kVella's 2023 IFComp reviews

Kicking off IF Comp this year I played The Engima of Solaris. It is a pretty generic sci-fi setting with the player taking on the role of a sort of technical trouble-shooter sent off to a failing space station to prevent an impending disaster there, namely that due to a mysterious power loss the station is going to fall out of orbit. My suspension of disbelief was already taking a bit of a hit at this premise; why would losing power cause an orbiting object to cease orbiting? This is never really explained.

The prose generally suffers from being a bit on the nose and there are instances of just plain bad writing. For instance in the path I chose I ended up in a fight with the station commmander. At one point he drops a weapon of which there was no mention of previously. It is as if the scene was written very hastily with little editing. This commander is the only character you interact with on the station as far as I experienced and the premise of him going a bit mad due an obsession with the power of the station’s AI system and the pursuit of knowledge at the expense of all else is a good one but has not really been developed fully. A ‘cosmic event’ is mentioned in passing as a reason why the AI and the commander have compromised the safety of the station but this event is not really explored in any vivid or engaging way.

In terms of gameplay there is not that much in the form of puzzles or meaningful interactivity but it is a very short game. I felt no real sense of tension, challenge or dilemma playing this.

The game engine itself is pretty well presented. I had not heard of Strand before. It is a hybrid parser/choice system although I found myself giving up on the parser pretty quickly as there was little to do with it other than ‘look’. It seems that you can play this game all the way though without ever using it anyway.

There is some decent sound design in this game and I really liked the main theme music. Some people might not like music in IF but I certainly do so long as it is atmospheric and not intrusive. The art on the other hand I felt detracted from the atmosphere a bit.


Next up is A Thing of Wretchedness

I really liked the melancholy atmosphere and creepiness of this game. It is almost like a dementia simulator, with the player character being an ‘old hag’ snowed into a house haunted by dying memories of a happier past. Also in the house is the titular character, the ‘wretched thing’, which spends it’s time eating chow and smashing up the various items and keepsakes of the house.

The wretched thing is the central mystery of the story and the author does a good job of never giving much away about what exactly it is. You learn about it from what it does and the PC’s various reactions of disgust and pity towards it. An absent husband is mentioned a few times or perhaps the wretched thing could be a projection of the PC herself. I think this is quite intriguing with some quite dark implications.

I did one playthough and found the ending slightly abrupt and jarring. I read the walkthrough afterwards and found out that there are other endings. I replayed and reached one of them which was quite different to the first but seemed to allude to events that are not revealed in the previous part of the game or else I might have missed them. The author does say that while this game takes place within the same setting as another game of theirs (Ascension of Limbs) but that A Thing Of Wretchedness is self contained as it’s own narrative. I’m not so sure about that. It does make me want to play Ascension of Limbs though.