Flattened London by Carter Gwertzman
Flattened London is a parser game with two rather distinct sources of inspiration: the late 19th century novel Flatland, and Fallen London by Failbetter Games. I’ve read the book, although it was many years ago. And I’ve played some Fallen London, although I decided rather quickly that it’s “limited turns per hour” pacing mechanism was harmful to my life. I did play Sunless Sea and Sunless Sky, though, so I have quite a bit of familiarity with the setting.
Fallen London takes place in a London that has fallen down into an underground world. Flattened London takes place in a London that – I think – has been flattened into a 2-dimensional city. I say “I think” because the exact backstory never becomes entirely clear. The title of the game certainly suggests that London was once 3-dimensional, but there are also hints in the game itself that suggest that the city has always been like this. Anyway, it’s not too important: like Fallen London, Carter Gwertzman’s game feels no need to explain itself too much, and nevertheless crafts an engaging experience.
Indeed, I found the game perhaps easier to relate to than Failbetter’s offerings. Part of the charm of those games lies in their weird use of language, which is frequently ‘off’ in slightly unsettling and unheimlich ways. In addition, those games involve a lot of repeatable content that will give you abstract story elements, like ‘horrific stories’ or ‘steamy gossip’ – elements that look like they ought to have content, but don’t. Flattened London is much more traditional in its approach to writing and storytelling. This puts it at some remove from its inspiration, but it was probably a necessary step for the kind of text adventure it wants to be. A choice-based grinding game like Fallen London can afford to be ambiguous; a parser game where you have to solve puzzles needs to be very clear. Anyway, I found the combination of Failbetter’s world-building and Flatland rather amusing.
The puzzles in Flattened London are definitely on the easier end of the scale, so much so that they often do not feel as puzzles. The entire play experience is extremely smooth. It’s immediately clear if you have to do something in a location or not; and it is often clear what you have to do. I consulted the hints only twice. (Once for freeing the prisoner in the dream world, which I should have been able to do without the hints; and once for getting the triangle a job, which was mostly me not realising that particular syntax would work. And I never really understood from the book how to defeat Death at chess, but cheated my way through it using undo. Worked perfectly.) As a result, I was just enjoying the world and the story, which is surely the way that the author wanted me to enjoy it. And although none of it is world-shattering, it is definitely fun!
Highly enjoyable, one of my favourites so far.