So I’m playing Andy Phillips’ just-released Inside Woman, and it’s reminding me of all the stuff I have liked and disliked about Phillips’ past work.
The good: a lot is happening. Phillips writes in a slightly different genre than the average IF — there’s a lot less generic exploration and uncovering of backstory, a lot more sneaking around and playing clever tricks in the present. He goes for plots about jewel thefts, espionage, corporate surveillance. Action-movie stuff. This gives his games a kind of gonzo energy. You can tell he’s working from a big concept.
The bad: Sometimes the execution doesn’t work so well. He doesn’t always do this in a way that works for IF — Heroine’s Mantle contains some sequences that feel like they were imagined for a movie screen and then only grudgingly and reluctantly transferred to interactive format. In particular, scenes are sometimes a bit infodumpy and don’t provide enough else for the player to do while they’re going on.
Also, sometimes the puzzles are just weirdly unfair, and sometimes in ways that don’t make sense within the story. Spoilers on a couple of particular things right at the start of the game (I only have 32/400 points so far):
Early on, there’s a puzzle that involves me telling a computer my age. I’ve had occasion to read my date of birth on a document a few moves earlier, so that part is fine. What I don’t know, as the player of a game set in an indeterminate future, is *what year it is now*. This is a question that the protagonist couldn’t possibly need to struggle with, so it really emphasizes the player/protagonist divide, and not in a helpful way.
I assume that sometime earlier in the game I had the opportunity to see the current year written down, but I missed it.
To make matters more annoying, the protagonist has a permanent uplink to a computer voice in her ear who could, I assume, supply this information as well, but asking it questions is either not implemented or involves guessing a verb that I couldn’t figure out.
I solved this puzzle by guessing a bunch of ages in sequence and undoing every time I got it wrong. Not fun; not interesting; not a successful gating mechanism for the plot.
Considerably more effective is the puzzle involving finding my assigned apartment in my new city, in which I have to work out how my personal serial number correlates to the city geography. This is just challenging enough to produce the mild sense of disorientation one usually feels when traveling to a strange place, and it’s clued in a way that helps fill in some of the atmosphere of the world that I’ve come into.
But now I’m stuck again, and don’t know what I should do next. I think I might need a job, but I’m not so clear on how to get one or how to change myself to “inductee” status.
Meanwhile, the game seems to want me to repair this broken guide/spy robot — except why would I want to repair something whose explicit purpose is to spy on me? I guess there must be a replacement component for its innards somewhere around here…