Spoilers ahoy. I recommend you play this game before you read this review.
“My father compounded with my mother under the Dragon’s Tail, and my nativity was under Ursa Major, so that it follows I am rough and lecherous.
Fut! I should have been that I am, had the maidenliest star in the firmament twinkled on my bastardising.”
– Edmund, King Lear
According to Edmund, it’s the “excellent foppery of the world” that, when faced with misfortune or our own inadequacies and amorality, it is the human condition to blame the position of the stars, the sun, in fact anything and anyone but ourselves. Edmund might be a villain – but at least has the presence of mind to realize that he would have been who he was, that what happens happens whatever the position of the stars.
That this game is set in Las Vegas feels like no accident.
It seems as though this is the main subtext of ISHBTIA. A very short choice based piece about identity, the understanding of self, morality and choice itself. If I may say so, a TOO short piece.
The protagonist of the game is a sex worker and dealer in a Las Vegas casino – but is also an android – “a bot engineered to emulate sexual desire and pleasure.” The word engineered is telling. The entire time span of the game is a single hand of cards during which you have the opportunity to explore and recall human interactions – throwing your existence as a ‘programmed’ entity into relief. There are fragments of a plot here as well – freedom fighters and reactionaries.
I have played through a few times, and while there is some variation on the text through the game, it feels branch and bottleneck – the end question : “what do you do” – requires an open ended typed response. I am responding as the protagonist but also the player. What the game does with the response is, to me, disappointing – I had hoped there would be more.
The game seems fairly fault free, but there was one significant implementation issue. I was dealt a Queen of Diamonds, but the text referred to is as a Queen of Hearts – which took me out of the moment and made the “flush” a player got later in the game nonsensical.
Overall, an extremely well written, intelligent game that, I feel, doesn’t take the time to fully explore its thesis. I would love this to be the opening section in a longer more immersive game set in this world, with this protagonist. 5/10.