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City of Secrets

by Emily Short profile


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Number of Ratings: 93
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Large, engrossing,... and somewhat lacking., September 21, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF, Adventure
Emily Short is one of my favourite IF-writers, and when I found this big story-game with her name under the title, I pounced on it!

And it is good. Apart from being an immersive adventure and a detailed exploration of a fine city, deeper themes also shine through.

Truth above obscurity, even if truth also means complete transparency?

Creativity above strict order, even if creativity also means chaos?

The writing is top-notch, the NPC interactions feel real, the city and its history hold the interest, but in the end, the game misses something.

Is it because the game is so good that I raised the bar impossibly high?

Finding an outdoor café where there were no interactive NPCs and where nothing story-moving happened disappointed me.
Finding out that a little nook in the gameworld, about which I dreamed up many possibilities, didn't play a role in the story didn't feel like a red herring, it felt like a let-down.
Finding out that certain information I found about my character didn't matter to the game was a pity.

But those are nitpicks, and very personal nitpicks at that.

This game is very very good. Just not as amazing as I really really wanted it to be. And that's on me.

So play it.

- William Chet (Michigan), July 19, 2020

- Blind Assassin (Illinois, United States), July 11, 2020

- Ry (Philippines), June 7, 2020

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
City of Secrets: an unWinnable State review, May 10, 2020
by unWinnable State (unWinnableState.com)
Related reviews: Parser, unWinnable State, The List!
One of my favorite sub-genres is the accidental spy movie, films like The Man Who Knew Too Little, Gotcha!, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, and the more recent The Spy Who Dumped Me. To my great delight, Emily Short’s City of Secrets is an accidental spy IF.

While on your way south to attend a friends wedding your train breaks down so the railway puts you up in an elegant hotel. Soon you find yourself possibly poisoned, nearly kidnapped, roped into a scheme to infiltrate a rebel faction for the mayor, and set loose in The City where you can trust everyone.

Initially, this accidental spy scenario is exciting. Your method of discovering information is almost exclusively through speaking to NPCs, with a dialogue system that is deep, wide, smooth, and easy to use. Suggested talking point/questions are available for you to follow or you can always steer the conversation to a topic of your choosing. When first trying to track down leads, I wanted to be coy in my interactions with the locals, slowly pushing the conversations I was having toward the subject my quarry. This approach really made me feel like the spy I was supposed to be. But it did not take long before I realized straight up asking everyone about the person I was looking for was quicker with no noticeable negative consequences for my bluntness.

Once sleuthing took this form City of Secrets no longer felt like an espionage game but instead became a series of invisible dialogue trees that needed to be navigated. At least most of the branches on these trees hint at story and lore in the world of City of Secrets and there is plenty of story and lore to discover. The worldbuilding here is superb.

The most disappointing thing about City of Secrets is its name. With Emily Short you often get fun or interesting title; Alabaster for a game about Snow White, Counterfeit Monkey for a game with a letter removing device, and Banana Apocalypse and the Rocket Pants of Destiny for a game about… who cares, that’s a great title. With City of Secrets we have a game about a city with secrets. It’s just so bland.

The second most disappointing thing about City of Secrets is its end sequence. The entire thing plays out like and interactive cut scene with limited choices, and a rather long cut scene at that. In an attempt at creating a climax that feels cinematic, the game lost what makes Interactive Fiction enjoyable; interaction with meaningful choice.

Still, there are many reasons I will encourage you to play City of Secrets. It is a well implemented, immersive world, its spaces designed to yield nuggets of story to those willing to explore. There is an incredible dialogue system with plenty of NPCs to speak with. And it has a deep lore that is interesting to uncover.

You can find the SPOILER-Y portion of unWinnable State's review of City of Secrets here.

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Good game, November 23, 2019
by Denk
Related reviews: inform
This game is kind of a spy thriller set in a city where magic and technology exist side by side. You, an innocent tourist, is aboard a train when the train suddenly breaks down. You will thus have to stay for a while in this city you never intended to visit. Quickly you will get involved in a plot.

The game starts of very well with some events happening, which makes the story progress smoothly. After this, you get to explore the city, have lots of conversations and you get to solve some puzzles along the way. More events will occur later after you have played for awhile, progressing the story further, even if you haven't solved that many puzzles.

It turns out that you do not need to solve all puzzles to complete the game. At one point I got stuck, so I searched the internet for a walkthrough. Apparently no one has made one, so when I finally managed to complete the game, I decided to write a walkthrough. Some events occur simply after a number of turns after something has happened. As a consequence, following the walkthrough you will at some point have to wait 90(!) turns as you wait for something to happen. However, the first time you play the game you will be using even more turns exploring the city and so it will feel natural that something suddenly happens. Only if you replay the game and you are trying to figure out how to trigger a certain event, you will realize that it will occur simply after many turns have passed.

It is my impression that this game cannot be made unwinnable, though I am not completely sure. It may also have more than one winning ending(?), though I only managed to find one. So, unless you are looking for alternative endings, you shouldn't need to restart the game. Should you die, you can always undo.

To complete this game you do not need to solve a lot of puzzles. However, there will be lots of conversations. The conversation system takes a little getting used to, but then it is quite convenient.

To sum up, this is a very well written story-driven game with a few puzzles and lots of conversation, which I can certainly recommend.

- erzulie, September 24, 2019

- Laney Berry, September 27, 2018

- wisprabbit (Sheffield, UK), August 18, 2018

- yaronra, July 16, 2018

- gnarp, January 29, 2018

- mapped, July 3, 2017

- KGH (North Carolina), September 15, 2016

- nosferatu, June 7, 2016

- penguincascadia (Puget Sound), February 20, 2016

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A big fantasy city with many npcs, and epic storyline. Mid-to-long game, February 3, 2016
I only recently played this game, and it quickly became my favorite Emily Short game. I have seen in her notes that she often works ideas that she has into games as a proof of concept; for instance, Metamorphoses and Galatea were both intended as trial-of-concepts for ideas for a massive game that never took off.

I wonder if this game was a proof-of-concept for the city and npcs in Counterfeit Monkey. The idea of a sidebar, a map, numerous npcs with complicated conversation systems, and a large city seem very familiar between the two games.

This game is about a balance between two forces, but it is difficult to categorize the two. This is more of a story game than a puzzle game. There are some puzzles that are oddly difficult to solve, so I occasionally resorted to Victor Gisjber's hints. However, the game has many ways of hinting things to you if you look for them.

Like Counterfeit Monkey, this was a laggy game. Gargoyle had trouble with both of them, as have every other system I have used. I believe the refreshing graphics causes it.

Wonderful storyline and worldbuilding. Loved the final sequences, especially.

- Veraloo, January 20, 2016

- Sobol (Russia), November 20, 2015

- Catalina, November 5, 2015

- Trobairitz (USA), October 28, 2015

- Zoe, March 22, 2015

- Thrax, March 11, 2015

- prevtenet (Texas), October 5, 2014

- verityvirtue (London), June 25, 2014

- IFforL2 (Chiayi, Taiwan), May 19, 2014

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