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About the StoryThe creep of surveillance and control has continued unabated. Every citizen is required to have a chip implant which can definitively identify them to anyone with a scanner. You've spent years working with the underground as a hacker for hire, helping research and develop countermeasures to government surveillance. You've managed to steal information which will help the design of a cryptographic attack against the Mitsui-Klein Encapsulation that every citizen carries in their skull, which (if it works) will render the chip inoperative. Your own MitKlein signature was captured during your mission, however. Although you did your best to wipe all records of your MitKlein signature from all the databases you could find, if you let your chip be scanned by any system it is likely that Homeland Security will be after you immediately. Short term, you'll have to get off the street before curfew and figure out how to move around undetected - long term, you will have to bring the fight to Homeland Security itself.
Valley of Steel is a near-future sci-fi puzzle game inspired by the author's many happy days beating his head against Infocom's works. It is based on a piece of short fiction, which is available at the game website.
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The setting is somewhat hackneyed but appealing to me: a dystopian future surveillance state, where the PC is part of a secret rebellion and receives instructions to help him escape. The world is pretty detailed, though there's not much backstory that I've noticed so far.
The puzzles are mostly technological, involving microchips and soldering irons and radio transmitters and microwave ovens... Many of the puzzles have involved some satisfying aha!-moments, and so far they've all been pretty fair, but it's possible that I may change my mind after reading hints for stuff I'm stuck on.
There are a few NPCs, though interaction with them is fairly limited (as far as I've seen). They are mostly one-dimensional, though not particularly stereotyped.
The writing is nothing extraordinary, but it paints a solid picture of life in this world, with some snarky references to issues in our current time (typical for these sorts of stories). There are also several links to various pieces of fiction on the web that the author has written; those have generally been somewhat interesting but not really my thing, but they're also not at all required to solve the game (again, as far as I've seen...).
The implementation and description is rather sparse, though it's quite a large game so it's not that surprising; if the author is interested in releasing new editions, I would recommend a few more passes at filling in some of the gaps, and also perhaps reducing the size of the map: there seems to be a few too many rooms that don't contain anything interesting. In particular, it can be a bit tedious to get from one end of the map to the other (especially when that involves having to take the train), which seems to be required a number of times in order to collect items to solve puzzles in the necessary order. Maybe just some shortcut commands would help there, though.
Overall, I've enjoyed playing Valley of Steel, and I am curious to find out both how to solve the puzzles I'm stuck on and how the story continues. The sparseness is the main thing keeping me from giving this 5 stars.
If you enjoyed Valley of Steel...
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