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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful:Thoughful and serious, February 28, 2011
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)LASH is an intriguing game, and one of the must-play works of modern interactive fiction. (Must-play, that is, for those interested in the development of the medium.) It starts of as a traditional treasure hunt with a gimmick: rather than exploring the ruined building yourself, you are hooked up to a robot you can command around. This is not exactly a split between player and PC, as some reviewers have said; rather, what we traditionally call the PC has been split into two separate parts. The first part gets the roles of narratee and commander; the second part those of executioner and focal character, as well as the normally non-PC role of narrator. This is basically the same set-up as that in Fail-Safe.
But as the player continues, LASH reveals itself to be anything but a simple treasure hunt. Tackling issues of race, violence and slavery, it not only attempt to say important things; it also silently but mercilessly mocks the shallowness of any fiction that revolves around looting, and the mindset of any player happy to just see his monetary score increase. (I suspect we are all of us such players.)
This game deserves to be played. It is well-researched, well-crafted, intelligent, and to a certain extent wise. It is not without its problems, but those can only be discussed within spoiler tags. Big spoiler tags. Huge spoiler tags. Do not enter these spoiler tags, ye who have not played the game!
(Spoiler - click to show)The slavery sequence has several problems, most of which have been pointed out by previous reviewers. The identification of human slavery with robotic slavery is only one of them: pulling this off would require a good amount of setting up the scenario of robotic slavery, and instead, we get almost nothing. A second problem is that the game seems to claim that we need to experience slavery first-hand in order to be changed by it; otherwise, why build something that goes beyond literature, movie and even virtual reality? But if this is true, then the game itself cannot work, since it only offers us interaction with a piece of IF. This weird tension cannot, I think, be resolved. But for me the greatest problem is that the slave narrative ends with apparently successful escape. Rather than exploring the true despair of inescapable slavery, we get something that is a little too reminiscent of Hollywood and historical romance:"it's your father" + somewhat happy ending. Hm.
But these criticisms should be understood for what they are: taking something that is impressive and thinking about how it could be even better. LASH is far more sophisticated and thoughtful than most IF, including most award-winning IF of the past years. And sometimes, it is pure gold, as in this exchange:
> take bolls
[I recognize that you are a human, and therefore unaccustomed to the endlessly repetetive tasks that we machines are asked to do for most of our lives. Therefore, if you like, you may command me simply to WORK UNTIL SUNSET, and avoid any boredom you may be experiencing.]
Finally, a few words about the writing. It is generally very good, although in certain places there are large text dumps of the kind IF readers dread. The fact that they occur as menus helps, but they still should have been paired down or spread out more.
Finally finally, allow me to pick one nit. This is not the way to invoke Dante:
"The drawback is that on summer days like this one, the kitchen is as hot as the bottom ring of Hell."
The bottom ring of Hell, where Lucifer is contained as he tortures Judas and the murderers of Caesar, is a huge lake of ice. As a result, it is not very hot. (I wonder to which circle of Hell I will be condemned for this nit. That of the prideful and the boasters, no doubt.)
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jflower, June 20, 2011 - Reply
(Spoiler - click to show) Escaping isn't the only way to end the slavery simulation.
Matt Wigdahl, February 28, 2011 - Reply
Nice to see you review this game, Victor! I take your point about the PC itself being split here, although I think an inescapable consequence of doing this is that the player ends up most strongly identifying with the "commander" role, as was also the case in Fail-Safe, and so it ends up looking something like a player/PC split in the end anyway.
A couple other comments:
(Spoiler - click to show)Does the game say that we _need_ to experience slavery in order to be changed, or is it just saying that the more you can immerse someone in the experience of slavery the quicker or more completely it will change them? Given that interpretation, LASH as an IF makes sense -- it can generate a more immersive experience than its equivalent as static fiction, and indeed might be the most powerful means O'Brian had at his disposal to deliver this experience. It at least isn't an inherently contradictory position, then.
Also, for me, the text dumps weren't a problem. Of course I'm one of the worst offenders in this area myself... (I'm working on it, I promise!)
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Victor Gijsbers, February 28, 2011 - Reply
It's probably always the case that the player will identify with the commander, because the player's actions are mirrored by those of the commander. (Unless what you type is not what appears on the screen, but that would grow tiresome very quickly.)
You're right about the experience (I'll keep this vague so I don't need spoiler tags). But even if the position might be made non-contradictory, it still seems too weak to me to justify the rather roundabout set-up of the game. If the author had just skipped the SF, there would have been fewer problems.
Text dumps -- I actually enjoyed both the initial "manual" of LASH and the vast help menu of Aotearoa. (That's from memory. Let's see whether I remember the name correctly!) However, the initial sequence of text in Aotearoa, even though it is much smaller than the whole help menu, put me off. And the diary in LASH, perhaps simply by being in-game, made me leave the game and make dinner. Perhaps I don't mind large swaths of text if they feel optional, but resent them when I know I have to plod through them to get on with playing the game?