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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.
One quibble: I just wish the parser understood more words and word combinations.
I really enjoyed this part of the game. It's fun trying to think of every way you can get the jerk owner on stuff. Although I should have known weird things were going on when (MAJOR SPOILER)(Spoiler - click to show) I found eyeballs floating in the gutter). I realized that this game may not be for the squeamish; I felt a bit uncomfortable.
After a while, you start to find out weird stuff. I formed an initial theory. After I found the weirdest of the weird stuff, my theory took a blow, and then was shattered into millions of pieces. The final plot of the game was a little cliche, but done inventively enough that I had a great time. At least it wasn't a poorly-done Lovecraftian game (although I have to say, of the seven Lovecraftian games I have played, all were well done).
I needed a couple of hints.
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