Cryptozookeeper, Robb Sherwin’s latest punk noir, has that cheap feel of a movie that’s been shot exclusively at night in non-descript locations using the director’s friends and their hapless pets as unpaid actors. The cheapness extends to the implementation.
The system lacks a keyboard, but there are big, and rather friendly pushbuttons placed on the front of the deck. Out of the corner of your vision, the pushbuttons seem to have weird glyphs written on them, but when directly viewed they clearly say POWER and MERGE. (The monitor has no buttons, simply a knob for adjusting brightness.)
GET POWER BUTTON
GET MERGE BUTTON
You are wearing your vest, your lip ring, and your glasses.
You are also carrying a revolver, the cellular phone, some entrails, the merge button, the power button, and the monitor’s brightness knob.[/spoiler]
Not only can you walk away with the buttons, but you can also operate the device from another room, a much welcome comic relief in a game that takes bleakness to new levels. You play William Vest, a tedious underachiever who’s never read anything other than a box score and whose memories seem to be an endless array of pointless anecdotes which are, at best, mildly amusing, but only in small doses. Vest works as a courier of illegal biomaterial for Igor Cysterz, a mobster of vague ethnicity. On this particular night your employer has accepted a substantial sum from unspecified “Top Men” to kill you. His weapon of choice is a dog. Why not a gun? Because this is The World According to Robb Sherwin and all the comedy in it derives from everyone in it being submental, except the protagonist who’s a smug mocker. Sounds a lot like The World According to Adam Cadre, doesn’t it? The difference is that Cadre is occasionally funny.
You are standing in a cramped office. There is Igor, his dog, a cauldron containing a bad oyster and a bottle of Worcester sauce. At some point Igor will sic his dog on you and you’ll be ripped to pieces. The solution is not so much an exercise in cognition as in empathy. Don’t think “How would an intelligent person approach this?”, think instead “What does Robb Sherwin find amusing?” Robb finds vomit amusing. The solution is to pour the sauce on the bad oyster, eat it and feed the dog your vomit, thus distracting it.
This is the first puzzle and it sets the tone for what is to come: obtuse, arbitrary and of uncertain causation.
Feeding your vomit to the dog lands you in a cell. There is a corpse in the cell and searching it you find a remote control. In the cell opposite yours are two old acquaintances. You tinker with the remote control and a clunky conversational system and after a while the emperor from Star Wars comes and releases you from the cell. The causation is vague. Did my tinkering with the remote somehow beckon the emperor or did I simply exhaust the conversation topics?
This is all very Theatre of the Absurd, but unintentionally so because I doubt Robb knows (much less cares) who Samuel Beckett was. This isn’t Robb bemoaning the meaninglessness of life. This is Robb being unable to design a single puzzle that makes sense. Despite all this, Cryptozookeeper is Sherwin’s best game to date. Those of you familiar with his previous output will know exactly how modest a compliment this is. Here’s another modest compliment. Robb Sherwin is easily one of the top ten writers of interactive fiction. One of the things I’ve learned from you people is that rock bottom is not a level plane at all but has its own rich topography. Adam Cadre wrote what is probably one of the worst novels ever published, and yet he is Cervantes compared to Sherwin. Sherwin, in turn, is Shakespeare compared to Plotkin who is Dante compared to Aaron Reed.