- Nothing Could be Further From the Truth
First off, I have to say that I went toetipping anxiously into this game after skimming @AmandaB 's and @jjmcc 's reviews. They scared me enough that I spent my first playsession in an exploration frenzy from the moment I noticed I had freedom of movement. This actually led me miles away from the solution to that dreaded puzzle (hiding the bodies, which was actually quite easy), but it did give me lots and lots of knowledge for later parts of the game. I also got used to the try-die-repeat nature of many of the puzzles.
Secondly, Nothing Could be Further From the Truth strengthened my impression that there is a rising trend of re-gamification of IF in the past years. After the glorious decades of stitching an IF game tighter to narrative and plot, imposing unwritten (and written, cf the bill of rights) rules from the story-telling plane on IF pieces, there has been a resurgence of the game-for-the-sake-of-the-game. I see this in the increase of optimisation games built for replayability, and games with waferthin frame stories to camouflage the puzzle box that they in essence are (Arthur DiBianca’s for example). Nothing Could be Further From the Truth throws out the notion that the PC should be able to solve the game on their own, without the crystal-ball powers of the player who has already seen five ways to die in the future. The player avoiding death-traps that could not be known to the PC is integral to this game, as it is in Super Mario Land.
Just throwing this out there.
Without further ado:
Bunnies in the Dust
Nevermind that blaring alarm. Just a final dusting of the Director’s door sign and she’ll make her way outside to the Plaza in your own good time, thank you very much.
Oliva Mirram is a cleaning maid in the Lab. And now it appears she took a little too much time to respond to the evacuation alarm. Best to sneak out before anyone notices, especially the scientists responsible for the alarm…
There is a lot to like about Nothing Could be Further From the Truth . There’s also a lot to complain about. Since I don’t like doing the latter, and also since this review is based on the 2023 Spring Thing comp-version, I’ll just briefly list the negatives here. I can still reference them as needed in the rest of the review.
-Inconsistent directions: I have absolutely nothing against an idiosyncratic directional system. Do make it consistent though.
-Synonyms, or the lack thereof. In a tense situation, I like many words to be recognised for the same object.
-Alternate commands, or the lack thereof: A bunch of solutions rely on precise input, where I would have liked the game to respond to more ways to phrase the same command.
-Unhelpful and actively misleading responses, or the abundance thereof: I skimmed accross the surface of a solution without grasping it on multiple occasions because of this.
Particularly the latter two can make progress difficult. There are hints available, but I found that persistence and patience work just as well. (Edit for the curious: I spent about 8 hours on it, in front of the screen. Add at least another few hours where it was simmering in the back of my mind.)
So, a few naggles up front.
----But man this is my jam!----
A long and engaging parser puzzler set against a dystopian SF backdrop.
Big, eloquent text dumps for introduction, cutscenes and outro. The author chooses to emphasise the “writing” part of a text game with verbose and detailed initial room descriptions. These make for very evocative first impressions of the various locations, although they could be trimmed down to more utilitarian length when the player types LOOK or enters the same room a second time.
The tone of the game is hard to place. It’s a mixture of the commonplace cruelty, humiliation and snitch-encouraging culture of an authoritarian state, and scenes of relieving, even cathartic humour. I was particularly impressied by the juxtaposition of the horrible treatment of citizens who broke the rigid rules in some low-level way in one corner of the Plaza, and the slapstick demolition of a vendor’s stall in the opposite corner.
During the game, tension rises with the stakes of the puzzles increasing, both for the protagonist personally as for her fellow citizens.
The first acquaintance with the protagonist was very impressive. She made a well-rounded and realised impression, with references to her hopes and dreams and fears. She even comes accross as somewhat naive and innocent while at the same time being purposeful and strong-willed. The layering of these personality traits made her feel believable in the context of the setting.
As the game progresses however, I felt Oliva Mirram’s character flattening out. The puzzles took center-stage and Oliva’s personality was overshadowed. She became more and more a vessel for my commands instead of her own person where I could look over her shoulder.
The majority of the puzzles are traditional adventure fare. Manipulating machinery, finding ways to unblock passages,… Many are of a larger scope than usual though, requiring the player to connect pieces of information found in different locations and in different times during the exploration of the map.
I found all of them very strong conceptually. A big part of my playtime was devoted to not-playing while letting the importance and connections of items simmer in the back of my brain.
The game also uses distractions and diversions very effectively to send the player looking in the wrong direction. On several occasions, I realised after taking a break that I had been trying to solve a puzzle with the wrong object or in the wrong order. The feeling of this realisation clicking into place in my head was great, the main reason why I love puzzle games.
Unfortunately, the inadequate implementation of alternate commands and helpful responses to failed commands introduces an extra layer of confusion that interferes with the intentional complexity. It makes it hard to differentiate between legitimate false leads or red herrings on the one hand, which I deem crucial to the compelling experience Nothing Could be Further From the Truth offers, and clumsy unintended responses or oversights that obscure the game proper with clutter.
The game is quite harsh and unforgiving when it comes to killing off the PC when using a wrong approach to solving a puzzle. Expect many premature endings with well-written humorous death-scenes, and a lot of try-die-repeat. I like this, but it’s probably good to know beforehand to anyone wanting to tackle this game.
As an avid map-maker, I enjoyed drawing the Lab and its surroundings. I also saw deeper meaning in the map organisation. The setting of a Science Laboratory Complex in an authoritarian society was reflected in the organised and orderly layout of the facility, while the underground crawlspaces on the fringes of the map were associated with the more chaotic rebel elements.
The author assures me that there will be a post-comp version which will be more polished.
In the meanwhile, Nothing Could be Further From the Truth struck me as a diamond in the rough. Wholeheartedly recommended.