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.
Today: One Eye Open.
This is a horror game, and a kind of horror I tend not to like much: lots of gore from very early on, rather than a slow gathering of sinister hints. It also belongs to the genre of “abandoned lab games where something went wrong and you have to collect evidence”: diary pages, newspaper clippings, notes from one now-absent character to another, and, of course, flashback-y psychic visions (see also: Babel).
One Eye Open is also considerably too long for the competition. I think I spent at least four hours before arriving at my first ending: admittedly, I’m feeling a bit under the weather, so I took frequent breaks and thought slowly, but still. The puzzles reward thoroughness more often than cleverness: there are a lot of lock-and-key bits, a lot of rewards for carefully turning over every item in the environment, and relatively few complex manipulable items. So while the puzzle structure isn’t exactly hard most of the time, it makes it very possible to get stuck because you haven’t yet noticed the object you need.
You can try to play faster, but the game doesn’t offer much assistance in that. The hint system is location-based: this is sometimes a good idea, but sometimes means that you’re wandering around typing HINT in every room, looking for where you might find the object you know you need. To make matters worse, the built-in walkthrough only takes you to the worst possible outcome and clearly leaves out quite a lot of what makes the game interesting. So even if you try to hurry up and get a solid ending within the two hour judging period by resorting to the built-in help, you miss a lot.
This might make the game sound dreary, but it really isn’t. It’s actually quite a polished game, obviously the product of a lot of careful work. The writing is solid and sometimes very evocative, with concrete, plausible details suggesting that at least one of the authors has some medical training. Some thought has obviously gone into the characters, though there are so many of them that by the end I was looking for some kind reminder system to keep track of everyone for me. The endings in particular contain some surprising and vivid images. And I did find myself sufficiently gripped to keep playing well past the scoring period until I found an ending that was at least moderately less awful than the rest.
So if you’re into gory abandoned-lab horror, this may well be the thing for you, especially if you have time to play it on some occasion more leisurely than the comp. I wound up scoring it fairly high — some demerit for being too long, but still, a decent score — even though it wasn’t the kind of thing I enjoy most.
If there’s a way to save Marnie (and the endings seem to indicate there is) then I never found that. (Hints in comments would not go amiss, if anyone has the answer.)