Useful message: this game has functionality that is only accessible through the keyboard, and not through the mouse. In particular, you may want to use space (to skip timed text), escape (to go to the menu) and L (to load, but I think also to save, games). This is explained behind one of the initial menu options, but it is easy to miss and is rather unexpected for a choice-based game. But not knowing it will make it impossible to get to the more successful endings.
I have very mixed feelings about Savor, both where it comes to its presentation and where it comes to the story. So let me try to explain that, and let me start with the implementation. And then… well, I don’t think we can avoid talking about that most dreaded of all things: timed text. Savor can serve as a kind of case study of why timed text just doesn’t work. One might think that really fast timed text – text that appears much faster than you can read – isn’t much of a problem, because you can just start reading the text that has already appeared. But in fact, as you start reading the text served up by Savor, it turns out to be extremely distracting that somewhere below your focus new text is appearing. And when you replay the game – and given its overall structure, you will probably replay quite a bit – even this fast appearing text is still appearing frustratingly slow. So you’ll probably use the space bar button to skip through the timed text… but, one, this still puts the burden on the player, and, two, the space bar also chooses options, so you have to be extremely careful not to press it one time too many. So please, please, please designers, listen to what the IF Comp judges tell you every year, and do not use timed text.
So while that is very distracting, there are other elements of the presentation that are very effective. Savor makes use of some nice ambient sounds, but especially worthy of mentioning are the frequent background images. It is quite hard to make text-on-background-image work, but Savor manages the trick; and at the same time, the images are atmospheric, appropriate, and add something to the game. So I think this is very well done.
Then, the story, writing and theme. Savor tackles a very serious topic indeed: chronic pain, indeed a chronic pain so debilitating that it utterly poisons the lives of the PC and the main NPC. It handles this theme with some care; the writing is up to the job; and I found the entire situation, two taciturn men on what I think is an American maize farm, both well presented and suitable to the exploration of the theme. Sometimes the prose tries to do a bit too much in terms of artful metaphor, but most of the time reading Savor is a pleasure.
I’m less sold on the overall structure of the game. It is easy to reach a premature ending (more about that in a moment), and also easy to reach an ending that is rather unsatisfying. Reaching a more satisfying ending requires a very specific sequence of choices, which you can only find by either replaying a lot or by consulting the walkthrough. My main problem with this is probably that, on the one hand, the game clearly has a preferred route (and other routes may even lead to the game telling you to try and do better next time), but, on the other hand, the preferred route is highly unmotivated in the fiction. It requires you to find specific items, receive ‘rewind tokens’, make choices in particular orders… and none of that makes a lot of sense to the player. You don’t find the optimal route just by some careful thinking. (Unfortunately, I haven’t reached the optimal end myself. After two premature endings I started following the walkthrough, but then, after clicking on a fragment in the game menu, I got stuck at an error message saying “Error: the passage “fragmentRain” does not exist” and there was no way to get back to the game proper. Having gone through all of it thrice already, I decided to call it quits.)
Finally, and somewhat lamentably, I must admit that I was very much put off by the game’s handling of suicide. It takes its theme of chronic pain otherwise quite seriously, but if you decide to join the NPC in his suicide early on in the game – deciding in effect that you can’t take the pain any more – you get the following message:
That is perhaps the single most flippant, insensitive thing you could write about somebody who was desperate enough to commit suicide. Can you imagine meeting someone who is dying, and saying this to them? Now I’m sure the author doesn’t mean it this way, but… the text is there, and it really struck me the wrong way.
The other suicide end is slightly better but still quite problematic:
Here the problem is not so much moral as aesthetic: yes, of course a game can have a mechanic of finding in game items as a means of overcoming a desperate problem; but to juxtapose so crudely the emotional state of despairing suicide to the game mechanics of finding items makes it far too easy to see that the mechanic is, at bottom, ridiculous. (Most mechanics are! Good game design often consists of making the player not think about that.)
So… yeah. I can’t really recommend Savor as it is, though I can certainly conceive of an updated version that would be well worth playing.