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Nominee, Best Story - 2004 XYZZY Awards
"The Cabal is a hilarious and highly polished game, one that should be played by anybody who has more than a passing interest in interactive fiction." (Greg Boettcher)
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Number of Reviews: 5
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The problem with it is its huge self-indulgence. This is a work, now several years old, about contemporary rec.arts.int-fiction politics. It is peppered with endless references to newsgroup personalities and squabbles that people outside the IF community are unlikely to understand, and even for those of us who were around at the time, it ages badly. A few years down the line, it's likely to need a critical commentary to make sense.
Fortunately, conspiracy theory is fertile ground for satire, and The Cabal hits a lot of good points. It collapses several favorite political theories, places and lore into being about text adventures. This highlighted, to me, how conspiracy theorists like the me-me-me angle while really it's just more about an uncaring world and people willing to accept how things are to get by.
There's only one potentially vicious part. Though most characterizations are clear jokes, one personality is depicted as living at Ruby Ridge, which left me uncomfortable enough to look for an explanation. I got one here--well, at an archive.org copy of it--and was impressed. The essay's worth it even if it's a necessary distraction from an otherwise free-flowing game, because it hits on conspiracy theories some writers have when really it's about laziness or time limitation. It's also nice to have conspiracy literature that actually cleans things up.
I found the puzzles worked as conspiracy debunkers by giving you the opportunity to go off on useless tangents. So many of them (Spoiler - click to show)give the solution up front, then provide absorbing writing so it's possible to get caught up in details that utterly don't matter. The final maze is particularly funny, as (Spoiler - click to show)the game seems far more likely to trap you if you map it by UNDOing.
The author did the right thing by throwing a large chunk of this work into multiple-choice conversation. It establishes the character-player as someone with bizarre thoughts but never really kicks him--it's more about outlining your basic conspiracy theory fallacies. It's good for a thoughtful laugh, even for someone who wasn't present when the game was released.
I would not replay this game. It was well-implemented, characters were stock and more plot device, but while I am enough of an IF gamer that I understood what was meant by story-based versus puzzle-based, I am not enough of an insider to appreciate the inspiration for this game and what it's poking fun at. The tie-ins with real-world conspiracy organizations helped to understand the story, but if there are any Freemasons, etc, they probably shouldn't play this. I know of RAIF, RGIF, etc, but I think this game appeals only to a small group of IF authors/players. Perhaps I could have rated the game higher if I were part of the "Cabal." :)
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