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About the StoryThis isn't the safest neighborhood. A young woman was abducted near here only recently. But as a city sanitarian you are obligated to complete your annual inspection of the local dive. [blurb from IF Comp 2008]
Nominee, Best Story; Nominee, Best Individual Puzzle; Nominee, Best Use of Medium - 2008 XYZZY Awards
The game has its highs; in particular, I enjoyed the seemingly unending train of health code violations the protagonist can note. But there are pretty many lows, as well - mainly "what a moron" moments regarding the main villain, occasional glitches in writing, and minor bugs. The aforementioned... uhm... not the brightest behaviour of the NPCs considerably spoils the otherwise interesting and not unoriginal plot idea. Still, Afflicted gets its four stars, albeit at a little stretch.
As story conceits go, a fastidious health inspector forced to scrutinize a disgusting, disease-ridden restaurant whose owner happens to be a fat, evil creature of darkness is pretty great. Afflicted has you searching the horrendous dive bar, looking for infractions which you dutifully record in your notebook. These demerits serve as your game score. This was entertaining enough just by itself, for some reason; maybe it's the obsessive-compulsive in me, but I loved discovering and documenting each new repulsive violation, making little humorously bureaucratic suggestions. It's like collecting Snapple caps for the factoids [...] (by Nate Dovel)
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Beneath the dried-on spaghetti and exposed foam padding, Afflicted offers a pulp-horror short story of great potential. It falls down a bit (a lot) at the end, with some imbecilic NPC behavior that reduces the game to broad camp (Spoiler - click to show)(the game's villain just sits there snacking while you wander back and forth around him, solving puzzles to undo him, and don't tell me I was hiding those severed limbs in my coat so he couldn't see) but along the way, some of the grisly imagery really works, and carving (and grinding) into the layers stays fun throughout. The player-character's own reason can be questionable, too (Spoiler - click to show)(after you've found the dismembered corpse flailing to communicate with you, you can still wander back upstairs and calmly tick off health-code violations on dirty dishes... seeking comfort in the familiar, perhaps).
Beyond the character logic, the game's implementation has some rough edges. Not bugs, exactly (apart from the amusingly defiant cockroaches) but constant little problems where the parser fails to understand clear and fair commands, or understands them poorly or even ridiculously. Some crucial actions are implemented to be clunky and tedious when they could easily have been smooth, and there are far too many occasions where the game demands disambiguation when it really should know better.
With a bit of fine-tuning, this game would be ideal for beginners, since it offers such rich rewards to simply wandering around using EXAMINE (then NOTE) on virtually everything in sight. That kind of constant, stimulating feedback for uncomplicated exploration would be fantastic for a first-time player, and it's set up to gently ease in the need for other verbs as the obvious sham of the "health inspection" gives way to the real story. The basic game design is sound bordering on brilliant; what it needs is a new release with the sand flushed from the gears and its full potential realized. As it is, it's still a good game for those patient with a dazed parser and a bit of gory silliness (intentional or not), and it's scaled well for portable play, too, with environment and puzzles both easy to navigate without mapping or note-taking. The game offers many variant endings, lots of fun along the way, and even a decent (only slightly dodgy) adaptive hint system. Good stuff.
You have a notebook that you can use to mark down any health code violations you find. Using it acts as the game's score system too: every infraction you list makes Nikolai's Bar and Grill lose points. A big part of the game's charm lies in simply finding as many infractions as you can while reading colorful descriptions about the Bar's filthiness and seeing the score sink deep, deep into the negative.
The game is pretty easy on the player. While there are some actions that lead to untimely game overs, it's easy to deduce from context when doing something is a bad idea. The game doesn't lock the player out of success either; like the IFDB-page of the game says, it's always possible to reach *an* ending.
The writing is generally good. There is dark comedy in how over-the-top it can get, not to mention some of the multiple endings are also quite humorous in tone.
Sadly, Afflicted could have used some more polish. One example of this is the slightly inconsistently handled player scope. To simulate outdoor areas and windows, the game often adds things into player scope that are not in the same room as the player. This can be mildly confusing, and in one case it directly makes a puzzle harder to figure out: (Spoiler - click to show)at the start of the game "x window" gives you the message for the Bar's front window no matter your location. This is bad because there are three different windows in the area and you have to "knock" on a specific one to progress in the game but the buggy examination message makes it seem like there is only one window.
Another example of slightly lacking mechanics is the (Spoiler - click to show)anti-climactic end game. The villains aren't programmed to do anything very threatening - they just hang around waiting for you to solve some more puzzles.
Besides that, some descriptions lack a punctuation, examining the mirror gives a slightly buggy message, some objects in the game world partially share a name which leads to constant disambiguation questions... Small rough spots like this can be slightly immersion breaking.
Still, Afflicted is a decently fun way to spend one or two hours. The game is not too difficult to complete, especially since it offers an internal hint system for any subjectively tricky moments. It has personality and some gruesome imagery, so you'll probably like it if you're a fan of parser-based horror.
One quibble: I just wish the parser understood more words and word combinations.
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This is version 10 of this page, edited by Lance Campbell on 17 May 2020 at 8:31pm. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item