Some short IFcomp reviews

Extremely sorry that it’s taken this long for me to get around to posting up some competition reviews, it’s been a really busy couple of months but I’m so glad I finally got the chance to sit down and play some of this year’s games! Still quite time-limited so I picked some of the shorter ones to start, but I’m hoping to get to some more over the weekend.

But firstly I just wanted to say a huge thanks to everyone who has taken the time to play and review No One Else Is Doing This - this is my first year entering the competition and it’s been an absolute joy reading your responses and feedback. It’s been especially interesting hearing from those of you with your own experiences of doorknocking, so thank you for sharing those. I started writing IF over ten years ago but I’ve only recently worked up the courage to get involved with the community, and it’s been a truly lovely experience. Thank you for being so welcoming.

19 Likes

Death by Lightning - Chase Capener

This is an interesting little thing, that demands a few playthroughs to really appreciate. My first run was a fairly straight-up narrative, with some noir/spy touches; the second was far more abstract, culminating in the author breaking the fourth wall; the third a doomed love story; etc., etc.

There’s some nice, neat writing in this, though the tense slipped in one place and broke my immersion slightly. There’s an impressive amount of variance built into a fairly limited number of branches, and it drew me in enough that I kept exploring more paths.

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Hanging by threads - Carlos Pamies

I was immediately struck by the choice to use first-person instead of second-person narration, something I haven’t seen that often in IF. In this case it was quite effective, as it lends the protagonist quite a strong voice, though naturally I think it ends up sacrificing a bit of player agency in the process.

My first playthrough ended almost immediately when I picked the wrong stick—fair enough given the puzzle, but I would have liked to seen the fail state expanded upon slightly. There are some typos and a few occasions where the tense shifts from present to past.

There are some really effective images once you enter the city—the ritual with the urn and the bird-fishing especially—and I would have loved to have lingered a little more on the descriptions of Oban, since the setting is such a central character in itself.

The ending, when I reached it, seemed to occur quite suddenly. I wasn’t entirely sure if there was something I was supposed to have been trying to achieve, or if the focus of the gameplay is the exploration itself.

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Am I My Brother’s Keeper? - Nadine Rodriguez

This is actually my first time playing a Texture game—I really want to spend my afternoon messing about with it now—so I don’t have anything to compare it to in terms of what can be done with the platform, and my review may be a little lacking due to not having that wider context.

The writing is good—clear, tight and well-formatted, with some moments of evocative description (I especially loved the scene at the pier). I would have liked some more variance in choices, as the game is primarily linear with only some changes in text order at the beginning and one exclusive choice at the end (whether this is cosmetic or not I’m uncertain of as I only played once).

1 Like

Approaching Horde! - Craig Ruddell

I had a lot of fun with this game. It was a really pleasant surprise when the tower defence interface appeared, and while progress was slow at first it was soon quite an engaging, pacey experience. There were enough options to keep things interesting without being overwhelming and the level of challenge felt quite balanced. I was overrun by the horde, which was to be expected as I suck at games like this, but I had a great time getting there.

The writing in the core game (updates etc.) is good, slightly tongue in cheek, but the narrative that bookends the strategy section lets it down a bit. It could have done with a bit more proofreading to tighten it up, as it doesn’t match the quality of the tower defence part.

4 Likes

Through the Forest with the Beast - Star

Having some ambient sound effects was a really nice touch, and aside from a few typos the writing is pretty decent. I like the way it plays with your expectations of genre, seeming to start as one thing before quickly developing into something else. It hinted at some interesting lore that I would have liked to see explored more thoroughly.

It was sometimes a little unclear what was going on, so I felt like I was making my choices arbitrarily, but that may be because I found the text really difficult to read against the background. I think it would have benefited from a simpler interface, and there was a lot of uncollapsed whitespace. There was also at least one dead end.

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Lucid - Caliban’s Revenge

I helped to playtest this game so I can’t rate it in the ballot, but I wanted to say a few words about it regardless.

I went into this game armed with some additional context—I know details of some events that inspired it, I briefly lived in the area the setting is based on—and it was fascinating to see how these things had been interpreted. Challenging topics are reimagined, personified and dissected through the dreamlike lens of the narrative voice, the all-too-real, all-too-human experience of trauma translated into something almost mythological in tone.

As a utilitarian writer I’m always envious of people who can write poetry, and Lucid is no exception. The language is rich and evocative, with occasional, surprising flashes of dry humour, and it kept me hooked throughout. Some of the images—the pale, shuddering salamander, a light in the tower block window, the shock of finding a gun where it shouldn’t be—stayed with me for a long time after I played. It made me want to exhaust every avenue during my loops.

I would encourage anyone reading this to playtest other people’s games, if you can. It was such an incredible privilege watching Lucid grow from the beginnings of an idea to a fully realised game. It was a living thing, expanding in scope and complexity, gaining something new and interesting with every iteration I played, and I feel really honoured to have been a part of that process.

4 Likes

The Counsel in the Cave - Joshua Fratis

This is a lovely thing—well-written, atmospheric, with enough interactivity to make it engaging even though (as far as I can tell) it’s a fairly linear story.

Tonally it felt in the vein of games like Night in the Woods and Oxenfree—the characters are dealing with the struggles of being on the cusp of adulthood, but also navigating a world that has its own fantastical challenges. I think the magical/surreal elements were best deployed in the first and final chapter, but the descriptions were really vivid throughout.

My favourite thing about this game was the ability to select actions or dialogue for three different characters, as opposed to a single protagonist. It was complemented really beautifully by the theatre script structure and the inclusion of stage directions—I felt like a director making subtle changes to a play. Really lovely stuff.

Only little gripe is that I would have preferred more of a contrast between the text and the background, as I found the grey quite difficult to read against the white, but that’s a minor criticism.

3 Likes

Headlights - Jordan White

I’m not hugely experienced with parser-based games (always been more of a hypertext gal), but from other reviews I understand that Perplexity is a custom engine and isn’t widely used at the moment. It’s intended to use natural language but I ended up using standard parser commands more often than not because they were quicker to type.

The prose is clear but sparse, and some more descriptive passages might have been good. I liked the bloody deer motif a lot. I kind of guessed where the story was headed, but it was quite satisfying to see it play out.

I solved the puzzles without too much difficulty, which was nice because I’m usually rubbish at puzzles, but I’m not sure how challenging they’d be for people who are good at them.

1 Like

The Pool - Jacob Reux

There are a few really nice character moments in here—the ‘there’s always one’ with the clapping, the favourite screwdriver—and I thought the setting was an interesting choice. The author is clearly a big fan of the horror genre and I appreciated the familiar narrative beats the plot hit.

Visually, I find the default Twine UI very hard to look at for an extended period of time. Also it might have been a bit more readable if there were line breaks, especially as there’s often a lot of text in each passage, and there were quite a few typos throughout.

I played through twice, and there does seem to be quite a lot of branching content. I expect there are a good few endings to discover.

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Thanks so much mate, for introducing me to Twine, all your support and advice and for this lovely review :slight_smile:

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Thanks for the review, much appreciated! I’m glad you thought my love of the horror genre came through, and that there were some nice character moments! And thank you for the points about making it more readable/typos, definitely some comments for me to think about!

1 Like

A Long Way To The Nearest Star - SV Linwood

I hadn’t completed this game within 2 hours (I’m very slow at puzzles), but I’m really excited to get back to it when I have time.

This was a really accomplished, clever and well-written game, which does a fantastic job of taking cues from traditional parser mechanics within a hypertext form. The conceit—trapped in space with an increasingly suspicious AI for company—is one that will be familiar to all SFF fans, and this is a really fantastic example of this trope being done well.

The writing is deft and characterful, particularly the conversations the PC can have with the AI, Solis, who is just the right balance of charming and sinister. The protagonist themself is also exceptionally well-drawn, having enough of a unique voice to not feel like a blank space while still containing plenty of scope for player choice.

Once I got accustomed to the best way to navigate the ship, the puzzles were challenging enough to be satisfying when I solved them without being so frustrating that I wanted to give up halfway through. There’s a really gratifying expansion of options as you proceed in the game, as well as some really elegant little mechanics—I loved having the option to get hints by resting on my ship.

I think the layout was very clean and easy to navigate, though I would have liked to see a slightly more user-friendly interface for the inventory screen. Aside from that minor point, a really well-executed, polished and compelling entry.

3 Likes