One Final Pitbull Song (At the End of the World) by Paige Morgan
I actually played this game several days ago, but continue to let it percolate in my mind. It’s a fantastically strange game, bursting at the seams with creativity. To attempt to categorize it badly, it’s a bit like Holes by way of 17776. Most of the game consists of script-like scenes with many dialogue options for the player. There are in fact branch points, two of them. One is plot-relevant and obvious, the other is (deliberately and comically) what would normally be a completely anodyne flavour choice, but which completely impacts the course of the main character’s life. All seem to be the “wrong” choice according to an omniscient voice. At the two-hour mark I had played two of the three routes, plus the perfect divergence which concludes the story, so to speak. The narration is in first-person, but occasionally dips into second (some of these points were definitely intentional, but I’m not sure about all of them).
The plot follows a semi-literal CD pirate, TeeJay, and her boyfriend, Samuel, as a robbery goes terribly and supernaturally wrong, but that summary doesn’t really do it justice. It’s an absurdist take on the prison-industrial complex, and the absurdity of making a brutal system LGBT-friendly (diversity win: trans men can be sent to the men’s side of the Pitbull prison, where everyone is forced to kill each other!). It has elements of “confessional fiction”–TeeJay’s consciousness is sometimes literally hijacked by personal essays from the author–while making meta jokes about whether it counts as confessional fiction, and defying expectations with absurd worldbuilding in a way that reminded me of SPY INTRIGUE. It is by turns hilarious, crude, subversive, and horrifying. There are references to Body Heat and Avatar: The Last Airbender. There is a mass vomiting scene that manages to out-gross Stand by Me. Bursting at the seams, as I said, like a large, furry creature crammed in a human suit.
I’m uncertain about how I felt about the ambiguous ending. I think I see what the author is saying: TeeJay has to make her own choice to talk to Samuel, rather than following the player’s branch points. I suppose there is no bad outcome to simply communicating. But we had spent so little time with Samuel compared to the other characters, with many of those interactions negative, that I felt a bit sad about this outcome. Will they ever meet their friends in this world where they branch away from the story you just played? The Donnie Darko dilemma. Regardless, it’s a unique story that deserves to be experienced in full.
Glimmer by Katie Benson
A very short Twine game about a person experiencing a doomscrolling depression spiral. In each scene they are confronted by horrible things about the world: poverty, frightening world events, homeless colleagues, losing their job. Their response, in each case, is to withdraw. There are not strictly any choices to make in this game–by design, it seems. You can examine some of the setpieces in further detail (although this seems to expand the paragraph, rather than the noun being clicked on, which confused me–not what I usually expect from expanding text). Your only option to proceed is avoidance, leaving each scene to hide away as the world shrinks around you. At least, until someone intervenes. At this point there are choices, although they ultimately lead to variations on the same outcome. I’m still reflecting on the significance of this ending and the way it was implemented. Perhaps a statement that it’s always possible to recover if you have help?
Tower of Plargh by caranmegil
I ended up abandoning this after about twenty minutes of wandering around the first room in confusion. I’m sure part of that is my parser game abilities, but I felt completely at sea. There is no “help” or “about” text, no walkthrough, and no hints as to what you are supposed to be doing. Even in a small space, very little is implemented, and there are noticeable typos (“thing veil”, “all direction”). There are other puzzle games that simply drop you into a space and expect you to work it out for yourself, but in this case I didn’t feel motivated to continue.
An Alien’s Mistaken Impression of Humanity’s Pockets by Andrew Howe
The title says it all: two alien scientists look at common household objects and draw incorrect conclusions. You are shown an artefact and asked to type what you think it is. I thought I had the measure of the game’s mechanics there, but that is the only case of artefact identification in the game, and subsequently you are sent on a straightforward fetch quest to get the others with one or two puzzles (while different characters give variations on the central joke). Bit of a shame, I would have liked to have been able to choose wrong responses in some of these conversations presented through files. The aliens’ mistakes were amusing, and tied into the puzzles, but it was hard to read the text with the lack of punctuation. A copyedit would help. In several places (picking up and giving the maintenance person the pen) it seemed that the variable to complete an action did not also change the text when an action had been completed–the pen remained where I had gotten it from, and I could repeat the handoff many times.
The music is decent but loops distractingly quickly. Moreover, I got a bug where the previous track doesn’t stop when a new one is introduced. Since there is no mute button I had to manually shut off my speakers when the third tune joined the fray.
CHASE THE SUN by Frankie Kavakich
An interesting short piece about a woman driving away from the apocalypse. Choices in the Texture engine, dragging verbs to nouns, are a bit more labour-intensive than simply clicking a link. Ideally this extra hurdle should be justified by contributing something to the gameplay or story. In the case of CHASE THE SUN, I felt like the format nicely underscored the main character’s restlessness, and the self-destructive radio listening spiral, even if there were a few odd noun-verb combinations (“greet merriment”).
The prose is gorgeous, concrete, and heavily situated in place. Even the best outcome here is bittersweet–there’s always that lingering feeling that the storm may catch up the moment you let your guard down. I played to an ending (a hopeful one) and don’t think I will attempt to get alternate endings. It felt like that would go against the last-chance spirit of the game.