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by Ian Finley

Mystery/Science Fiction

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Number of Reviews: 8
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1-8 of 8

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Classic Second Era., December 8, 2019
by Rovarsson
Related reviews: Horror, Soft SF
Babel. What a game. During my first tentative journeys into IF-land, I stumbled across this deep, dark psychological horrorstory. I recently replayed it and it's still as haunting as it was then.

Do not riff on Babel for using the amnesia-trope. I have seldom seen it used so effectively as a source of suspense in IF. No lazy author here, but a tried and true storytelling technique that takes the reader down into the deep with it. Think Dr. Jeckyl.

Early modern IF that it is, Babel sometimes relies heavily on non-interactive scenes to make sure the player sees the whole story. I don't mind this one bit, I am as much a reader as a player, but I know this bothers some people.

The story is great, albeit not very original in this genre. Well told, well paced. The surroundings are fantastic, I thought. Varied enough to avoid feeling buried in a tunnel, without losing the thrill of the dungeon-feel.

The puzzles are not so hard, as long as you are patient enough to stick to The Adventurers Code: Read! Explore! Examine!

All in all, a true classic of the modern age.

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Ian Finley changed my (gaming) life, May 12, 2019
by deathbytroggles (Minneapolis, MN)
In 1999 I discovered the IF Archive and the first game I played was not Babel. It was Heist, by Andy Phillips. While I was terrible at it, I was impressed by the parser since the last new text adventure I had played was Bureaucracy. The second game I decided to try was Babel, and I was simply blown away.

The standard criticisms thrown Babel's way are fair. The game uses not one but two sci-fi clichťs (amnesia and a doomed Arctic research station). Most of the story is told via flashbacks. The puzzles are mostly perfunctory. The ending is predictable. None of this mattered to me twenty years ago. And I played it again last year and it didn't really matter to me this time either.

Finley is a great writer and accomplished two things here. He was able to develop several multi-dimensional characters (via the flashbacks) and pace the reveals well enough (hence, the perfunctory puzzles) to increase their intrigue. And he also created a tense atmosphere that had me on the edge of my seat as a college freshman. While on my recent playthrough I wasn't quite so moved, I was entertained and once again impressed with the game's breadth and technical strengths.

While it's true that flashbacks are not the strongest storytelling technique, and while it's true that unlocking a bunch of doors is not the strongest use of puzzles , Finley masterfully weaves both facets of his game together, engaging the player in both goals and necessitating the player use one aspect to inform the other. Additionally, the game is so well coded that it's great as an introduction to interactive fiction.

Babel is not my favorite game ever, but probably the one for which I am most fond as it led me to this wonderful community. I even paid to register my game and get the feelies. It's too bad they appear to have been lost to the ether.

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Horror story with a sense of urgency and gripping writing, January 17, 2017
by streever (America)
Babel was ahead of its time in 1997, but this work still stands out a decade later.

The prose is crisp and the characters feel authentic and real. The storyline is riddled with tropes and genre conventions--it begins with amnesia--feels compelling and real. Puzzle design aids the writing; puzzles feel believable and natural in the world the author has created.

Most importantly for horror, the horror feels real, too; I had a sense of danger to the protagonist, and a desire to lead him as safely out as I could. The storyline unfolds in a satisfying way, with twists that are never obvious but are predictable for a careful or imaginative reader.

This is a fairly long work that makes extensive use of backstory, but I played it in one setting, unable to stop reading along. With its fair puzzle design, well-written characters, and compelling story, it's a good example of modern IF design, and a highly accessible classic work for people new to Interactive Fiction.

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Perfectly-paced science fiction game, July 1, 2015
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours
Having recently downloaded a TADS interpreter for the first time, I decided to try out the most popular games. This was the highest on the list. In this game, you play as an amnesiac in a frozen underground base.

While this game had above-average plot, puzzles, and writing, it really shines in its pacing. From the very beginning, the game gave an impression of vast complexity (three bulkheads with three very different locks), but it always left you with a couple of new things to try. Every time, the couple of new things led to another part of the game, and so on. The game is, in fact, complex (look at the map!), but it's arranged so neatly that I never needed to use the map.

Very few games have the great feel that this gives you. I completed it in less than 2 hours.

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Pride before a fall, April 17, 2013
by Andromache (Hawaii)
I played Babel several years ago. Enough time had passed that I didnít remember the puzzles, but I did remember I enjoyed the game and was particularly moved by the story. Iím happy to report it is still true.

There were a couple points where I considered looking up hints, but I didnít need them. Puzzles made sense and I liked how the game was very clear about why something wouldnít work. (Spoiler - click to show)The radiation puzzle was particularly ingenious, since it was understandable that the machine would be able to talk and report problems, which has the side effect of helping the player follow proper procedures. My only problem was getting the game to understand me sometimes. Wasnít so much verb guessing as phrasing issues. Sometimes, I had to split commands and let the game ask me for clarification to get what I wanted. But it didnít happen often and certainly wasnít frustrating enough to make me stop playing.

Where this game really shines is characterization. I think the characters are some of the most vivid and three-dimensional I have ever seen in the IF Iíve played. While playing, I felt as though I were watching a movie. I think there was the right blend of story and puzzles. Some games, such as those that have a lot of conversation, feel like Iím reading a book and am just there to press the right buttons and turn pages. I feel like I should just read a book. Iíd get more story at one time. Babel gave a sense of purpose interspersed with cut scenes that gradually fleshed out a dramatic and tragic tale. (Spoiler - click to show)Admittedly, the calendar felt contrived, but I can forgive that since it was useful for the overall story. All the characters had good and bad traits; everyone was culpable for what happens in the story. Itís not like you can say one person was the mastermind and everyone else just went along. Setting was well done; there was definitely a sense of isolation and a quiet, creeping horror that doesnít overdo it on the overt graphic images. I came away feeling just as I did last time - horrified but in a satisfied way. The ending felt fair, right, with just the right amount of pain to add an emotional component. Think of Anakin Skywalker and his subsequent failure, and you have Babel.

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful:
A towering achievement?, September 25, 2010
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)
I started playing Babel with high, very high expectations. Right now, the game has 27 5-star ratings, 24 4-star ratings, and only 7 ratings below that. This game, I was thinking, must be a towering achievement, one of the true classics of modern interactive fiction.

It is obviously very hard for a game to live up to that kind of reputation, and Babel did not. But I was somewhat surprised at how great the discrepancy between the critical consensus and my own judgement about the game turned out to be: what most people apparently see as a nearly flawless game revealed itself to me as a very problematic piece -- interesting, mostly fun, but ultimately unsatisfying.

Just because other critics have been so almost unanimously positive, I believe it will be most useful if I focus on the reasons why I did not like the game. It's not a bad game. I could say many positive things about it. But you can read up on those in the other reviews (see also here). So, with the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man, let's move on to my complaints.

Babel is set in an abandoned scientific base on one of the poles, far from all human contact. It becomes apparent very early on that the amnesiac player character has a special ability: he can touch certain things in the world, that he perceives as glowing, and these will then project forth emotionally-charged scenes that happened nearby at some time in the near past. Much of the game consists of the player hunting for such glowing objects, so that he can trigger these flashbacks.

Although justified in the narrative, this is obviously a plot device thought up only so that the author can bombard the player with non-interactive cut-scenes. Rather than telling a story in which the player (note that I'm not saying "player character") participates, we get to slowly uncover a story that has already taken place. In other words, Babel has fallen into the dreadful trap of excessive reliance on backstory. As Stephen Bond memorably puts it: "If Lord of the Rings had consisted mostly of Frodo recovering lost pages of The Silmarillion, then no one would ever have read it." But this is almost precisely what Babel does.

Playing the game consists of the tired old routine of thoroughly searching everything you encounter, writing down all the clues, collecting keys, and then opening doors that you couldn't open before you found the right key or the right piece of information. This will open up new areas that you get to search thoroughly, find keys in, and... well, you understand what's going on. Except that this time, we also get to read very long cut-scenes whenever we find a glowing object.

It's not that this is unenjoyable per se. Although the puzzles are nothing to write home about (expect combination codes for safes and fiddling with intricate machinery), the environment is interesting, the cut-scenes are generally well-written, and the story, although hardly fresh, is worth perusing. But look at it this way. As an author, you have thought up an interesting story. Now what would be more exciting for a player: (1) being dropped into the middle of that story so you get to perceive it first-hand and act in it, in other words, experiencing your fictional story as interactive fiction; or (2) solve a bunch of thirteen-in-a-dozen IF puzzles and be rewarded by reading excerpts from a static fiction story that you have written out beforehand? Of course (1) more exciting. It is also harder to implement, but nobody said making good interactive fiction was easy.

Okay, so the gameplay is uninspiring and to a great extent detached from the story. Not entirely detached, of course, and Finley attempts to tie in the backstory with the interactive present in several ways. The most important of these is that you get clues to solve puzzles from the cut-scenes. But that's still me just experiencing the story from afar and then opening locked doors. The others are that (a) the back-story gives vital information for understanding who the player character is, which is finally revealed at a dramatic moment; and that (b) we learn the end of the back-story only in the present. But again, all of this is non-interactive. (And the big revelation about the player character will surely be guessed by every player long, long before it actually happens.)

Which leaves me somewhat baffled. This game is more than adequate, but it is definitely not great. It's very standard interactive fiction with a relative standard story pasted onto it a totally non-interactive way. So why do Andrew Plotkin and Paul O'Brian give it a 10 and a 9.8 respectively? Why do half the reviewers on this site give it 5 stars? I have no idea -- but if you wish to comment, please do.

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
Well-crafted fear, July 8, 2010
Babel gets high marks from me in every way -- the story is compelling, the prose is beautiful, and the puzzles are well woven into the stoy. You are thrown almost violently into the world of the Babel Project station from the first sentence; while it's only a short-to-mid-length game, the sensory details will linger disconcertingly in the back of your mind for days afterward. It may be cliched, but the amnesia/flashback device is played here masterfully.

Every detail and every puzzle in this game is there for a reason; the player isn't made to jump through hoops just for the sake of mental exercise. Why are the keys to routine parts of the station so hard to obtain? By the end of the game you will know and it will make sense. The writing also gives an overwhelming sense of urgency while not, as far as I could tell, actually having a time-limit coded into the game (other than in one puzzle, which you can do over if you mess up). This makes it very playable for relatively new players apt to go over and over things like me.

No character in this game is morally unambiguous. They are human, fallible, and very believable. Some scenes do stray just over the line into melodramatic or preachy, and the romantic subplot seemed a bit unnecessary to me. But that's only a tiny quibble in what is otherwise a seamless and chilling story.

4 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Wonderfully done, January 15, 2009
by Parham Doustdar (Tehran, Iran)
The game begins with you not knowing anything about yourself; your name, where you are, or how you got here. For some reason, you can see the past, and hence you start to investigate what has been happening here.

The story and the way it unfolds bit by bit is breathtaking and fascinating. It made me work furiously at the puzzles, only because I wanted to find out what would happen after this. Of course, the ending was wonderfully crafted, too. You couldn't ever suspect such a thing happening, but after it happens, you find out that it makes sense.

I wholeheartedly recommend this piece of IF to everyone who hasn't tried it yet.

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