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Nominee, Best NPCs - 2002 XYZZY Awards
-- Emily Short
Here is a competently written, amusing, decently coded and well-tested game that seems to assert that IF -- or perhaps life as a whole -- is an exercise in jumping through bizarre hoops in order to achieve some unspecified goal that may not even be what you wanted to start with.
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Once again, you take the role of Improv, MacGyver-disciple and leader of the City's most available group of superhero temp workers. This game opens with you at the tail end of a party, playing "Battle Cry" with some other local crime fighters after indulging yourself a bit too much. I knew I was already hooked when I immediately replayed the prelude to get another crack at this game-within-a-game. I was extremely disappointed to discover that the catchphrase "Able to carry wood furniture up a flight of stairs in a single bound!" was not for a superhero called The Prime Mover.
Author Neil deMause really seems to have been getting the hang of writing IF by the time this piece was created. As before, the story universe seems alive, with the action for many scripted scenes and exchanges taking place over several turns. There is little temptation to keep entering "wait" to see them play out, however, for two reasons: First, there is a lot to keep you occupied in the game environment. Second, the way they are written doesn't necessarily tip you off that they will continue from turn to turn.
This method is an extremely effective way of creating a convincing social atmosphere; the interaction amongst the NPCs gives them a sense of independent life (in stark contrast with the stage puppets that many IF NPCs resemble), while at the same time feeding you a steady drip of characterization, backstory, and hints. The technique's potency won the work an XYZZY award for "Best NPC" -- the second for the series.
The work required by the author to create this mirage is significant, and there are limits to how long it can be sustained. Spend too long in an area without moving the plot forward, and your companions will become oddly silent, an after-effect of the compelling illusion provided when they are "on".
Long-time players will recognize the site of your team's mission as the setting for Zork. Perhaps that is why this episode feels like it has some meat to it, and that it will take some real effort to reach the end. This is just another trick, however -- the total length is typical for a modern, non-commercial piece.
The implementation quality is much improved when compared to previous entries in the series. I did encounter a few small bugs, but nothing significant to gameplay.
As with previous episodes, the highlight of this piece is the author's sense of humor. It starts funny, it stays funny, and then... (Spoiler - click to show)well, then there's the ending.
To call the ending unsatisfying is an understatement. I was powerfully reminded of the movie The French Connection, for the strange and sudden severing of the viewer from the plot thread, leaving the story to end not with a bang but a whimper. (Well, figuratively, at least.)
Frankly, I couldn't believe that the ending I saw was the only one available. I scoured the internet for hints and walkthroughs, finding only a single walkthrough that delivered the same ending. A few more iterations of the climax scene offered no other options, so I took the unusual step of decompiling the game file to look for other possible variations. There were none.
Why you would go through the effort of creating a work of this scale to deliver such a disjointed, downer ending is beyond me, but doing so is the author's privilege. Mr. deMause seems to have a penchant for challenging player expectations of the medium, and this certainly qualifies.
Assuming you don't want to read the spoiler above, all I can say is that the ending is different from what you might expect of this genre or this series.(Spoiler - click to show) The only takeaway seems to be: Friends Don't Let Friends Fight Crime Drunk.
In addition to being mostly enjoyable as entertainment, this is an excellent piece for study of technique -- both writing and coding. Even with the spare object and verb implementation, the world is vibrant and animated in a way that few works of IF manage to be. I gladly recommend it to anyone looking for some laughs, which are delivered at their usual "frenetic" pace.
An odd Frenetic Five game with Adventure references, February 3, 2016
You are Improv, with the power to make use ordinary objects in unusual ways. Your team has similar powers. You have to make your way through a series of tasks such as getting out of a house while drunk, until you get to a mine.
The mine is very different from previous Frenetic Five games. It is a homage to Zork and Adventure, with a lantern, elvish sword, trapdoor, underground maze, a dam, etc. The actions you have to take in here are so improbable as to defy belief. Also, the ending is confusing and a bit anti-climactic.
There is more real life action in this game than the previous games. The game was nominated for Best NPCs in the XYZZY's.
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