Spoilers ahoy. I recommend you play this game before you read this review.
Are we watching the birth of a new IF development platform? Given that this game was developed in Dialog, the author’s own ‘rule-based IF language’ it feels like it. And…well..is it just me, or has the author chosen to implement a modernization of ‘Colossal Caves’ as its first child? Kind of, yes – it certainly feels like it’s paying homage to it just a little bit – but this is 2018 and modern IF, and it looks like Dialog can do much much more. I’m excited to be playing this.
Timed puzzles have been implemented. Turn based rules. A rope stretches from location to location (If you haven’t ever tried to implement this…..ugh.) – even more impressively, the same rope (but different parts) can be in the same location. Wow.
But lets go to the game which plays bait and switch on us a couple of times. We start out as Charles – on a mountaineering expedition with his wife, Judith. She has fallen and is dangling over a cliff – still attached to Charles. The resolution of this puzzle leads into the game proper – we shift point of view into Judith’s head who is looking for a way of rejoining her husband and finds a cave in the side of the cliff.
Then, well, even with the spoiler caveat above, I’m not going to say much more – suffice to say that this game reminds me very much of a reverse Shade. After an extremely tough puzzle around the aforementioned rope, the game starts to change. I won’t go into the details, but as well as a significant reveal, it feels like the game changes character also – from a puzzlebox into a narrative. It’s an odd transition, but the author has made it work.
One of the things I was expecting was that I would be able to switch between Judith and Charles during the cave exploration aspect. There’s no reason they couldn’t shout to one another. To experience as Charles what was happening would have made the ending more hard hitting. Having said that, I do understand, from a narrative perspective why this might not be what the author was trying to achieve. I’m not saying it’s a good or bad thing – it’s just that from the cold open, my expectations was set.
However, if I’m being honest, without the walkthrough, I would never had got to see the majority of the game. That rope puzzle, beautifully implemented though it is, is hard. Oh, don’t get me wrong – after you know the solution, it makes total sense – but I wouldn’t have got that in a million years. I spent a long long time trying to tie the rope to a whole bunch of stuff, loop it around stuff, throw it onto things, stuff it into things.
It’s a problem for an author that. With a really cool puzzle you want the player to work it out, and feel a sense of satisfaction when completed. BUT a puzzle like this is a noose. It tightens around the middle of the game and the player hangs themselves on it – never seeing your beautiful ending. It’s why most puzzly IF is relatively open world – a player can see most of everything and work on several puzzles at once.
I will say one thing, though. The blurb does this game a dis-service. It kind of allows the player to anticipate the reveal, but it also doesn’t draw me in and make me want to play the game. A stronger blurb would be beneficial.
The Dialog platform is exciting. Its first game is strong. Had the central puzzle cued the player more, and the game been a little more open-ended, then it would be right up there. 8/10.
p.s. The response to xyzzy made me laugh out loud.