Wolfbiter reviews Spring Thing 2024 -- Social Democracy (all main festival reviews complete)

Studio by Charm Cochran
Playtime: 54 minutes

For those who haven’t played—this game will be the most fun if you go in with zero spoilers, which here means zero reviews. I mean, sure, I blurred like 70% of this review, I’m doing the best I can, but it’s not gonna be the same!

This made me want to talk about:

  • Structurally, this game is two distinct halves: the first half is a distilled-down parser that elegantly provides backstory and character development through environmental story telling and “remembering” things; the second half is a taut, pacey timed thriller (I believe the game’s term is “home invasion simulator”). I really enjoyed how the halves fit together, the first half was an effective build-up of tension as you put together why some elements are so weird (the main character is either on the run from organized crime or in witness protection?), and not only does that explanation motivate the second half, but it also sets up the player with the knowledge of the apartment layout, the location of key items, etc. so the player is ready to hit the ground running. Or crouching, as it were.
  • Includes a lot of great quality-of-life features for the player (has a list of necessary verbs, often prompts the player with instructions about what still needs to be done, I was particularly worried that calling 911 was going to be a pain, but actually it was as simple as “text 911” while using the phone). In the second half, particularly, it was very easy to get the game to do what I wanted, even in a moment where was feeling a bit adrenalined-up and could tell I would be frustrated if I ended up fighting with the interpreter. And that includes somewhat unusual actions like crouching and hiding under things! And the intruder has a different routine depending on the state of the apartment (if you’ve moved stuff, etc)!
  • There were a few minor implementation hiccups (the game lets you “x ___” even if you’re not next to it, which confused me about where several things were; at one point I lost my phone but there didn’t seem to be an immediate notification, just later the game started responding as though I didn’t have it; I take it the safe is supposed to immediately cue the player with the code, but it only triggers when you “x safe,” which I somehow neglected to do the first time, kicking off a LOT of searching).
  • Includes humor, even when it’s tense:

The intruder will let out a noise of frustration. “Don’t tell me this is the one fuckin’ password that isn’t her birthday,” he’ll growl.

(OK, but, he has a point.)

  • I played through three endings: [1] fled the apartment without my stuff [2] called the cops, hid until they showed up [3] killed the intruder with the taser, which I kind of expected to be nonlethal, but so it goes, and there must have been many more endings available, I didn’t even use the duct tape.

My fervent wish:
So, I’m a bit torn here. My two initial thoughts were (1) I wanted a bit more catharsis from the endings. Maybe I just didn’t find the “best” ending, but even the ones that seemed pretty good are abrupt and don’t feel particularly complete because of the prompt to replay, and (2) I was kind of expecting, I dunno, a less straightforward handling of the premise?

But then in thinking about these together, it occurred to me that perhaps the fact that none of the endings are particularly cathartic is supposed to be realistic and reflect the precarity of the main character’s life and that she will never feel safe, which would kind of constitute an additional complication on the premise. But if that’s the case it could be spelled out more?

All things considered, a very enjoyable, well-written, and well plotted thriller with a compelling action set-piece