Warning: Any review I write is liable to contain spoilers, ranging from light to heavy. I will put them all behind spoiler tags.
At King Arthur’s Christmas Feast (not, I think a great title because the feast is the intro, not the real meat) is a retelling in Choicescript of the Gawain poem. I know the poem a bit, so neither story nor setting came as a great surprise. Strange as it may appear, Choicescript is actually quite a neat fit: the whole of Gawain is really about how choices made at one point have consequences later.
I thought the execution was pretty good. I encountered one possible bug, but it might have been me. There’s a lot of text, so plentiful opportunity for typos and errors, and I expect they are there, but I didn’t notice them, so they’ve been reduced to the bare minimum. With so much text, that is quite an achievement. This seemed solid. 4.
Choicescript is heavy on text, and there was a lot of it here. For the most part it was fine. It had a tendency (which I assume is quite deliberate) to interject modern idioms (“Anyways”, says Guinevere; or the suggestion that you describe your noble brother as “a bit of a dick”) in among more literary, and even archaic, language, including what are either translations of the poem or slightly modified versions of it.
At first I found this jarring. But the writing is good enough that I am sure it was deliberate, and in the end I came to rather enjoy the way that it made the characters relatable. It is certainly preferable to gauche imitation. Still, multiple registers like this are always risky, and from time to time I thought the choice of words was just odd (e.g. a preference for “the Deity” over “God”, which seemed out of place).
There were times when I thought the game was being a bit heavy handed in the way it insisted on explaining chivalric codes or manners, as if I was reading some rather worthy educational piece. Telling not showing is always a risk in historical fiction, and it did happen sometimes. It’s obvious the author has studied the background of the game thorougly; but when you are writing a game, you need to wear that learning lightly. 3.
The use of choices here seems to serve to different functions (both legitimate): to allow you to develop a sense of your own character (through choices that I think make no difference to the outcome, but do affect the text), and a few key choices which in obvious ways are likely to affect the game. Given the time available, I did not hit the latter very hard, though I risked making one change to the canonical story, which did indeed seem to be reflected; I didn’t dare do the things I thought I would need to do to get a disastrous ending. The character-building choices seemed effective to me: I did feel that I had the ability to “play” Gawain with a certain amount of freedom. The Choicescript mechanism works well for these, since it gives you time to reflect on your selection.
In some cases I thought the choices seemed strained (choice for choice’s sake) or noncommittal; occasionally I got tired of being nagged repeatedly to make a decision I had already rejected. But overall, I felt the game did a decent job of turning the story into an interactive narrative, not simply packaging it with buttons. 3.
I enjoyed this a good deal more than I suspected I might. If it wasn’t for the pressure of the comp I’d be tempted to play it again and see if I could get a worse ending. It does a solid job of taking a very alien sensibility and making it welcoming. 3.
I had much more fun that this than I expected. I feared either something completely non-interactive, or a pastiche that wasn’t in any sense true to the poem. It was neither, but something which could stand on its own feet. I don’t know how much my familiarity with Gawain helped, but this is more than merely a retelling and it really makes reasonable use of the medium to give a different spin to an excellent story, where the interactivity is adding something. Overall score: 7, but I would expect this to be a bit higher than many judges give it.
I mark games out of 20, which I then divide to get a mark out of 10, rounding up or down as I prefer. I allow 5 marks for sheer solidity. 5 for writing. 5 for craft skills and the use of the medium, and reserve 5 for the highly subjective assessment of how much I enjoyed or admired it.