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.
Next up: The Warbler’s Nest
Man, there sure is a lot of horror in this comp. The Warbler’s Nest is more my flavor of horror, though: instead of disemboweled corpses draped over all the furniture, there’s just brooding atmosphere, uncertainty, and hints of Serious Wrongness.
It’s also a game more than usually prone to being destroyed by any kind of discussion of what it’s about. So I’ll just say you should try it out yourself: it’s not long, and even within its small scope it is strongly directed. (Overly linear, some might feel.)
What makes this game work for me is the way it transitions from one kind of interaction and awareness to another.
IF players tend to be willing to take a lot of cues from the story leads, and at first I was inclined to follow the hints I was given and perform this spell. The cracked eggshell with its dead contents was especially effective at arousing pity and fear, and I found myself trying to do all sorts of things to the large chick in the nest, to remove it or punish it for usurping the warbler chick’s place.
Besides, there was something compelling about the weird tasks of fetching eggshells and carrying water, and I was pretty into the idea of performing this spell.
But, as I think the author intended, I got a hit of an entirely different kind of awareness once I entered the house and was faced with the actual baby, and thought about what was happening in modern terms.
So the central conceit was excellent, and it lost a few points from me only because it was a little too linear and a little too rickety. More polish would have helped. The opening turns of the game do do an excellent job of directing player attention; but afterwards I felt a little frustrated by the need to guess what the game wanted from me next, by the sparse handling of the scenery, and by the fact that I wasn’t allowed more experiments before making my decision. For instance, I really wanted to
>touch baby with iron
— I mean, we had these cold iron shears right here, right? And surely my superstitious protagonist would try to see whether the possibly-fairy baby could stand the touch of them. Obviously none of these experiments should be any more conclusive than the eggshell test, but being allowed to make them would have been interesting and in-character.
A few other touches like that would have let me commit more deeply to the game, giving it more impact. (jmac, if you’re interested: I’ve got a transcript for most of the game except the first little bit [because I forgot to start scripting until after I’d viewed the menu and lost screen buffer]. Still, I’d be happy to send what I have along.)
Edited to add: reading other people’s reviews reveals that some players had more trouble than I did, possibly through trying things in a slightly different order than intended and getting bits of exposition in the wrong sequence. This is unfortunate, but reinforces my sense that this game could be a lot more effective if it were made more robust throughout.