Reviews of the IFComp continue and are in fact almost done. These are text-adventure games, arty to various degrees, meant to be be judged in under two hours of play. The games can be found here. My reviews will be categorized under “IFComp.”
This is a review of “Resonance,” which can be downloaded here and might be playable online here if you’ve got the right plug-ins, which I apparently don’t. (When I click on the link my browser asks if I want to download something.)
One-word review: Fun! I confess that I hadn’t actually been planning to play based on a couple of early reviews, and also because I had to download it, but some other reviews convinced me I ought to, and I’m glad I did. Emily complains that she had trouble taking the plot seriously, and that it felt emotionally false; but (as Jimmy Maher says in the comments) the story is so over-the-top that it’s supposed to be silly. And I enjoyed that, though I can see where it’d be perfectly valid to find the flip tone off-putting.
In particular, in my playthrough at least some sympathetic characters died without making much of an impact. By then I had decided that this game was basically a cartoon, so I didn’t let it bother me, but it’s perfectly reasonable for it to bother someone else. There are a couple of other aspects of this that I’ll discuss after the spoiler space.
Emily also didn’t like some of the puzzles — this is mildly spoilery, so if you want to go in completely not spoiled don’t finish this sentence, but if you’re thinking “gosh there’s a kind of puzzle I hate and I don’t want to play this game if it involves it” you might want to keep reading — namely the riddles you have to answer at certain points. This again didn’t bother me, because I saw it as part of a game that was clearly trying to be a game more than a fiction at that point.
So the riddles came across as A Puzzle For You, with a little bit of hook into the story. It’s like escape-the-locked-room games; none of these games would exist if anyone had the barest concept of password security, but that’s OK; it’s part of the game. (Reactions may vary depending on how you find the riddles. I only had to use one hint, partly because I thought the answer to “This beast can live forever on hard liquor and fresh air, and its color changes depending on what it eats. Yet it dies when it drinks water. What’s its name?” really should have been “hangover.” It would’ve been thematically appropriate! As Jenni said, “Narratively all these puzzles everywhere are a bit silly, but I’m enjoying them.” (Yes, I recycled that joke from her comments. If someone pats me on the head for a joke, I’m going to reuse it.) Also, great hint system, which is to say the first hint was helpful and the second one gives you the answer, in case you just don’t want to deal with riddles today.
Emily also didn’t like the heavy-handed hints from NPCs, and the railroading at some points (perhaps in the conversations?). Again, I liked those, and it’s partly because I was thinking of it as a Game rather than a Fiction. I can find it frustrating to wander around a biggish map looking for the next plot/puzzle hook, so I appreciated it that the game pushed me to the next spot. Even if that push was sometimes ungentle. A little more about this below the spoiler space (though I think some of it may have to do with me being a relative IF novice and, as I’ve said, somewhat easily frustrated).
[We begin with something that spoils basically only the first dozen turns or two. Then we get more spoily.] Several people complained about the opening, which starts you with a giant amnesiac hangover and promptly introduces you to Mr. Exposition. I pretty much agreed with those complaints; it seemed to me that the game could just as easily start you in your bedroom (yeah, I said it, your bedroom) and give you the exposition through the things you examine; your canceled PI license, for instance. (Though that might run into the problem I mentioned in Duel in the Snow, that not everyone will examine the right things.) Which would also mean your poor sympathetic brother wouldn’t get killed at the beginning; a plot point that seemed to lack payoff later.
But I understand from a few sources that there are several different paths through the game, and that one of them branches off at the beginning so nobody gets killed at all. So in fact the opening sequence has the purpose of making that other branch possible. I didn’t find many of the branches myself (well, at one point it was apparent that I’d failed to solve a puzzle that would’ve sent me to at least a slightly different branch), but it’s pretty impressive to have different branches in such a big game, without managing to get me lost on the path I did take.
I did find that I was a little more willing to excuse the riddles because they had at least a nominal plot hook. The PC might not want to play riddle games with the cop in the newspaper office, but it’s part of his bluffing his way out of a situation he really doesn’t want to be in. (BTW: THANK YOU for not limiting the number of guesses.) Though if it were me I would’ve said, “I don’t do riddles — I’m the cryptic crossword guy. Why don’t you ask me about ‘Patriot, weaken and falter (4-5)’?” It’s not a very strong hook, but it’s all I need for a game like this, where I don’t take the plot too seriously. After all, one of my favorite escape games (whose plot I do take seriously) has a manifestation of the subconscious with a combination lock in it. (Trapped, Part 2: The Dark.)
Besides the senseless death of sympathetic characters, the game edged up to pushing my buttons in its treatment of interrogations. Specifically, it seems like everything is full of torture these days — even freaking Gossip Girl left Dan Humphrey half-naked and tied to a gazebo — and there were a couple of points in the game where I thought the PC might be going to use the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique. [Reasonably large spoilers just ahead.] But one time I wound up using a mind-controlly thing instead, which made me a little queasy but perhaps isn’t quite the same, and the next time when I slammed someone against the wall he just pointed to the huge button in the middle of his desk, so I think there may have been a little parody of the conventions going on there. [Also it entirely averted the animal cruelty button, though that’s really a cat cruelty button more than anything else.]
I also thought that the game might be setting me up for a big moral decision at the end, where I had to choose between rescuing my wife or everyone else. But when I went to rescue my wife she just told me I had to rescue everyone else to do some good. Still, I feel that I earned some husband points by going to her first. If I’d just rushed by her to defeat the big bad, the post-rescue conversation might’ve been a little awkward.
All that said, the game entirely charmed me. Little touches like the inventory description you get when you win and the way that you first strike a blow against the mind-control scheme just worked very nicely. And somehow it seemed good-humored. Other puzzle-first games sometimes seem like they’re mocking the characters or the player, which can leave a bad taste in my mouth even if I’m enjoying the puzzle. I didn’t get that vibe from this.