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Earl Grey

by Rob Dubbin and Allison Parrish

Fantasy
2009

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Number of Reviews: 5
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Baffling, capricious, but always entertaining., November 16, 2009
This game is tremendous fun – at least, once you work out what’s going on. The game combines a ruthless logic with dazzling capriciousness. The best example comes in the introduction. The first part of the game introduces you to the game mechanics and explains what your task is going to be. As it turns out, however, you never perform that task at all. No sooner is the introduction over than the game takes a wildly different turn. You’ll still need the skills you learned in the introduction, but you won’t be doing what you thought you were going to be doing.

It quickly becomes apparent that the game revolves around word play of a kind very similar to that of the seminal “Nord and Bert”. Like that game, you change the world by changing the words that describe the world. Moreover, like that game, the action is extremely episodic. The tools you need to solve each scene are within that scene, and when you move to the next scene, you won’t take any with you.

There is a story, though, and there are even characters who appear in different scenes. (I especially liked the Earl himself.) Even having completed the game, however, I’m not entirely clear on the details of the story – but one gets the impression that it doesn’t really matter. Nothing in this game is to be taken seriously, even by the characters in it.

A very nice touch which brings this home is the “thought line”. This is displayed *after* the command prompt, and gives the PC’s thoughts on what has just happened – which are usually fairly sarcastic and pretty funny. I don’t think these thoughts are ever essential to the game, although they sometimes give vague hints. One slight annoyance is that the contents of the runebag are displayed in the thought line, which changes after you type the next command. That means that you might forget what those contents are after a couple of moves and have to check it again.

The puzzles are fairly logical – in a sort of a way – although tackling them can become fairly mechanical. When I couldn’t think what else to do, I found myself examining everything and then trying to manipulate pretty much every word I saw in a methodical way. Most of the time, however, it was easier to guess what to do, although it was not always clear why.

Negative points: there isn’t a great deal of freedom in this one. You can effect the transformations that are required to solve the puzzles, but no others. So the great promise of your world-altering abilities isn’t really met. You can’t take objects, only transform them. There is very much the sense that you are progressing through a set series of events rather than really controlling what’s going on. Similarly, you can TALK TO characters, but that’s it – you can’t specify subjects. In fact, this works well and keeps the story flowing – when the character stops being responsive you know it’s time to start changing objects. However, the game’s rails can sometimes work against it, especially when it is far from obvious even what you’re attempting, let alone how to do it. (Spoiler - click to show)Perhaps the worst example of this comes at the beginning, when you finish learning how to use the runebag, but Eaves won’t let you go into town until you’ve finished your training. What to do? In fact you’re supposed to turn the plants into pants, thereby driving Eaves mad and initiating the events that drive the actual adventure, but it’s not clear why you’d want to drive Eaves mad at all!

These negative points don’t really detract from the game. This is the kind of game it is, and it does it very well. All in all, a lot of fun and a genuinely funny game to boot.