Jim Nelson's IFComp review emporium

Get 'em while they’re hot, here are my reviews of games as I play them. I’m posting full reviews on my blog and capsule summaries here.

I’ll start with my scoring and reviewing rubrics.

The first batch of reviews are for Ghosts Within and Plane Walker.

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My full review of Ghosts Within is here. Capsule review:

Ghosts Within

Ghosts Within opens with a combination of familiar tropes. You awake in a dark forest with your memory fuzzy how exactly you got there. Wandering around, you meet a number of mysterious characters who give dodgy answers about their backgrounds and their relationships with the others.

The author went heavy on atmosphere and location for Ghosts Within. Fog comes and goes. Locales are bathed in moonlight. A young woman tends to her flowers in the middle of the night. You visit a rustic graveyard and a seemingly abandoned lighthouse. A hotel manager seems friendly enough, but she keeps glancing behind you as though someone just passed by, although no one else is in the lobby.

Ghosts Within is a game of exploration and conversation, with details gradually accumulating to reveal histories and submerged connections. It’s a rather large game for a first-time author. Most of my play time was spent wandering about and talking with the residents of Foghelm.

Almost all the jarring bugs are related to NPC interactions. For example, a man is nameless at one point, but after speaking to another character, he is known to you by name, but without introduction or the name being mentioned in the text. A nearby research facility can be a topic of discussion with another character, but again, I had no reason to know about it before that moment.

All said, I’m thoroughly impressed with Ghosts Within . Hats off to a first-time implementor writing a game that leans heavy on NPCs, conversations, and knowledge. Ghosts Within offers spookiness, tons of ambiance, and a gradual accretion of details that lead toward solving at least three mysteries: Who you are, why you’re there, and what really happened long ago in the village of Foghelm.

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My full review of Plane Walker is here. Capsule review:

Plane Walker

Plane Walker is an intriguing thriller that starts aboard an empty plane. Not just any plane—you wake up mid-flight to discover you’re a passenger aboard a jumbo jetliner devoid of travelers or crew. Your destination on your ticket has been mysteriously defaced. While this rings out like the set-up for a Twilight Zone episode or a Hollywood action movie, the opening lines hint at something more thoughtful.

I loved the thriller intensity of the set-up and the speed with which the game cuts to the chase. Within a few moves I knew the stakes. It’s a locked-room mystery, but the locked room is 20,000 feet in the air.

The premise is exciting, but some authorial decisions undercut it. One early puzzle requires a double EXAMINE, that is, you must look at the same object twice to discover the detail. I’m not a fan of such obstacles. Another early puzzle is essentially a brute-force problem—the game essentially admits as much, so at least the author recognizes it. Removing yourself from the plane is a head-scratcher, a strained management of inventory (although a couple of clues suggests there’s a logic to it that eludes me). I spent a great deal of time working through it, and had to resort to the walk-through to complete the first act.

Would I keep playing? I’m not certain. But I appreciate the high stakes and the conspiratorial intrigue of an empty jetliner flying high over Arctic—or is it Atlantic?—waters.

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@jnelson thank you very much for your in depth analysis of my game. Your comments are honorary. I have to inform you that English is not my first language, I have never lived abroad, and nobody in my family is an English speaker, thus I am really proud of what I have accomplished in my first-ever attempt in writing a complete piece of fiction, in general. I am also very happy that you thoroughly enjoyed my story and probably all the hidden messages, it tries to convey at points. Last but not least, although I am unsure what version of the game you have played, I have to inform you that a newer version of it is up on the if comp page. If you want to send me exactly what bugs and/or typos you have detected in order to correct them in a newer version, please do so via email: hnioxos1998@gmail.com

Best regards,
Kyriakos

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Hi – I surmised English was not your primary language from your ABOUT information, but I didn’t want to presume anything when I wrote my review. So, yes, with that confirmed it’s impressive you could produce a game of this size and with such haunting descriptions and text.

Let me assemble the bugs I found and message you. I did download the second version of the game, but I didn’t spend as much time playing it as I did my first round with the earlier version. What’s more, because I took a different starting point, I didn’t get a chance to try and reproduce the bugs I found on the first play-through. It’s entirely possible you fixed the ones I named; I’ll add a note to my review to that effect.

– Jim

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My full review of And Then You Come to a House Not Unlike the Previous One. Capsule review:

And Then You Come to a House Not Unlike the Previous One

And Then You Come to a House Not Unlike the Previous One is a lighthearted and inventive game about growing up in the 1980s.

Set in 1986 or 1987, the game opens with you, fourteen year-old Emerson, a teen gifted with a healthy imagination, and your friend Riley. Together you play Infinite Adventure , an era-appropriate computer adventure where every stage involves solving some pretty elementary puzzles. Eventually you begin moving between the computer world and the “real world” of Emerson and Riley, whose relationship is more complicated than it first seems. I found myself chuckling one moment and moved the next.

The execution is excellent. The prose and dialogue are spot-on, and the story develops organically. The shifting and blending between the “real world” and the computer world never left me confused. NPC interactions come off seamlessly.

That said, in the two hours I played, I was entertained but never intrigued. I felt the narrative heat could have been turned up a degree or two; I had trouble getting involved with the stakes. (Maybe I’m just too old.) And for all its admirable polish, the game felt a bit serialized. I wonder if I replayed it how similar the next run would be.

Still, And Then You Come to a House Not Unlike the Previous One offers an amusing trip down Nostalgia Lane. Of course, I’m pretty much its target audience, but I think most anyone will find something to enjoy in it.

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My full review of The Song of the Mockingbird.

Since my capsule reviews are not very capsule, I’ll just let the blog posts speak for themselves.

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I’ll also add, I’ve been very impressed by all the cover artwork so far. Great work!

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Thanks very much for your in-depth review of Mockingbird! I appreciate your picking it.

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My review of Unfortunate is now up: IFComp 2021: Unfortunate | Jim Nelson

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