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Nominee, Best Puzzles; Nominee, Best Individual NPC - 2001 XYZZY Awards
-- Carl Muckenhoupt
Bottom line: at some level flawless, but also without the passion for its characters, the sense of wonder in its environment, or the wacky humor that distinguish my favorite games. A careful execution of its concept, but not one that elicited much of a response from me, other than a vague curiosity to see whether my hunch about where it was all going was correct. (Answer: yes.) There were several puzzles whose solutions I would have been unlikely to guess on my own, even considering the hint-filled nature of the descriptions, but that's okay, since there are also hint-filled menus. I'd say, I suppose, that it succeeds quite well as a piece of programming, and that where it falls down is in the writing.
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At the point where the NPC asks you her first question, I took a cue from the protagonist's apparently close-mouthed nature and tried the command "nod". It was tremendously pleasing to see a realistic response. After the number of clunkier pieces I've reviewed lately, it was refreshing to see a work composed with such forethought and attention to detail.
I won't go into the details of the game, but this was definitely the best "hard SF" piece that I've played since Infocom's Starcross. As with Starcross, the logic of the puzzles was grounded in realism and did not require any feats of mind-reading to solve. In fact, one of the most remarkable aspects of this piece is the number of well-crafted puzzles that the author, Sean Barrett, manages to wring out of the relatively few moving parts implemented. It's like a haiku -- all the non-essentials are stripped away, and what's left really works.
The flipside of this is that the interaction lacks some of the meatiness that would be welcomed in such an intriguing game world. I found myself wishing for the ask/tell model of conversation just so I could pump Cheryl for information about the things mentioned in the feelie.(Spoiler - click to show) While the ending does not leave room for a sequel, I would have been very interested to see another story written in this setting. On the whole, however, I think Mr. Barrett's sense of balance is exactly right; more details might simply have diluted the experience and reduced the level of focus the current writing inspires. It says something about how engrossing I found The Weapon to be that I had nearly reached the end of it before I realized it was going to be a one-room game.
The Weapon took most of an evening of on-and-off play to complete; total length is probably about right for the IF Comp, though it seems this piece was not entered when it was released in 2001. While it made finalist for Best NPC and Best Puzzles in the 2001 Xyzzy Awards, it did not win in either category.
I teetered back and forth between 3 and 4 stars for this and ultimately decided on 4, on the grounds of its exceptionally thorough implementation, nearly frictionless gameplay, and memorable characterization and story. This is a great introductory piece of IF for sci-fi lovers, and I would heartily recommend it to anyone who likes the genre.
An Entertaining One-Room Story, March 20, 2012
Related reviews: sean barrett, one-room, sci-fi
Don't play the game if: you want a genuinely tough game, strong emotional investment, or a setting that provokes a sense of wonder or discovery.
The Weapon is probably a good introductory game for those who are new to IF. The one-room geography won't tax your memory, the straightforward command system won't offend your linguistic sensibilities, and neither the game itself nor the puzzles are particularly brutal or unfair.
The story resembles an escape scenario. You play something of a Hannibal Lecter figure, a criminal genius who is being brought in to investigate an alien artifact of great power.
What I like about this is that most of the puzzles have two layers: your objective is to learn about and activate the artifact, but you must do so in a way that will not alert your captors. This adds significant pizzazz and an extra challenge to what would otherwise be fairly light puzzles (though they're not straightforward).
The puzzles generally take the form of just requiring you to be observant: you'll need to consider the possible uses of pretty much everything in the room in order to progress. I must admit to having a soft spot for escape scenarios (having been brought up on Doctor Who), so this kind of challenge - improvising ways to evade your captors - is one of my favorites.
If The Weapon has any weakness, it's that it deserved to be part of a larger narrative. The backstory, while not uninteresting, can never come to life because it's more or less superfluous, and so comes across as a tweaked version of the backstory to Ender's Game. While the characterization and setting are well-written, certain events lose emotional impact because it's been too soon since we were introduced to the context. It's a shame because, without being specific, this isn't really the kind of game that begs for a sequel, and it seems doubtful that we'll see much more of this world.
Nevertheless, it's an enjoyable distraction that probably won't take you more than a couple of hours to complete, and for a distraction, it's rather well-written. The puzzles are genuinely engaging as the player needs to make a genuine effort to understand the particulars of how the story's technologies work (Spoiler - click to show)(as with trying to mask the transmission or read information on the viewscreen without Cheryl noticing).
Overall, if you have an evening when you have nothing to do and just want to relax, The Weapon would easily give you something fun to do - the equivalent of watching a light movie or re-reading an old book.
There is a well-loved NPC keeping an eye on you. This makes the puzzles that much harder. But they aren't impossible. You basically have to distract her while deciphering the code.
Overall, strongly recommended.
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