JJMcC's SpringThing23 A-S-T-O-O-T

I Am Prey by Joey Cramsey
Playtime: 1hr, in tutorial mode with Sneak off, escaped!

Ok just up front, let me say I’m going to do my best to stay neutral on this but you should know my biases:

  1. I’m a TADStan. Full bore. While clearly pushing me one way, there is also some back pressure in that I can’t help but constantly think ‘ooh, nice use of OutOfReach Container object…’ ‘aah, they maybe implemented it this way…’ ‘ehh that prepositional variable is off…’ which fights engagement.
  2. Triggered is too strong a word. Maybe Tweaked. I get tweaked by ‘things stalking you’ games. It gives me anxiety way out of proportion for a guy typing on a keyboard.
  3. The TADS author board is populated by a wonderful cast of Mensch and SuperMensch. (And me.) Even among that Menschy population, Joey stands out among the Menschiest.

What I’m saying is you will have to judge how successfully I put all that aside. Anyway, this is surely the best game of the Thing, probably the year, maybe all time.

No, let me try to run at that again.

The setup is, you are a new life form in a sci-fi closed base setting, pushed into a life and death game of cat and mouse by a chatty but mostly unseen Adversary. WHY ARE WE ALWAYS THE MOUSE IN THESE THINGS??? There are two supporting docs you should absolutely secure before playing. A map and a rule book. I was a bit put off by the rule book. It is certainly complete. It also throws a LOT of information, gameplay reveals, and commands at you, before you have any game context. I definitely felt information overload reading it, the anxiety of needing to remember lots piling on my ‘I don’t like being prey!’ anxiety. Which is weird, because I am also a board game guy, and it certainly is not excessive in those terms.

On the other hand, the map is both cool and vital. Don’t try to play without it.

After the preliminaries, you wake up from your sci-fi cocoon and must parser your way to freedom! Despite the nervous wreck it made me, the stalking aspect is absolutely crucial to this game. Between that and the Turn Counter (or, as I though of it, the Stalker Progress Tracker) you are immediately focused on optimizing everything you do. Given I was playing in baby mode, maybe I didn’t need to be so nervous but whatever. The environs are economically described, in the sweet spot of having personality but not weighing down with repetition. There are some ‘gamey’ aspects (like letter coding segments of corridor) that at first feel weird to read, but quickly settle into transparent map orientation shorthand. Though god forbid you don’t have a map. (To be fair, there are accessibility hooks I did not test drive that may alleviate this.)

I really dug the parkour element of the game, though I chafed slightly at calling it ‘parkour.’ Practically speaking, what it amounts to is finding hidden areas and exits in rooms by scrambling over stuff. That’s cool! As a word though, ‘parkour’ evokes a kinetic, acrobatic dance of sorts, and this is not that. This is finding hidden areas and exits. What it does do is make even the most spartan of rooms intriguing with possibility, and often rewarded! There seemed to be a few glitches once you parkoured (yes, I will be making up verbs in this series of reviews too), specifically around what was visible/reachable from different perches, but rarely and nothing fatal. At least on baby mode.

Two more quick quibbles. One, I think the Adversary needs just a little more spice. The impulse to let the reader’s imagination do the work is good, as I think we are meant to be unclear whether they are human or not. (Sidebar, there are some enigmatic things you can find that beg all kinds of intriguing questions.) It would be even better with just a few unexplained and disconcerting details. “The voice somehow catches when making glottal sounds, in a way human tongues never do.” “Every now and then, a dragging sound accompanies the footsteps.” “I catch a glimpse of cold, unblinking eyes. I’m not sure if it’s a trick of the light or if they glowed with a frigid inner light.”

Second, I think the search puzzle could be a little harder. In assembling all pieces of your getaway, you find over half of them in one place! Maybe there was a randomization at play or maybe it was baby mode?

Yeah, I’m overcompensating on the negative. I really had a blast playing this, and in particular liked the additional nuance of the parkour mechanism. Notwithstanding the mechanic’s name, it made what could have felt limiting and sterile breathe a bit with its own vibe. And I didn’t mention the stealth capabilities which were also crucial to this! You can manage or be tripped up by slamming doors. You can peek into and around areas before bumbling into your pursuer. There are atmospheric cues that help you gauge how close your pursuer is. All of these really push you into the role in an effective way and make the game feel more fair. While I didn’t include my IFCOMP metric of Would play after comp? I definitely will.

Prolly also devour the source code like a novel.

Spice Girl: Scary Spice
Vibe: Controlled Panic
Polish: Smooth
Is this TADS? YES, oh gods of my fathers! Lo’ the clouds didst part and the skies were rent with sweet music… sigh

I feel like my randomizer, by putting this so early in my queue, kind of sabotaged this bit. Stinkin’ algorithm.

Gimme the Wheel! While spicing the villain seems an obvious next step, if it were me I think I would instead focus on internalizing the rule book into the game. Not just cut and pasting it into HINTS/HELP, ( I mean definitely do that, but the author seems to already have that planned) but introducing mechanisms through early gameplay. “He’s almost caught me! As I duck into the Lab, I reflexively SLAM the door behind me. I hear his satisfying cry of pain and the sound of feet staggering. That gave him pause, I reflect with momentary satisfaction. What do I do with the bought time?” If narrative alone can’t get the job done, “(I have unlocked SLAM DOOR!)”

jjmcc_iap23.txt (80.6 KB)