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, if appropriate.
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: East Grove Hills
Other people have already noted a lot of the key features of this game: vaguely Photopia-like structure, content similarities to Ready, Okay!, minimal interaction, unavoidable tragedy, lots of meta-commentary about how this game was written by the protagonist. Hard to discuss more without spoilers, so
I agree with the general consensus: it was uninteractive and a bit odd, and there were a lot of times when I struggled to do something that the game didn’t allow for. And, like others, I found the core scenario a bit hard to believe in. 200 dead? Really?
I also ran into a bug where some of the discussion from the playground scene got held over to appear inappropriately during the shooting.
That said, to me the most striking thing about the game was its protagonist. Constantly bemoaning how awkward he is. Being kind of a sarcastic jerk in parser responses. Mentally criticizing the conversation skills of the girl he has a crush on, despite having virtually nothing interesting of his own to contribute… ever. He’s annoying in a way that is a direct manifestation of the pain he’s in, and that pain has existed since long before the shooting. He was a little like Rameses in this respect.
This somewhat justifies the IF form, as well: he’s explicitly trying to communicate with the reader, but the format gives him the chance to be a prickly and unpleasant storyteller whenever you try to meet him half-way. It would be hard to get that across in a short story.
In the end, Thomas’ method of coping with the situation he’s in is just as odd and dysfunctional as everything else he’s done up to this point: he hooks up with a girl he only sort of likes and can barely communicate with, and then sets out to attract the companionship of other people he considers basically broken. And while this is a sort of step forward for him, it is still fraught and difficult and miserable and tinged with contempt. Unlike some people, I didn’t find this ending anticlimactic, though I did think it was very similar to Rameses’ ending in implying that the protagonist hasn’t exactly broken free of his problems. Thomas is never going to be happy until he stops looking down on everything and everyone, including himself.
Speaking of that philosophy club, the text at the ending here:
We can create our own social space where extreme introverts, people with mental issues, and generally weird people can hang out and talk about stuff. Basically, a club for people like us… Yue’s plan might be elitist, patronizing, and hypocritical, but it sounds fun.
…is reminiscent of some of the, ah, less friendly commentary on the IF community, and this dovetails a bit with Thomas’ obsession with/contempt for text adventures. So I wondered if this is supposed to be a final bit of characterization/stinging meta-commentary (“submitting this game to IF comp is itself an expression of this protagonist’s attempt to reach out to other misfits!”). If so… well, enh. I’d be amused by the meta-ness of it, but it’s too far out of sync with my own experience to cause any pangs of wounded recognition.