Spoilers ahoy. I recommend you play this game before you read this review.
A mid-length choice based game of about 30 minutes. I played through twice.
Grieving after the funeral of a relative, whose identity is never revealed, the protagonist decides to buy a car and scatter the ashes. Unfortunately, the car turns out to be haunted and the remainder of the story is the investigation into the origins of the ghosts.
Each scene is illustrated with a bespoke image – all of which are well drawn and atmospheric – the portraits of the three ghosts are excellent. sometimes some artwork in interactive fiction games doesn’t come up to the standard of the text – but in the case of Dead Man’s Fiesta, this is not true.
However, having said that, looking at presentation, the author has made the decision to window the text within the game. The size of the window is dynamic and, at least on my laptop (even though I went full window), often fell off the bottom of the screen and caused an irritating double scrollbar effect. I wouldn’t say it was a killer, but it certainly is annoying and took me out of the text on more than one occasion.
The story itself is fairly linear. It progresses on rails through the acts. But, because there are three ghosts, we, as the player, get to interact with the story, in part through a choice of three different voices – even though they are representations of the same character. Which works extremely well in service of the story. There is also enough variation within the text resulting from choices that when you play the game through a second time, your interactions feel fresh.
The poems by John Masefield which crop up a couple of times throughout the text are an odd choice. I’m struggling to understand their relevance to the text or the subtext of this work – which to me, is about accepting loss and dealing with grief. Likewise, the use of the Sator Square both as an entry point, and as a beat within the text – it’s relevance eludes me.
One of the aspects of the story I most enjoyed was that fact that the ghost, Steve Wintle, isn’t in any way a particularly unique or interesting individual. He lived a normal, even, boring life. Pub. Allotment. Family. Small house. A tiny second hand car. He didn’t do the things he always talked about. He settled for terrible food in restaurants because, one gets the sense, he didn’t feel he deserved any better. He refused treatment – in Steve’s words it was ‘too much bother’ – in the opinion of the protagonist ‘maybe he didn’t feel like he deserved it’.
Usually a ghost has a compelling backstory – a murder, revenge, a task left undone. In the case of Steve, even the final act of scattering the ashes ‘means nothing’ – he just is a ghost and is no different in death than he was in life.
I wish that the prose was stronger, though. It feels a little lifeless. I’m not sure why the author made the decision to eliminate punctuation – it comes across as needlessly obtuse. 6/10