IF Comp 2010: Divis Mortis

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: Divis Mortis

This is going to be a relatively short review, since I didn’t play the game for long. Partly, I confess, it suffers by comparison and by the order in which I played this year’s entries. I’ve already exceeded my Recommended Comply Allowance of: zombies, Dead Body Decor, and puzzles involving swiping a keycard that I pulled off a corpse. And that’s just in the first two rooms.

It is, however, not the author’s fault that someone(s) else entered similar games this year.

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Beyond this, though, I had some issues with the polish and writing quality. I had trouble swiping the keycard thanks to a bunch of verb guessing. The game kept telling me that I was starving, let me take a big chomp out of a corpse’s shoulder (because I’d sort of guessed what was probably going on here), but didn’t incorporate that chomping action into my hunger state or my protagonist’s level of self-awareness.

The writing goes to town with the cliches, and it also veers around crazily in tone. One minute I’m having hair-raising, gut-wrenching, mind-reeling experiences with corpse-strewn rooms, and the next I’m admiring how awesome my boots look.

A couple of the other horror games in this comp were not exactly immune to this either: it’s a tricky thing hitting a consistent tone when you’re trying to creep the player out and also have a little humor in the story, because you can never tell in what order the player’s going to be reading descriptions, and sometimes your punchlines show up in just the wrong places. I think this is actually slightly less of a problem in games that focus on suspense and dread of forthcoming things, instead of bodies everywhere.

And then I got into a tussle with a zombie in my Volvo, and half her body came off, and then she killed me. I undid and tried various ways to get out of the situation, none of which worked. Maybe I needed to have come into that room with a weapon in hand. But there I was, repeatedly getting killed, and over and over I kept having to read this description of the zombie’s stomach lying there on the car seat with her other viscera. And it came to me that this experience was not one that I was enjoying or about which I was likely to have anything deep to say, later. So I quit.

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