As has been my practice for the last few years, I’ve set my RSS feed to truncate entries so that I can post reviews without spoilerage. Within an entry, there is a short, spoilerless discussion (though the comp purists may want to avoid reading even that before playing for themselves); then spoiler space; then a more detailed discussion of what I thought did and didn’t work in the game.
I’m also pursuing an approach I came up with a couple of years ago: I’m playing and reviewing games that have listed beta-testers, and skipping those that don’t. In 2008 that turned out to be a pretty fool-proof indicator of which games were going to end up scoring 4 or less on my personal scale, and it made my reviewing process a happier one in 2009, so I’m sticking with it. I’m hoping this will mean I have more time to devote to the remaining games, which in turn will (I hope) be of higher quality, and you, dear reader, will have fewer rants inflicted on you.
First up: The People’s Glorious Revolutionary Text Adventure Game.
This is a lighthearted puzzle game, whose premise is that you are trying to take over Freedonia for Communism. It’s old-fashioned. Rooms are fairly sparsely populated with objects; puzzle solutions trend towards the cartoonish rather than the plausible; characters don’t have a lot to say, and are present mostly to fulfill their roles in the puzzle mechanisms. It’s not groundbreaking IF. It wouldn’t have been groundbreaking IF in 1993. But look: if you were expecting something else, you weren’t paying attention, because the game says “Text Adventure” right there on the tin.
On the other hand, it’s much fairer than the average old-school puzzler. Many of the puzzles do have multiple solutions, and mostly they make a humorous kind of sense. They are not hard, but in case you get stuck, there’s a set of built-in hints as well.
Given the generally sparse aesthetic, the polish level is decent. There are some objects that should have been marked as scenery and show up twice in room descriptions; there are some spacing issues, and there is one late-game item that behaves strangely. But conversely, there are a number of funny responses and changes to the default, and the game’s bones feel solid throughout.
I had fun.
One thing made me sad about this game, which is that, despite generally solid puzzle design with multiple solutions and copious hints, it’s easy unknowingly to use up the borscht on the wrong thing (discrediting the coffee chain) rather than the right thing (getting the comic book). If you do this, you have nothing to trade to the peddler. So you put yourself into a situation in which you can only win by Resorting to Capitalism, and the endgame is then bittersweet. It would have been simple to avoid this, too: make the borscht a lasting resource that you never fully lose, like the serum or the donuts.
That said, I’m completely in favor of having Resorting to Capitalism be something the game keeps track of and punishes at the end. That feels entirely fitting, and there’s plenty of warning that if you do go capitalist, you’ll regret it. Just please don’t lock me into this necessity by accident.
I’m not totally sure what political attitude to take away from this, other than possibly that both communism and capitalism are flawed and mockable systems; which seems to accord with the Shaw quote at the beginning. So that’s all right then.
Finally, the diving board in the Vault acts pretty strange:
You must supply a noun.
>dive off board
>dive in pit
I only understood you as far as wanting to dive.
I have some suspicions about what happened in the code,* but if you find yourself stuck at this point, what you want to do is get on the diving board and then JUMP.
* Specifically, if you’re trying to handle both DIVE and DIVE OFF BOARD (which is a good thing to do), then you might write
Understand “dive” as diving off. Understand “dive off [something]” as diving off. Diving off is an action applying to one thing.
Whereupon you’ll get similar behavior. You want to add a rule for supplying a missing noun to fill in an appropriate noun if the player types just DIVE. And then once you’re parsing correctly, DIVE OFF BOARD should probably convert to jumping.