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When the Land Goes Under the Water

by Bruno Dias (as Nikephoros De Kloet) profile

Fiction
2015

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Number of Reviews: 2
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Survivor guilt, May 27, 2015
by Doug Orleans (Somerville, MA, USA)
Related reviews: ShuffleComp: Disc 2
This game starts with the admonition "If you intend to write a review or discuss it with others, I suggest you play through it exactly once." Well, I helped playtest this game, so I played through it several times, and I'm going to use that knowledge in this review. Sorry about that.

To be honest I'm not really sure what's intended by this instruction. You can go in one of two directions from the start room, and when you come back, the other direction is no longer available; this means that you're only going to see roughly half the game in each playthrough. I guess the idea is to emphasize the PC's inability to rescue all of the artifacts and memories from the island before it sinks into the water, and perhaps to put players in the position of reunited refugees, comparing disparate remnants from the land they were forced to leave. It's interesting to contrast this with Captain Verdeterre's Plunder, which explicitly encourages multiple replays to get a high score by finding the best subset of things that can be rescued from the sinking ship.

Anyway, as far as I noticed, the two halves are not appreciably different from each other. Both involve picking through the ruins of a decadent polytheistic society, learning about the baroque and often grotesque practices of the worshippers of the various gods. The intro also announces that the game "is a purely exploratory piece", though this is not quite true either: there are a few simple puzzles involving finding a light source, and your score is kept based on how many memories you find, based on examining various features and objects. A nice touch is that once you've found most of the memories, the SCORE command includes hints for finding the remaining memories.

One somewhat peculiar feature is that the story is told in the third person, past tense. This is introduced at the start by "As a girl, she...", indicating that the rest of the playthrough represents the PC's memories of escaping the sinking island in the distant past. It's interesting how this simple device, explaining why the game doesn't use second-person present as usual for parser IF, makes the rest of the text sound a little more natural, compared to a game like A Long Drink where the use of past tense is not explained. There are a few places where the text slips into present tense, e.g. the description of the lantern; here I must personally apologize, because while I caught many of these slips in playtesting, I see now that I missed that one and probably some others. (It's surprisingly easy not to notice these slips!) On the other hand, even most of the error messages are (perhaps automatically?) cast in third-person past tense, which can be a bit jarring, e.g. "She couldn't go that way" whenever you try to go in a direction that has no exit, or "She wasn't feeling especially drowsy" when you try to SLEEP. I suppose you could imagine her recalling a moment of confusion or reflection during her journey, but this is a bit of a stretch.

Overall, the mood is melancholy with some bitterness, but also somewhat dispassionate in recounting the facts of life in this ornate religion. It's a good match with the mood of the song that the game is based on, which insistently asks "What'cha gonna do when the land goes under the water?" almost as a taunt or an accusation, as if you were the cause of the flood that you should have seen coming and now you're doomed. The line "can't go swimming to a big whale's mouth" hints at blame that might be placed on religion in not preparing worshippers for the practical reality of the disaster. It's hard not to read this (both the song and the game) as an allegory for a certain other looming no-longer-deniable calamity...

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Doug Orleans, May 27, 2015 - Reply
I only just now realized that an alternate (and probably correct) reading is that the "As a girl" only applies to that one sentence, and the rest of the story is about her as an adult. Oh well! I'll leave my review as-is just because I think that reading is cooler...
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