IF Competition: Escape from the Underworld

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.

Possibly I’m getting jaded, but the idea of setting an IF game in a version of hell that is also a satire on modern business is one we’ve seen a bunch of times already (“Hell”, “Beat the Devil”, “Fiendish Zookeeper”, probably some others I’m not thinking of instantly; see also entry 29 on the Strange Horizons list of SF plots they don’t want to see again).

Beyond that concept, “Escape from the Underworld” hasn’t got a huge amount to offer. It’s not great, not awful: this is a blandly conceived puzzle game with occasionally rough implementation. Most of the puzzles take the form of thinking of a peculiar way to use an object, and some of these uses are obscure, so I relied on the hints and walkthrough a fair amount.

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My other gripe is that the game doesn’t actually conclude: it’s part one of some series of unknown length.

I can sort of understand why people do this in comp games — it’s a way to get around the time limit restriction, if you have a plot that just will not fit into two hours — but in general I don’t think it’s a great idea. Part 1 games rarely do as well as games that are complete in themselves, and then quite frequently the later parts never appear. There are some notable exceptions (after all, parts 2 and 3 of Earth and Sky not only appeared but were considerably more ambitious than part 1, and they won their respective comps). But as a rule, this is something I would be wary of.

3 thoughts on “IF Competition: Escape from the Underworld

  1. What ground at me through this one was that there wasn’t really *anything* that I would call ‘hellish’ about the setting. It wasn’t like some clever mix where it was half-corporation, half-hell; it was ALL corporation dressed up in a costume to look like hell.

    Take a normal corporate office building and put horns on everyone and paint some fire on the walls and you have the setting for the game basically. You have your coworker who acts like your completely normal coworker, your secretary who acts like a totally regular secretary, your repair guy who acts like a completely normal repair guy (even asks you for a drink of water!). Similarly a soda can is just a normal soda can, a cigar is just a cigar, etc.

    Could just as easily have been set in heaven, in purgatory, in the land of candy, or in the animal kingdom as in “hell”.

  2. The one interesting exception here is the soul-extraction machine — which is one reason why I think it’s a mistake that the game allows you to skip performing the extraction yourself if you give the components to your coworker instead. I do see the design problem here — it would certainly feel unfair if the coworker took no interest in the gift of a live mouse when he’s been complaining about the need for one. But there are ways that could have been designed around. In any case, you generally want to make sure that your player at least gets to see the most interesting bits of your setting…

    Anyway, yeah. This was one of several games this year where the author took a premise with some conceivable potential but then refused to do enough of the work of imagination required to develop it in an interesting direction.

  3. >open door to chamber two
    Which do you mean, the door to chamber one or the door to chamber two?

    >two
    I only understood you as far as wanting to open the door to chamber two.

    >open two
    That’s not something you can open.

    The Receptionist looks at you from the corner of her eye.

    >open door to chamber two
    Which do you mean, the door to chamber one or the door to chamber two?

    >door to chamber two
    Which do you mean, the door to chamber one or the door to chamber two?

    >the door to chamber two
    Which do you mean, the door to chamber one or the door to chamber two?

    >fuck you
    Real adventurers do not use such language.

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