Elize Morgan


Summary: Some interesting ideas, but needs more discipline and polish

[spoiler]This is a game in two parts. You begin as an isolated amnesiac: a prisoner in some hi-tech detention centre, asked to agree to engage in some sort of reformatory exercise. It quickly becomes apparent that this is a choice you cannot refuse — and off you go. There follow a series of short puzzles, whose purpose and effect (in terms of any likely rehabilitation) are unclear.

During this part of the game text comes, generally, in short pieces, and you have plenty of apparent choice. I say “apparent” because these are puzzles, and in the end they seem to admit of only one solution. There is, when all is said and done, one “magic” link or succession of links which will advance the story, and this means that the puzzles can be solved by brute force methods, and indeed, sometimes solve themselves accidentally. That makes them rather less than satisfying.

What else is going on in these sequences? There is some world-building (especially with respect to “nanites” — tiny robots or organisms which can create illusionary worlds). Despite a lack of memory for anything else, you seem to understand that this is what is happening. There are also occasional flashes of insight, or near-insight, into your position, which hint at some repressed understanding of what is going on. Beside that, the various tasks seem to be random, and unlinked by any obvious theme.

Once the four tasks have been solved, the tone changes dramatically. In place of any puzzle or exploration, it opens up into a somewhat convoluted backstory, from which you learn (in essence) that you were responsible yourself for the construction of this penal institution, that in some way you turned against the corrupt autocracy that had required it, that you ended up the victim of your own creation, and that you have been rescued and given the opportunity of freedom. This section is essentially entirely expository.

I enjoyed this more than I thought I would, and more — this sounds odd — than I think I should. I think it has some pretty obvious flaws, but it held my attention, made me curious about the world it was creating. At one point, the text announced “You’re not sure what it meant, but you’re certain it was important.” And in a way that is how I felt about it. So in that sense it was a success.

Still, there are real issues. This is very much a game in two parts, and it’s not clear how they fit together. The puzzles in part 1 don’t really shed much light — even retrospectively — on the story that emerges in part 2. They feel simply like a random collection of puzzles, without linking theme. More importantly, although it is in part 2 that the most interesting material emerges, it is at precisely this point that the interactive elements fade into the background, so that the backstory really simple emerges as a series of text dumps. So it turns out that all the really interesting choices have already been made by the PC before the game began. This seems a pity; it is an opportunity lost, and it also means that the backstory emerges as a rather stereotyped triumph of freedom and humanity over tyranny and control.

The other problem is with the writing. This is not just a matter of typographical errors, though there are too many of those. It’s just rather flat and flabby writing. Consider:

“Usher you outside” is a hackneyed semi-metaphor; “building” a nondescript noun (it could be cut altogether without losing anything). “Disappointingly” is a weak adverb. We have “fresh” twice, and a contradiction: you are ushered “to the first fresh air”, but it’s not fresh. The cage is another tired expression: and inaccurate too — the previous discussion of your surroundings has made it clear that it is not a cage at all, but some kind of nanotechnological tube. “A few” simply weakens the decades — (and that’s repeated too: we have “over two decades” two lines earlier).

It’s a fine point being made. But the writing could really be tightened up. It’s unfair to demand that everyone should write brilliantly, but when the medium is text, it seems reasonable to ask for more than this, and this sort of lapse is common.

There is, it seems to me, promise here; it just needs more discipline and polish.

(One final point: the solution to one of the puzzles seems to play on a famous moment in Photopia. I don’t know if that was deliberate. But the overall effect is quite different, and the particular point rather nicely points out how difficult it is to have any element of surprise in hypertexted puzzles.)[/spoiler]