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About the StorySitting in a cramped theatre, irritated that your partner apparently hasn't turned up, you are strangely intrigued by a current of air. It will lead you to a place very different from your own familiar surroundings...
[--blurb from The Z-Files Catalogue]
Winner, Best Game; Winner, Best Writing; Nominee, Best Story; Nominee, Best Setting; Winner, Best Puzzles; Winner, Best Individual Puzzle - 1996 XYZZY Awards
-- Carl Muckenhoupt
This is the kind of game where you not only have to read each piece carefully and thoughtfully the first time, you also have to stand permanently apart from what's going on. You're doing things that make no real logical sense -- by the hundred, it seems. Graham Nelson's Player's Bill of Rights is triumphantly defied by some of the acts of intuitive leaping, save-and-restore decipherment, and hindsight required to get through the game properly. Even so I only managed with liberal use of Lucian Smith's Invisiclues and suggestions from friends on ifMUD. As Duncan Stevens says in his recent SPAG review of the same game, _So Far_ works thematically, but the plot doesn't entirely make sense.
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It's a noteworthy title, for a whole slew of reasons. IF's traditional features have been handled extremely well, in that the writing, the puzzles and the coding are as near flawless as they come. There are further aspects however, concerning the game-world and the player's place within it, that add new and thought-provoking elements.
-- Alistair G. Thomas
It's difficult, in the end, to explain what it is that makes So Far so memorable. The settings are vivid, but not spectacularly so, and the strongest theme in the descriptions is decay and abandonment--compelling on an emotional level but not necessarily captivating as IF. A few of the puzzles are memorable, but there aren't enough puzzles here to make the game work on that basis alone. My own sense of why I found the game fascinating was that it demanded attention and analysis; indeed, without analysis, it's not even vaguely memorable, because very little of what's most interesting about So Far is there on the surface. More than any other IF I can think of--Losing Your Grip is the only game that comes close--So Far is best appreciated through poring over the transcript and drawing connections between events that aren't necessarily juxtaposed in space or time.
-- Duncan Stevens
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Number of Reviews: 4
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The going gets weird soon after the (frankly overwrought) introduction, with two moons hanging in the sky and funny things going on with the lighting. Then we're off to dreamland, or wherever it is that the rest of the game takes place. Plotkin's writing can be a bit stiff and doesn't read snappily, but there is no shortage of atmosphere or imagination in these environments. At the outset, things aren't too freaky, since it's hardly the first game to feature lonely ruins and mysterious structures. In turns, however, the places you visit become more dangerous, eerie, unsettling, and perhaps even nightmarish, depending on your phobias. The details are there if you slow down and focus--by reading carefully, I was able to visualize these places in a way that really stuck with me. Much more so than Plotkin's later work Shade, I think So Far truly captures the feeling of a disquieting dream. A recurring one, at that, because the effect is increased by the game's cruelty. The worlds themselves are often unkind, if not outright hostile, and whenever I was stuck on an obstacle I found myself stumbling around as scenes played out over and over, reset either by me or the game itself.
The cruelty in general is something that caught me off guard. Yes, I know the game advertises itself as such, and I am no stranger to the dead ends and deathtraps in old-school titles. What I was not prepared for was all the gosh-darn red herrings. Extraneous detail that suggests a world beyond the scope of the playable area? Fine. Red herring objects to avoid "find the door that matches this key" syndrome? Fine. Red herring objects that would clearly be, in any other game, crucial or even plot-related items? Not fine. A puzzle consisting of nothing but red herrings? Not fine. (Though, having played System's Twilight, perhaps I should have expected the last of these. Fool me twice, shame on me.)
In the beginning, it's not too bad. There are only so many obstacles to push up against, and you keep trying on the ones that seem to have the best chance of giving. Fair enough. I made it a little past the halfway point before my determination started to waver. Part of the problem is that many small details are not extraneous, with a fair amount of noun-hunting required in the room and object descriptions. Too many loose ends--too many potential loose ends--meant the fog was more than I could navigate, so I caved and went to the hints. In a sense I actually wished the game was crueler. Trinity, for example, only gives you one chance to visit various parts of the game, which narrows the range of possibilities. You know you don't have to do any hopping back and forth with different items at different times, and that helps you sort out the order in which to tackle things. Now, So Far is certainly not as big and broad as the massive dungeon crawls of the past. For what it's worth, I never had to make a map. But I still feel that there is an intentional nastiness to the design here that was not often present in the cruel games of old--a sense that Mr. Plotkin was a little too pleased with himself at the traps he had laid.
That's a lot of whining for a game I'm giving four stars, but I try to have some humility about these things. For anything specific I might point out, I'm sure someone out there can say, "Oh, I figured that out right away." My frustrations only partially diminish the game's other strengths, especially considering it came out in 1996. There are several puzzles I would say are very well done, unreservedly, and some scenes have an impressive amount of stuff going on around the player. Aside from the evocative writing, on a technical level I was hard-pressed to find obvious cracks in the simulation. I even liked the occasionally chiding tone in the deaths and refusal messages. Probably the most praiseworthy statement I can make about So Far is simply that it's memorable. A gentler design would have been nice, sure, but there is something to say for leaving things unexplained, for planting a haunting image in the player's mind, and So Far does this many times over.
So Far seems like a representation of one man’s internal coming to grips with this awareness of betrayal, loss, and loneliness. Sure, one could read the various worlds you traverse as literal—that the game is a fantastic world-hopping adventure—but Plotkin put too much detail and care for us to legitimately come to that conclusion. For instance, each world is keyed to some environmental markers: “autumn, cool, smoky” or “bright, bitter wind.” The game opens in “hot, sticky,” which mirrors the protagonist’s mood: “Damn the crowd, in truth: your mood was hot, foul, and dark when you came in.” The pathetic fallacy runs rampant in So Far, to such an extent that it is hard for me to believe that the various worlds you end up exploring exist “out there” at all. Then environments become increasingly bleak, dark, and shapeless, mirroring various stages of acceptance. And the end of the game--oh, the end.
Cracks show up a lot, too. Keep an eye out for them. Cracks in walls, in the earth, etc. Seems like a blatant symbol of the rupture in the protagonist’s relationship. The cracks are often associated with water (yonic?). There’s even a puzzle that involves (Spoiler - click to show)trying to rupture a crack in order to cause a glacier landslide, revealing a chill tunnel leading to a cave of light, where “ripples of gold light fall through milky blue veils.” The game begs for a Freudian reading.
Shadows are important in this game, too, another thing hinted at right at the game’s outset. The game opens with the final act of a play, and Plotkin deftly wove in all the major themes of the game into this scene, which you watch play out before you really can do anything. “Rito has finally found out about Imita's affair, and he stalks the stage, whipping voice and hands about himself. A footfall behind him; he turns, and sees Imita,” the game begins. Rito turns to Imita and berates her: “How come you, harlot? Dare you come this way, / your skin yet dark with Tato's shadow's stain?” “Shadow” here is obviously a marker, since the action of the game involves finding odd shadows and stepping into them.
In fact, this game kept reminding me of Myst. Traveling to different worlds and solving puzzles. However, unlike in Myst, many of the worlds in So Far are populated. On the other hand, the people in those worlds are either hostile to you or indifferent. You typically don’t feel connected to anyone, except the lost boy perhaps—and that boy might even be you, a homunculus trapped in a maze of rusted metal. The puzzle here(Spoiler - click to show)--clanging metal pipes to move around—suggested to me a prelinguistic stage of psychological development, and the boy simply that innocent, bruised self hiding in all of us.
The writing and the way some of these worlds were structured suggested Myst to me, too. The first world you encounter involves a castle and a radioactive power generator. Here’s a sample of the room where you first appear:
(Spoiler - click to show)
The sky is almost violet, infinitely distant -- you've never seen such a sky, and without the haze of metallic heat that summer should have. But the wind is sharp and chilly, and the trees nearby are a quilt of orange, red, and gold.
Beneath you the road is old, filled with weeds and ragged moss; dirt shows only in patches. To the south, the track is choked with trees, as it runs into the fringes of an autumn forest. It continues the other way, though, towards an immense stone wall that hems the northern horizon.
The puzzles are generally not too hard, but not too easy, either. There is some trial and error to go through, of course; and the logic of the worlds doesn’t always make sense, especially as you progress through the game and the worlds become more abstract and strange: in one, you wander a desolated landscape, manipulating platonic solids. And then there is the darkness and the shadows and the shades of the happy couple you and Aessa once were. This protagonist is an awfully cerebral individual who works out his issues by plumbing deep into his psyche.
Is there anything wrong with this game? It’s puzzle-heavy, which isn’t to my taste, but on the other hand, they are mostly woven into the theme pretty well, though Plotkin’s writing. There are a few that are fairly silly and don’t fit, though. And some of the more tedious ones take you out of the world completely, in terms of player immersion. That is, you’re reminded that you’re just playing a game and you forget all about this cool world you’re in.
But I think the major failure of the game is that it is written in the second person. I know that’s a convention of text adventures, but in this case the prose would be more compelling, I think, if Plotkin had experimented with the first person. Especially in a game like this, which could easily be read as taking place within the protagonist’s head in a surrealist psychological drama. The standard game engine response of “I don’t understand that verb” when the player fails to guess the right verb, or makes a typo, felt particularly jarring after I began to understand the game in this way. Granted, the second person is the standard convention in IF, but I look forward to playing some games which break this rule.
Taken together with A Change in the Weather, it seems that one consistent theme between the two Plotkin games I’ve played so far is isolation or loneliness. In the previous game, the protagonist wandered away from his friends in search of some solitude; in So Far the protagonist is dealing with a breakup, or perhaps infidelity. Text adventure games are typically solitary affairs by their very nature, so it’s nice to see Plotkin incorporating this into the plot of the game.
(re-posted from my blog, gentle hart desire)
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