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About the StoryNew Year's Eve, 1999, a quarter to midnight and where else to be but Century Park! Fireworks cascade across the sky, your stomach rumbles uneasily, music and lasers howl across the parkland... Not exactly your ideal party (especially as that rather attractive stranger in black has slipped back into the crowds) - but cheer up, you won't live to see the next.
[--blurb from The Z-Files Catalogue]
-- Carl Muckenhoupt
Structurally, the game is laid out into sixteen sections. Finishing one chapter provides the means to enter the next. The mostly linear progression helps preserve the illusion of a story in progress, instead of being a jumbled collection of get-the-bird-scare-the-snake hoops through which to jump.
The puzzles themselves are challenging without being insurmountable; players looking primarily for mind-bogglers will probably be disappointed, at least in the earlier chapters. Some of them rely on the player looking in just the right place for an item. Most are logical and straightforward, even if the right answer is not obvious. It's also very interesting to play through a puzzle or an NPC interaction more than once, trying different things, to see wildly different results.
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It's certainly a vast, interesting, well-written game, but is it really enjoyable? Dunno. [...] To sum up, I suppose for me Jigsaw's attempt to be different is its downfall - its seriousness and sombre mood means there are no light touches, and even a few attempts at humour provide only a brief interruption to the overall feeling of worry about what mess will be waiting to be cleared up in the next zone, after Black has done his/her usual meddling.
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What all that means is that Jigsaw’s gameplay is almost brutal by today’s standards. There are several sequences in the game that are very tightly timed (including, to my astonishment, the prologue!), as well as many, many ways to unknowingly put yourself into an unwinnable situation (including, again, in the prologue). Furthermore, the game expects you to look under and on top of things, deliberately, without any hints that something might be there, even when doing an ‘EXAMINE’ on the thing in question.
Another difference, and probably the hardest thing for me to adapt to, is that the game is very sly with respect to available exits. Rooms occasionally have exits that are undescribed and there is really no way to ‘LOOK’ or ‘EXAMINE’ the area to find them. Sometimes, if you attempt to go in a direction that you can’t, the parse will respond with “You can only go southeast and north,” but other times, it’ll simply say “You can’t go that way.” In the prologue of the game, in fact, there is a vital room you must enter that you only find out is there if you attempt to walk in a direction you can’t and get a message implying that there might be something behind the wall if you go one room west then head back southeast. Also, there are a couple cases where you’ll be navigating in cardinal directions (N,S,E,W, etc.) and then suddenly be expected to use a different way to navigate. Such as when you are on a boat in one sequence, and randomly you have to use ‘fore’ and ‘aft’ to navigate the deck, even though you were using cardinal directions when indoors.
As might be apparent from the above, almost all of these differences manifest themselves in the prologue, which is to say, the very first section of the game before you know how to time travel, before you ever meet your antagonist, and before you even know what the game is about! I spent quite a while in that part of the game trying to figure out what was going on and what I should be doing before putting the game down for a second and taking stock. If I couldn’t get through the prologue without a walkthrough, what were my chances with the rest of the game? Would it even be satisfying to play the game if I ended up using a walkthrough for everything?
The answer is yes, it was satisfying. In the end, I did have to use a walkthrough to get past 90% of the puzzles in the game, but I still enjoyed seeing how the game worked, and loved every time you came face to face with your sometimes partner sometimes enemy Black.
Black is quite an interesting character, mostly because you’re never quite sure what Black is doing, even at the end of the game. The first time you meet the character, Black tells you that history is going to be improved by your actions – even at the start, Black treats the player as part of a team, much to the enjoyment of the player character who is immediately attracted to the rogue – and demonstrates this by using the time machine to try and prevent World War I.
Now, if you let Black carry out the mission, history will be irrevocably altered and you, the player, will end up being someone different and the game will end because you no longer remember anything that has happened between you and Black. So, as painful as it becomes to the player’s growing affection for Black, you must try and ensure history goes it course in every mission.
(Spoiler - click to show)Oddly, this doesn’t always mean you’re fighting against Black. In some cases, Black accidentally changes history and you have to right it. In others, there are hints that Black comes from an alternate history altogether and the changes being made are actually the way things went in the player’s past, so you have to instead help Black accomplish the mission.
Just reading the above, you might start to think that Black is somewhat annoying, running through history changing things willy-nilly. But the real charm of Black, and really the charm of the game as a whole, is that despite conflicting interests Black never gets all too angry with you, just frustrated that you don’t understand what Black is trying to accomplish. You two are, after all, the only ones who can travel through time, and that does make you partners in a way. Black is almost always cordial with the player, and, it appears, begins to share your affection.
Watching this relationship evolve is fascinating, and the situations the player and Black find themselves in are frequently entertaining or suspenseful, which definitely makes the game enjoyable even when you’re using a walkthrough to solve every puzzle.
In fact, I’m not sure if it would have been all that great of an experience if I had to figure it all out on my own. I don’t want to repeat myself too much but those puzzles were HARD. Not just guess-the-verb hard, but really out-of-nowhere solution hard. The best advice I can give will sound awfully familiar: pick up everything you can. Fortunately, your rucksack is bottomless so you can carry everything you find for the duration of the game. And, if you pick up food or drink? Drink or eat it. Nine times out of ten, that’s what you’ll be expected to do.
It took me a good six hours to get through this game in the end, even with the Walkthrough. Without it, it could take days. I’m delighted to play an IF game with so much content, but the war you’d have to wage with the game to see that content without a walkthrough is incredibly discouraging.
So, in the end, I have to say the recommendations were good ones. This game IS worth playing! But please, keep the walkthrough handy, because this game deserves to be played to the end, and I’d hate to see a relative newcomer to IF gaming give up because the game appears impossible.
The writing is superb -- Graham Nelson manages the feat of never using pronouns when referring to Black in order to allow the player to see both themselves and Black as they choose. The historical sections are obviously carefully researched, with careful details -- I loved Orville Wright's mandolin! Black, the main NPC, is a strangely likeable villain (or are they an ally?) with a fiery temper and a well-polished wit. And the plot, if somewhat confusing on the first playthrough, is entertaining.
As for the puzzles, I can't honestly say. I didn't solve them by myself -- I used a walkthrough. The impression I got, however, is that they are generally well-clued but with one or two guess-the-verb problems. There are lots of sudden deaths, most with warning but a few not. It's incredibly easy to lock yourself out of victory without realizing it -- (Spoiler - click to show)at the end of the game it is required to have an item from the prolouge that is none-too-easy to find. If you want to avoid problems with the game being unwinnable, pick up everything not nailed down and keep them in your rucksack in case.
To sum up, this would have to be my favorite game yet in terms of story and writing. I just wish it had been a novel and not IF.
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