IF Comp 2015: Life on Mars? (Hugo Labrande)

The 21st annual Interactive Fiction Competition is currently on, through mid-November. Voting is open to the general public; the only prerequisite is that you not be an author, not vote on games that you tested, and submit votes on at least five games. (You emphatically do not have to have played them all! In a year with 55 entrants, it is very unlikely that most judges will get through anywhere near all of them.)

If you are looking for other reviews, this ifwiki page contains a list of places currently carrying them.

cover-finalLife on Mars? is a parser-based, puzzleless game by Hugo Labrande. It was originally in French, and won the French IF competition in 2014. It took me less than an hour to play, and I reached what I believe is the only available ending. (Until last year, translations of existing IF were forbidden in IF Comp because of the “no previous releases” rule; that rule has now been loosened in the case that the translated version has not been seen before. I’m really excited that this rule change bore fruit in the 2015 competition and that it is bringing some of these pieces to a new audience.)

This is a parser-driven piece with a small map of rooms, but the bulk of the story is in fact told in emails — those you receive, and a smaller number that you write in reply.

The premise is that you are the only person to survive landing during a mission to Mars. The rest of the intended crew were killed in an accident under mysterious circumstances. You feel responsible for the accident, but it is completely unclear to what extent you are actually responsible and how much this is survivor guilt or even the result of some kind of external interference.

Whatever happened during the landing, you are now stuck on a prefabricated Martian base with only robots for company. Back on Earth, various people try to cajole and soothe and therapize and threaten you into carrying on with your mission. You yourself are a psychological wreck. And something is happening in the base that you do not understand.

This is a story about the inner life and relationships, much more than about physical situations. Fortunately, the writing is strong enough to sustain it — the translation is solid and the different voices of your different email correspondents come through clearly. There is, indeed, some sly satirical humor at the expense of various political and corporate agencies.

I don’t want to over-describe this story, but I enjoyed it quite a bit, and got a little of the ambiguous thrill that I associate with old black and white episodes of the Twilight Zone.

One thought on “IF Comp 2015: Life on Mars? (Hugo Labrande)”

  1. You know what this reminds me of? A short story. I don’t mean just “a piece of prose fiction that is short in length” — I don’t know how to describe it really, except that I do read short fiction regularly and there is a particular feel to it that has nothing to do with length or subject matter. I have read novels that felt like really long short stories. Well, for whatever reason, Life on Mars? felt like a short story in that way, just in parser IF form.

    Very strange. (Strange in a “hmm interesting” way; I appreciated the game.)

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