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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:Not for the squeamish--but a little more romance, please! , July 25, 2016
by IFonthebrainWhen I downloaded this game last month, I kept putting off playing it because I thought it would be JUST an interactive novel, with very few puzzles--even the author in his opening notes suggested that the puzzles 'weren't very hard'--so I had it sized up to be a very easy game. In fact, I kept it on my computer while I went along playing one or two other games--as I tend to prefer games with lots of hard puzzles. Finally, I threw up my hands and said that this game wasn't going to play itself, I might as well get it over with.
I was so wrong about this game.
First of all, the game area is SPRAWLING. If you are a 'puzzle-ey' guy like me, you might not be used to starting out being able to explore large areas(many 'rooms'). My instinct when I begin a game or new area in a game, I map all available rooms. In Anchorhead, just about the whole town is free to explore from the start(except a number of not-yet-available places). This almost overwhelmed my compartmentalized male mind. But then I reminded myself that this game is not so puzzle-driven as it is plot-driven. Let the story guide you, I said. Nevertheless, I continued to map the entire city, before even meeting with Michael.
And yes, it did kind of startle me to find out that I was playing a female protagonist, especially as I was (Spoiler - click to show)having fun envisioning myself as Inspector Clouseau, with my trenchcoat and umbrella, climbing through the window of my real-estate agent's office. I don't recall any mention of the protagonist being female. So to me, this promised to make for an interesting experience for me.
It was encouraging to be more or less guided by the events in the story as to what area to address--ie. 'what to do' next--however, it's very important to explore all available areas, examine EVERYTHING, read everything, look behind and under--and in--all things, and know your inventory. There were a couple of things in this game that I missed, that I thought were easy to miss. The author was very descriptive in this game, but there were a couple of spots I thought needed more description. For example, (Spoiler - click to show)I had no idea that there was a book of matches in the kitchen, because the description of the kitchen was so spare, I didn't think to look in the cabinets. The other major thing that I think could have used more attention was (Spoiler - click to show) the study--this was the whole key to the wine bottle problem--apparently you have to be able, at the right time, to follow Michael's movements through the house, and if you do not know to be in the study immediately after you wake up on the third day, and how to get into the secret passageway there, you will be unwinnably stuck--I found this out the hard way. I talked to Michael too long and I made him storm out of the house, and ended up beating my head against meaningless wine bottles. I finally gave in and looked at a walk-through, and got that betrayed feeling like this was something I could have solved had I noticed these little things, capped off with the thought that I just cheated. But more description could have been used there. It would have saved me from (Spoiler - click to show)constantly hitting my head on the wall in the dark area of the asylum, because I didn't find the matches in the kitchen cabinet with which to light the lantern, after I escaped from the rubber room. I was constantly being chased--and eaten--by the madman, because I thought I had to somehow manipulate the light in the stairwell to get light into the rooms downstairs, only to find out from a walkthrough that there were matches in the kitchen that could have been found on Day 2. But then, this is all a part of the territory of IF adventure--part of the challenge. These games have things like SAVE and RESTORE; real life does not. So as IF adventurers, we are actually having it easy.
Otherwise, the game is RICH in description. The atmosphere is excellent, you really get the feeling that you are there. The characters are full of life, even the 'bum' near the wharf. There is even a subplot that is touching. Were I actually a female, I might have wanted a more romantic tone, and I kind of expected the train to play more of a role in the game, at least as a puzzle or the solution to one. I even hoped that (Spoiler - click to show)at the end of the game, while the town was being sucked into the vortex, Michael and I would run with careless abandon, and with perfect timing, the train would speed through and we would jump and perfectly land on a flat car and ride our asses out of town. But such was not to be.
However, the horror angle was NOT underemphasized. This game is not for the faint-of-heart. Scenes of violence and gore--including violence done to the protagonist--are incredibly graphic. One must wonder at the imagination of the author. I did feel a certain vindication at the (Spoiler - click to show)lifelessly prone body of the asylum orderly, though I wish somehow (Spoiler - click to show)the bum, and even William, could somehow have been spared. But then, this is horror. It's the reverse of fantasy land.
In reading some of the reviews for this game, I frequently came across comments that the puzzles on Day 3 had time constraints. Well, yes they do, but I think the author was kind in that he makes the story advance only after you complete each puzzle. In the final sequence, you do have a limited number of moves, but it's logical and intuitive. Be encouraged that (Spoiler - click to show)once you get handcuffed to the rock on the island of flesh, there is NOTHING you can do, so you can pretty much figure that solving this puzzle has to do with what you do with the mirrors BEFORE you are taken captive. I thought that this was the perhaps the best of the puzzles. The epilogue was a bona fide horror ending--(Spoiler - click to show)when the protagonist(s) survive, there is the promise of MORE horror!
In a word, I thought it was fantastic. Would I recommend it to a beginner? Some of these puzzles are tough, and at the beginning of the game, one might be misled by the number of locked doors/hatches, especially if you are puzzle guy like me who sees every locked door as an immediate challenge. I would recommend it with a little guidance--don't be discouraged by having to go back to (much) earlier saved positions, save often, examine everything to the hilt, make an accurate map, and let the story guide you, especially in such story-driven games as this. But then, the author provides this advice in his opening notes.
Four stars--but then I am a romantic, I wanted a (Spoiler - click to show)train-ride ending! And more description in certain places!
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