Another IF Comp review, following my format for this comp. There is a cut, then any spoiler-free comments I have, and then spoiler space, and then more detailed feedback that assumes the reader has tried the game.
But first, we have some obligatory filler to try to make sure that the RSS summary does not accidentally contain any review. Filler, filler, la la la…
Okay. Here we go.
I really like this. This is a tight game. The writing is snappy — I’m reminded of Sherwin here and there, as it shares a Sherwinesque interest in the lifestyles of the poor and not-that-glamorous. But it’s distinctly its own thing. The viewpoint characters have personality. The illustrations are stylish and good. High production values there. Puzzles are pretty easy but manage to be interesting anyway, because they mostly have to do with tense or personally-charged situations. And the implementation is excellent; perhaps it’s telling that this game boasts eighteen beta-testers. All in all, it’s a piece that feels assured about what it’s trying to achieve.
If I have any complaint to make, it’s about the brevity — I wouldn’t have minded playing more of it. But, that said, it doesn’t feel falsely truncated. The story is complete as it stands.
I’m not usually crazy about scenes where the player character is unconscious or floating in a void or having some sort of symbolic experience (though I’ve written a few of these myself). It’s just so easy for them to fall way short of the profundity the author thinks he’s going for. Often they’re an excuse not to find a more plausible way to illustrate a character’s spiritual or emotional state.
The fish sequences in “Everybody Dies” worked for me, though, because they weren’t over-explained. The use of illustrations made them seem more mysterious and more effective than text describing the same events — “and then the blue fish swims out of the mouth of the larger fish” would not seem nearly so meaningful. It would just sound silly. (The ambiguity of the images helps, too, because in some places it’s not clear whether the smaller fish is just in the act of being swallowed or just in the act of swimming free, and that fits.)
The final set of images also helps give structure to the plot, because it makes clear that the main story line is about to reach a resolution. Having some sense of where the story is going, and that its shape is organic and natural, helps a lot in getting the player to perceive the narrative as a deliberate whole.
Anyway. A very strong entry, and also one of the best cases I’ve seen for the potential of illustrated IF not as a poor man’s version of a graphical game but as its own thing.