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About the StoryHell, even a seagull would hit the spot right now, roasted crispy over a flame--
He immediately put all thoughts of food out of his head because at the moment it was just torture^H^H^H^H^H^H^H
McT's Interactive Fiction Reviews
This is a game with scale and ambition. The content grows and grows – each time I go backwards and forwards between the worlds of the game there is something new to see. Plot lines and possibilities open up. The ending I reached after nearly 2 hours of play was extremely satisfying.
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This was the perfect game. A strange tale about a writer trying to get past writer's block (self-referential art has always impressed me), taking place both in the real world and in the author's book (I love dual world games), with both text entry and choice, this game absolutely impressed me.
I have to warn that the game is extremely explicit, and I played almost entirely on the least explicit level.
The game constantly pulled out surprises, and is big enough to feel like a real, living world. Just like in the real writing process, scenes and characters are written and rewritten, in and out of the game. Decisions are reversible. There's even an inventory and an economy!
I think some people might have bounced off of this because of length, but now that the competition is over, this is one I strongly recommend. This is going on my all-time top 10 list, was my favorite IFComp game, and is definitely getting my vote for XYZZY Best Game!
You start out playing as a man who drowns, and then the game yanks you back: No, you're not drowning. You're an author reading through a draft of his novel, and he's only gotten up to the point where the man is drowning. These two scenes encapsulate the gameplay: You toggle back and forth between playing as the author and as the main character in the author's novel. As the author, you keep rewriting what you've written so far. You also explore the hotel (TheLovecraftInn) where you're staying and interact with the somewhat odd but eager-to-please innkeeper. As the main character in the novel, you effectively live out the author's latest draft, but your actions also create new storylines for the author to try. It's a very clever game mechanic, although I confess it took me a little while - probably longer than it should have - to realize exactly what was going on.
Some of your actions in the inn (as the author) also parallel what happens in the novel. On example: (Spoiler - click to show)Losing my finger in the police station as the character in the novel and having my finger injured in the mousetrap as the author. This is part of what writing is all about, of course, but in Cannery Vale you experience it from both inside and outside the story.
The game is self-aware in places. At one point I thought I had found a bug: I clicked on an option, and I got a "passage not found" error. But then I went down to the lobby (as the author) and discovered that one of my dialogue options with the innkeeper was to ask about the "passage not found" error!
Near the end of the game the two storylines begin to merge, and the character in the novel gains the ability to affect the author's life directly. I'll leave it to other players to find out how, exactly.
There's a lot of provocative imagery going on here - (Spoiler - click to show)the couples who are murdered in the haunted house tour, only to reappear later unscathed but with different personalities; meeting Medusa in the apartment of the woman I hooked up with and being turned to stone; my finger healing miraculously; the Poe-themed inn being turned into a Lovecraft-themed-inn; working in a meat-canning plant that is clearly using human body parts... to name just a few things.
I had wondered if the game might reference Steinbeck's Cannery Row, but if there were any such references I didn't catch them. It does, however, allude strongly to Dante's Divine Comedy. (Spoiler - click to show)At the end, you realize that the town is actually built like the mountain of Purgatory, and so the character in the novel is working his way up and thus out of Purgatory, just like Dante does in The Divine Comedy's second book. However, unlike in Purgatorio, it's not the earthly paradise that awaits the main character at the top of the mountain. Also, depending on the author's choices, the author escapes the innkeeper-as-Satan and must climb his way out of hell, using language that sounds almost straight out of Dante: "wailing hypocrites serving as footholds, detouring through freezing waterfalls and waist-deep rushing pools past broken mansions..." Then, at the very end, the author's Beatrice helps him with the last bit of his escape from hell.
The game's blurb hints at the Dante theme - it's not obvious, but once you know it's there it's hard to miss. Also, try entering the names of various famous authors as your pseudonym. This reviewer found several that produced a quote from that author - most having to do with hell.
On a technical note, I found the visual "feel" of the game to be strong - particularly the changing colors of the sidebar image as you progress through the game. Also, the audio is excellent - both the sound effects and the background music greatly enhance the playing experience. The author clearly put a lot of work into the audio and visuals.
Cannery Vale is an impressive game with a lot going on. I have continued thinking about it, even though I played it over a month ago.
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