Enigma is a parser-based maze of text in which you must work out what is going on. I played it to the end.
First impressions: the blurb and the MS-Paint-esque cover art make me think this is probably going to be one of those games where you are floating in a metaphysical void, suffering from a coma or having just died or in a dream state or something along those lines, and possibly having lost part of your memory. I am not usually a fan of stories like that, so here’s hoping that I’m wrong about what it’s going to be.
As it turns out, I am sort of wrong, but only sort of. There is something very specific happening, but the idea is to reproduce an experience of terrible shock in which the protagonist has dissociated a bit from what is going on around him, and has to fight his way back to comprehending it, by thinking about various clues in the environment. The interaction thus consists of picking out nouns in room and object and concept descriptions, and either examining or thinking about them more, until the situation begins to resolve into something comprehensible.
There is an “easy” mode that helps by highlighting things you should be focusing on, and hints about what you could examine next, if you really get stuck. The highlighting takes the form of a little arrow before the word, like this: “→friend”. This is sufficiently atypical as a typographical choice that I imagined these initial phonemes being lengthened or stuttered. “Ffffriend. Chchchchildhood.”
Still, despite my skepticism about the amnesiac-in-unknown-location start, this idea has merit: the author has a very specific mental state that he wishes to illustrate for us, which is presented via the mode of interaction as well as the descriptions.
At least for me, though, the pacing felt a bit off. I spent quite a lot of time going in circles at the beginning, and had sort of guessed at the problem before the game got around to revealing it to me.
But the biggest issue for me was the writing. More details after spoiler space.
I’m afraid this made me giggle:
You remember sitting there with your best →friend Tim. But now this cozy →couch has turned into an →arrangement of horror.
Given we’ve just been mentioning flowers, “→arrangement of horror” made me picture something like this
rather than the intended scene of dead sister carnage. A few other phrases just landed a bit wrong for me in similar ways, describing one set of events but evoking the wrong emotions or images to go with them. From the reference to a “linguistic consultant”, it seems possible that this is down to English not being the author’s first language.
More generally, the protagonist seemed to view everything in his life, from his sister to his childhood to his interest in Albert Einstein, from a very great distance in very generic ways. He describes his sister as “friendly”, for instance. I would say my sister is friendly, too, if someone asked me specifically “hey, is your sister friendly?”, but not if someone asked me for an open-ended personality sketch of her. If “friendly” is the most salient thing you have to say about someone, then possibly you don’t really know them all that well.
And the story felt that way throughout, with Tim and the sister and the childhood all being rather paint-by-numbers. There’s a lot of telling rather than showing here, a lot of summary rather than specifics. Even the substance of the Tim and Gina’s disagreement — surely the main point here — is rendered in extremely abstract ways. We hear that Gina has told you she is unhappy, that she has seen a side of Tim’s “human nature” that has not been revealed to you. Which means what? He’s pushing her for sex she isn’t ready for? He tortured a puppy in her presence? He wants a more trophy-like girlfriend and has been abusively hounding her to lose 20 pounds? He’s secretly in love with you, rather than with her, but wants her to help conceal it?
I understand that initially our memories are gone, but their return should be sharp, vivid, painful, like blood flowing back into a numb leg. Make us really care about these people. Give us a couple brief but clear anecdotes with Tim, Gina, Tim’s parents, maybe our own parents for good measure.
Maybe a longer-form description of these events would mean that there are more words that need to be implemented, but one could either direct the player away from fruitless attempts by defaulting to have EASY mode on, or bite the bullet and do the implementation. Either way, I think the result would have made this a significantly stronger experience.
It is nonetheless an interesting experiment.