Mike Russo's Spring Thing 2024 Reviews

Rescue at Quickenheath, by Mo Farr

I hope nobody reading my reviews is under the misapprehension that I ever strive for, much less achieve, objectivity, but I figure it’s probably worth acknowledging when I’m coming to a game with an especially large bias: I am a complete sucker for 18th Century stuff, and this game’s Blurb With Frequently Capitalized Words, use of “&c.” for etc., and broadsheet-style fonts are speaking one of my love languages. Now, this can sometimes be a double-edged sword, because it means I started playing with high expectations and a nagging dread that they might be dashed. Happily, that is not at all the case, so much so that I’m quite sure Rescue at Quickenheath will delight even those benighted souls who don’t have strong feelings about perukes, coffee-shops, and Tristram Shandy.

Admittedly, part of what makes the game work is that it doesn’t wear its setting too heavily; this is a fantasy-tinged take on Georgian London where the fae have an embassy, for one thing, and the author’s note disclaims any pretense of historical realism. Still, there are enough authentic touches to lend some nice flavor, from the sensationalized news coverage that relates the backstory (you’re a highwayman whose partner in crime has been nabbed and is slated for execution in a few hours – thus the need for the eponymous rescue) to the acknowledgment that the execution really should be happening at Tyburn Cross rather than the titular Quickenheath. The language also strikes a solid middle-ground; the prose eschews complex18th-Century sentence structure in the interests of readability and pacing, but the entertainingly flippant narration still seems a fit for the story, like this description of a prison:

In all your years of highway robbery, you’ve never been captured or arrested, so this delightful little escapade marks your first view of the inside of a prison. You can’t say you think much of it. It’s a little bit damp, and not even with the poetic, angst-ridden kind of damp, merely the boring kind.

(OK, that dig at poets is maybe aimed more at the Romantic era, but it still works).

The characters are likewise relatable without feeling like they’re jarring with the setting, albeit it helps that the only ones who are fleshed out are the main duo of outside-of-society criminals and a number of faeries. These latter don’t have the alien, cruel bent that characterizes the oldest fairy stories, but they are an appealing bunch nonetheless – my favorite was a bewhiskered fairy who responded to my overly-audacious plots with a litany of “don’t say that!”s and “dreadful, dreadful.”

The gameplay also takes a middle course. While Rescue at Quickenheath isn’t a full parser-like choice game, for the first two-thirds of the story can you can freely navigate between different locations, and there are puzzles to be solved – a couple inventory puzzles, a riddle or two, a hidden password… The game does a good job of implying that there are high stakes for getting these right, though after having failed a couple, I think this is something of a bluff, and even if you fail fate will contrive to keep you on course – which is appropriate to the game’s easygoing vibe.

Do I have some quibbles? Of course I do! There were a few times where I wished the game did take its own conceits a little more seriously –in particular, there’s one moment towards the end that seems to undermine a key plot element having to do with your unfortunate partner (after having made such a big deal of True Names, surely it’s not great that you blab out their new True Name in the middle of a hostile crowd?). And since much of the real drama of the game turns on the two main characters working up the gumption to reveal their feelings for each other, I felt the lack of any real barriers that would have prevented them from doing so earlier.

There are minor, minor complaints, though, ones that I noted in passing out of a sense of intellectual rigor, but which did nothing to reduce my enjoyment of the game. Rescue at Quickenheath is a pure romp, accessible while remaining true to its inspirations. And hey, it might even work as a gateway drug for people who are 18th-Century curious…