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About the Storyintegration necessitates evisceration
6th place out of 902 entries, Mood - Ludum Dare 25
praise from Harvey Smith (who worked on System Shock)
For deconstructing power fantasy; lovingly reminding me of System Shock, one of my favorite games of all time; for expanding the narrowly defined boundaries of video game subject matter; for excellent writing and a cutting sense of humor(?).
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Number of Reviews: 5
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These are the things that went through my mind, mostly, as I played and finished Cyberqueen.
Before I proceed, I have to say something that I think is very important: Porpentine is a major author in today's CYOA, or whatever we are calling Twine games (which are not really CYOA... they're simply something else), because Porpentine uses the interactivity inherent in the medium brilliantly. It's more a story than a game, but it could never be static fiction. Interactivity, even when sparse (especially when sparse) is a major, major element in Porpentine's work, is used in novel ways, and if you remove it (and there are many Twine games where you can remove the interactivity and lose nothing significant) then you are missing out on the whole experience.
This particular tale, heavily inspired by Shodan by the author's own admission at the end, is... out there. It's extreme. It's scatological. It's erotic. It's like an extreme BDSM session, one that you're forced to watch, that encompasses defiance, struggle, domination/submission, graphic depictions of bodily functions, eroticism, violence, and ultimately the loss of one's personality as it becomes another's slave/toy/victim.
The reason I don't rate this 5 stars is because I have a bit of a personal distaste for this gory, heavy style. Heavy-handed, over-powering, cloying, relentless. I prefer subtlelty rather than a constant assault on my mind.
But I am well aware that, apart from this being a valid style, and one that many people enjoy, it's the only style possible for this work. The PC and the player both suffer the helplessness, the fleeting moments of hope and defiance, the ultimate merging of the two personalities in play.
This game certainly made an impression on me, and I have to praise it highly for that. The use of the medium is brilliant, masterful. This author exploits the pacing of a Twine experience like no other, employing delays, text formatting and visual things like "clicking on a word continues the rest of the sentence".
It's not something I'd recommend for everyone. But if you feel you can stomach a punch in the gut, you owe it to yourself to try it. I'm always out for IF that creates an emotional response, and boy, this is it.
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Don't play it if: you have a weak stomach for just about anything that could reasonably be expected to make a human being queasy.
The first two words in this game are "wet" and "sticky". And if you think the use of sentence fragments as impressionistic descriptors is passé, the rest of Cyberqueen probably won't be to your taste, because what it mainly does - what it does best - is transplant the experience of fragmenting consciousness into writing.
Cyberqueen is a war between intimacy and grotesquery, violation and transformation. The tone and content draw from the erotic and the clinically repellent, switch between them and occasionally combine them. In a certain way it reminds me of the Guillermo del Toro film Pan's Labyrinth, which had the audacity to sew together a wondrous, childlike fantasy and a grim, horrifically real war story. In both cases, the achievement is admirable, though exhausting.
The tale itself reads something like a fusion of System Shock and parts of Ray Bradbury's The City. Interestingly enough the antagonist, while malevolent, is not entirely unsympathetic, though she certainly stretches and probably breaks the boundaries of what constitutes acceptable sympathetic behavior. In certain readings she might be taken to be the protagonist, albeit not the player character.
The nature of this work's structure makes me wonder if it can even be described as interactive fiction, because while you are ostensibly presented with alternative options the game is ultimately an extremely linear experience. You are certainly made to suffer the protagonist's fears, pains and frustrations, but the "interactivity" is illusory. ("Sorry to ruin your power fantasy," gloats the antagonist as she seals your fate.) "Cinematic prose", perhaps.
The story plays with themes of identity, both in an internal sense and in a physical sense; it preys on the communal horror of deformity and dysmorphia. Which is good - it's touching on things of great social relevance. But it doesn't really discuss them, preferring to let them come to fruition in a more emotional than intellectual sense. Forsaking both the pen and the sword, Cyberqueen attacks the human comfort zone by wielding itself like a chainsaw. This would be a flaw under other circumstances, but I get the distinct impression that this was the author's intended direction for the story and as a result I must call it a success.
So why five stars? Firstly, because it deftly exploits the medium in such a way as to charge up the emotional responses we are asked to give to the events of the story; and secondly, because it is a complete and unabashed triumph in terms of what it tries to be: a fleshy, palpitating tale of agonizing transformation that demands your attention.
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