(Second half of the 1990s. What a treasure trove. This game has gotten less attention than some of its groundbreaking contemporaries, but it is by no means a lesser game.
Tryst of Fate - Details (tads.org))
Cowboys and gumball factories!
Tryst of Fate is a great game. I would have happily given it full marks but there were a few things that detracted from the greatness. I’ll spit them out first so I can let the game shine in the rest of the review.
The scenery is underimplemented. Now, this is not such a big problem, after a while your brain just notices a default message and decides not to pay attention. In this game though, there is a mix of responses to unimportant objects. More than half the time you get “You can’t see that here.” Annoying, because i’m staring right at it, right. Then, as you start ignoring these messages, there are objects which “are not important to the game”. Equally annoying, because they remind you that you’re in a game. Having both in the same game is weird to me. Either just don’t implement it, or have a not-important-message for all of them.
Actually, the same is true for actions: some get " You can’t do that," even when you’re on the right track, and some get a jokey response like “That won’t help you with your score.”
For the rest, a few typos and some unclear clues. Also, what’s up with bird’s nests in text adventures?
Now for the great game that Tryst of Fate really is.
The introductory chapter is marvellous. A small escape game with a few easy puzzles that draws you right into the game. After bumping your head and passing out, a pair of outlaws come into your house and steal your McGuffin…I mean watch. They steal your watch. Once you can get back on your feet and go after them, you cannot go downstairs, because you have just cleaned the rugs and they are still wet… Really…
After getting a good feeling about your puzzle-solving abilities from this intro, you wind up in the Wild West, canyons and tumbleweeds and all.
On your first round exploring the area, things are pretty straightforward. As you draw the map and look around, there’s a long SW to NE trail and a typical western town to the west. And oh, that train track crossing you just passed. And that swamp… And herein lies the genius of the game. When you look back after exploring this smallish, comfortable map, you see a daunting trail of unsolved puzzles and promising blocked off sidetrails. Combine this with the laidback confident feeling you got from the intro, and you suddenly realise you’ve walked straight into a trap.
The puzzles here are a lot harder. Most are logical but require multiple steps and a bit of thought. Despite the smallish map, it’s sometimes confusing where the next step is again. Some puzzles have vaguer hints that only made sense to me in hindsight.
And then there’s that puzzle. A number/codebreaking puzzle. It’s completely logical. It’s a substitution code solved by simple addition. And it’s hard. I tried to brute-force it with the information I got from the clue, but I got stuck after a promising start. And then I got stuck again. And again. I asked someone on the IF Forum who is way better at math to show me how he would solve it and I got back two pages of calculations (thanks!). Unfair puzzle? Not really, seeing that it is completely logical. It does expect more mathematic knowledge than many people have at the ready, however.
The descriptions are good. They really evoke the typical western feel. All the cliché elements are there, but they’re not overdone. Just enough to make you feel at home, as if you have walked into a western movie, instead of the actual scary unknown wilderness.
I loved the NPCs. The conversations are very well written, although a bit limited. The characters get a lot of personality through their descriptions and their independent actions. (Check out the bartender.)
The story as a whole seemed a bit surreal to me. Timejumping to the Wild West from the comfort of your home to get back your watch? Gumchewing cowboys? But you did just fall and hit your head. That might have something to do with it.
I absolutely loved playing this game. It was tense and exciting when it had to be, and it got me laughing in more relaxed spots. Very sincerely recommended.