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Atmospheric and well-written, March 23, 2015
by Simon Christiansen (Denmark)This review was previously published on a blog in connection with IFComp 2012
Sunday Afternoon is a short but atmospheric game, set somewhere in Victorian England. It is both well-written and well implemented, but is a bit too short and simple to achieve greatness.
(Spoiler - click to show)In Sunday Afternoon you play a young boy stuck at home during a beautiful sunny day, forced to stay inside and read a sermon while being watched by your stuffy Aunt Emma. Your mission is to escape the house, so you can go play in the countryside. I found this objective to be a pleasing diversion from most IF, which usually involves trying to accomplish something really important.
At first, the game is confined entirely to the parlour, and your first objective is to distract Aunt Emma so you can access the rest of the house. The implementation is pleasingly deep – so much so that I thought the game might turn out to be a one-room game for a while. The mantelpiece in particular is loaded with sentimental knick-knacks, and talking about these turn out to be the key to escaping the room.
The mantelpiece objects are implemented several levels deep, and also reward careful examination by displaying boxed literary quotations when you examine objects more than once. Most of these seem to be references to children’s literature; your aunt even owns the painting of the Dawn Treader from the Narnia books, and I was pleased that the author remembered to implement a proper response to “enter painting.”
Anyway, talking about these objects is the focus of the first part of the game, and the conversation is also well implemented, using the standard ASK/TELL system. Talking to your aunt about her things will reveal new possible topics of conversation, and I never felt like I had to play “guess-the-topic” to proceed in the game. Unfortunately, typing “ask Emma about X” got tedious pretty quickly. Conversation heavy games will often implement a short-cut, by allowing the player to type something like “A TOPIC” to ask the current NPC about the topic. I believe Emily Short’s Galatea was to first to come up with this, and I wish it had been part of this game as well.
Luckily, this was a very minor annoyance as conversation is not really a big part of the game once you get out of the first room. Once Emma has been distracted, you get access to the rest of the house, and have to figure out how to prevent Aunt Emma from taking you back into the parlour.
Here the game introduces an interesting twist: After a few failed attempts to escape, the game suddenly shifts to the trenches of World War I, and it turns out that the events so far are just part of some sort of role playing game to pass time among the soldiers. I thought this was a really cool twist, and was looking forward to seeing how the two stories would interact. Unfortunately, you never really visit the trenches again, except for a short comment at the end, so I felt this was a bit of a wasted opportunity. Perhaps it is there to show the contrast between the innocence of youth and the problems of the adult world?
After you figure out how to placate your aunt, the entire house opens up to exploration. The house as a whole is not quite as deeply implemented as the parlour, but I never felt like anything was missing that ought to have been there. You also get to meet the other NPC in the game: Your uncle Stephen, who is a priest, and wrote the boring sermon you were forced to read in the beginning of the game.
Uncle Stephen’s study is full books, and studying these was one of my favourite parts of the game. His bookshelves are full of exciting adventure novels, and all sorts of other interesting stuff, but the main character stubbornly expects it all to be boring religious stuff because that’s how he sees Uncle Stephen – he assumes “King Solomon’s mines” must be some kind of boring biblical history book. It just goes to show how our prejudices often prevent us from seeing what is right in front of us. The main character is looking for excitement outside, but refuses to see all the interesting stuff inside the house. If I was him, I would have probably stayed in the library.
The puzzles you have to solve to escape are all well clued, without being too easy, and when I checked the hints I always felt stupid for not figuring out the solution myself. The solutions never seemed arbitrary, or illogical as is all to often the case in adventure games. I just can’t help but feel that the reason you can’t leave the house to begin with is a bit silly. Would getting into trouble for running away really have been any worse than getting into trouble for flooding the house with soot and then running away?
After escaping from the house there is a brief call-back to the thing with the soldiers, and the game then ends abruptly. I really enjoyed playing through the game, but I just wanted more, somehow. The game is well-written, and well-coded, and I discovered no major flaws, but was the point of it all? You learn virtually nothing about the main character, and what was up with the soldiers? Was that soldier the main character as an adult, and is it supposed to say something about the contrast between childhood and adulthood?
Then again, not everything needs to have some deep ponderous “point” to it. Exploring a cosy Victorian household was relaxing and atmospheric, and I thoroughly enjoyed every second. I can heartily recommend the experience.
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