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About the StoryUtopia Technologies. Industrial giant, economic powerhouse, the world's greatest scientific superpower, and the organisation most responsible for eroding civil liberties and personal freedoms. They're an all-powerful capitalist megacorporation that you despise completely and utterly, yet you're perfectly willing to join their ranks.
The paperwork has been filed, and you're on the way to the California Archipelago in a transport shuttle. There's no turning back now. Tomorrow morning, you'll be a citizen of Utopia, based in the Arcology -- that overcrowded, polluting eyesore of gargantuan proportions. You'll be a mere immigrant worker at the bottom of the corporate ladder, but your stomach still churns at the thought. Your motives for going may be pure, but that doesn't make it easy.
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The plot and setting of Inside Woman are hardly original. The story takes place 150 years into the future, where global warming, biological warfare and globalisation have all left their mark. The protagonist is an Asian superspy, sent into the capital of another corporate state which is bent on becoming a total monopoly, in a quest to discover their plans. The game begins on a transport craft about to dock at this city, a giant pyramid, and Lo and Behold - puzzles ensue.
So, not a groundbreaking scenario. But playing the game is a real treat as the theme works so well. The writing is often just a bare description but comes across as fleshed out and vivid. And of course the player expectation for a game where the character is a hot female superspy is that it should be fun, and I felt that the author succeeded in this as well. A memorable highlight is when the you are required to win a virtual reality arcade game where you are... a hot female superspy (on a bike!). You will find yourself trying every over-the-top action movie cliché to score the maximum points. It was firmly tongue in cheek, and very entertaining.
As I mentioned earlier the puzzles are not quite as hard as some of the previous games Andy has released, but there are still plenty of times where you will be really challenged. There are a lot more hints around for you to find, many of which are implemented through the player's sidekick, which has made the game more approachable. I managed to get over two thirds through the game with just a couple of hints from other people, before getting totally stuck on one particular puzzle. Fortunately there is a hints file available now, which is how I got past this stage. There are several instances where syntax or the correct verb are important, but at least they are rare.
For anyone new to puzzle-based IF, the key things to remember are - examine and search everything (sometimes more than once, as they might change with no notification), read the descriptions and conversation carefully for subtle clues and think outside the box. With this in mind, if you are up for a challenge you will really enjoy this game.
First, I want to point out that the game can be really tough to get through, and I don't think I'd have managed to get on with it without resorting to hints. Unfortunately, the hints file is not mentioned here, so I'll add a link to it:
I think the author should have put a hint system into the game because some puzzles can get quite frustrating, forcing the player to quit playing. Even after peeping the solution in the hint file I've realized that some puzzles I simply wouldn't have solved them.
Yet, it was worth playing it (even with frequent hints lookup). The story opening is quite unusual: movement in space is strictly linked to puzzles and plot, meaning that to move forward you have to solve some puzzles, and since they relate to plot the experience is that of moving rapidly into the story one-step-at-the-time. This is something that I liked quite a lot because it forced me to focus a lot on every description from the inset, and it gave me a good story immersion experience.
Then, at at certain point the game takes on a more classical approach: you can move and explore and are faced with multiple puzzles that need to be solved in order to carry on with the story. Overall, the story is quite linear in that most of the puzzles must be solved in a specific order--although, I have to admit that guessing their order is not always easy, and as the story goes on it's easy to lose track of the objectives.
A strong advice: have a notebook of some sort to jot down notes from the beginning because backward references are a recurrent issue in this game. Also, writing down objective is a good way of keeping focused on the various missions and achievements.
Mechanics aside, I liked the futuristic setting and I appreciated the author's prose -- not only it's very polished, but it's also well balanced. There aren't many superfluous descriptions, and the author has managed to be concise but rich, and overall the story emerges quite powerfully. Some puzzles are really hard, but there is enough encouragement to go on because each solution adds some beats to the story and prevents the pace from dying out.
Also, this is a game in which words are carefully weighed and crafted, and they carry more meaning than one might think at first glance--indeed, you soon learn that every sentence contains important clues and is hinting toward the solution of the puzzle it refers to. I can't recall another work in which the text was so masterfully woven so as to embed in each sentence clues to playing, while at the same time establishing setting, plot, and pace all at once and in such a concise manner. Andy Philips is a good writer, beside being a good coder and game designer.
So, extreme attention has to payed to the game's text--but this has a downside also: you'll soon realize that previous description are crucial to solving some puzzles. So it's strongly advisable to use the transcript function in order to be able to read and sift-through past texts. This annoyed me a bit because in the midst of the game I couldn't recover some text from the buffer since I had saved and restored the game across sessions. The author should have put a warning regarding the need of transcripts or, even better, he could have implemented some sort of note-book or other way of recording important texts and events. Or, as mentioned above, just take notes on paper.
Some mechanics here and there could have been polished a bit more, but it's definitely an IF work of high quality--I don't recall stumbling in many typos.
I hope the author might one day take this work on once more and add to it a hint and note-taking system and refine some puzzles that, being too hard to solve, might prevent many from completing it. Also, there are some places where the player has to repeat a sequence of actions over and over again ... those parts should be revised with an implicit-actions system (else it's just cumbersome).
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This is version 2 of this page, edited by Emily Boegheim on 2 May 2015 at 7:49pm. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item