I think that’s a Jonestown thing), so you really think a game that showcases that kind of behavior would be all about all the other baggage from that association, like punitive punishments and other extreme measures to control the congregation. The only hint of that is the fact that no-one is allowed to leave the church during a service; while this is more extreme than most churches’ policy of coughing loudly when someone leaves early, on its own it’s a rather thin detail. Oh, and I guess that interview they have you do is weird, too? But that’s just so easy to brush off as usual video-game-screwing-with-you behavior. I dunno, I feel like part of this is due to the game trying to make some kind of statement about religious behavior, but it’s messing with the part of my brain that cares about cults. I thought the writing was pretty good (only noticed a couple typos), and the presentation is swank, but overall I think I would recommend the Wikipedia article on Jonestown over this.

Did I forget something? Oh yeah, the hybrid CYOA-parser. I think I can accept it as an experiment in the format, but overall I’d say it’s not as successful as An Earth Turning Slowly. I mean, I could get what it was going for but after a while I got tired of doing all that typing. This kept me from replaying it as much as I’d like, especially since most of the plot branches happen relatively late in the game.

So, yeah, Caroline! It’s okay, but mostly only okay. Check it out if you like okay things, I guess.[/spoiler]

Next up: Sigmund’s Quest, I think?

Okay, Sigmund’s Quest. It’s a game based on a Norse saga. [spoiler]This one was going so well. The interface was a little awkward, but I liked where the story was going and found the graphics charming, even though I know many may find the low-rez pixel graphics a cop-out. I ran into a bug that made me restart a while in (the interaction pop-ups weren’t displaying correctly), but it was pretty early so I didn’t mind too much. Then I hit the end.

“Congratulations!” it said, or something like that, “You’ve reach the end, for now. The rest of the story is To-Be-Continued. Further episodes are planned at BlahBlahBlah.com…”

“Oh come on!” I believe I said, aloud. I got cornswaggled by a frigging demo! And what’s worse, they didn’t even pick a good stopping point in the story for the end. Remember the end of Hobbit 2: Dwarf Boogaloo, when they try to kill the dragon dude (played by Lumberjack Kellog-Johns) but don’t, and it just ends there? That’s exactly what happens here. Heck, at least in Dwarf Pratfalls 2: The Search for Thorin’s Gold, they had the good grace to pull that stunt after two movies and approximately eleven hours of screentime. The end of Sigmund’s Quest doesn’t even have momentum going for it.

So I don’t know about this one. I was enjoying it until I hit the end, but that end made me so cranky and irritable that it erased nearly all the good feelings I had about it before. I’ll think I‘ll just not rate this one, and perhaps advise the author to check out something like IntroComp next time.[/spoiler]

Up Next: I wanted to review Laterna Magica after this one, but I think that’s going to take some digging into. So, um, hmm, The Screaming Vaults of Kas the Betrayer sounds good, I guess.