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Interactive Fiction

Review: 4PM

Jul 09 // Alasdair Duncan
4PM [PC]Developer: Bojan BrboraPublisher: 4PM GameMRSP: $4.99Release: July 9, 2014 It's hard to talk a lot about the specifics of 4PM's story without giving away some of the important story beats and it wouldn't be fair to spoil those moments. Suffice to say, Caroline seems to be having quite a few of these mornings where she wakes up with blurred vision and wearing last night's expensive party dress. There's quite a few clues lying around that this isn't the first time she's enjoyed a night on the town but today is going to be the day when Caroline is going to have to snap out of this cycle. [embed]277782:54797:0[/embed] Throughout the day, there's flashbacks to events both recent and in the past and slowly Caroline's life comes into focus. There's items and bits of dialogue that will help fill in the larger picture about how Caroline has gotten in this state. There's no puzzles to solve -- merely objects and items that will explain a lot about Caroline's past. Again, it's hard to talk about any specifics as 4PM isn't a long game by any means. (Something that's politely pointed out the bottom of the Steam store page.) There's no inventory, abstract logic, or environmental puzzles. This isn't an adventure game. Looks-wise, 4PM is uneven; there's a stylish fugue that coats the visuals which makes sense considering Caroline's inebriated state. The environments all look fine but some of the facial models are pretty poor. On my PC, there was repeated graphical glitching in certain areas that broke some of the background textures, which was distracting. The voice work is good and it's in the climatic scenes that the emotion is really ramped up by the lead characters. There's very little padding here and there's some interesting alternative paths that can lead to some very different outcomes.  Your mileage with 4PM will vary; the game tries to tackle subjects like addiction and loss, guilt and blame, but never in a preaching way. It's an example of the difficult things in life being explored through the life of a single person. Of course, there's the usual gaps in the narrative that happens when you take control of someone's life without any prior knowledge but after a series of revelations, you'll understand why Caroline would have forgotten significant events. If you've got no ties to the themes 4PM is attempting to address, especially considering its short length (under an hour if that), you might not find that it resonates as much as it could. However, if you're wanting to have a short and dramatic interactive story, 4PM is a mature and refreshing story.
4PM review photo
This short but impactful interactive story doesn't pull any punches
If you're like me, then you'll have staggered out of a pub, wandered home, and then tried to fill in the blanks but, like a favorite song of mine says, it's just the best bits that are colored in. I can't honestly say there's...

Review: The Yawhg

Jun 18 // Alasdair Duncan
The Yawhg (PC)Developer: WyrmlingPublisher: WyrmlingReleased: May 30, 2013MRSP: $10 At the start of the game, players have the option of playing as many characters as they like, each being represented as unique portraits. The Yawhg will always play with two characters so a second player can join in. There's no real difference between the two male and two female characters apart from their appearance and all of them start with the same base level of stats.  Every week your character can visit a single location in and around the town: the forest, the arena, the palace, the gardens, the hospital, the alchemy tower, the slums, and the tavern. At each location, you'll be presented by a pair of options; in the woods you can either chop wood or hunt; in palace you can either help with administration work or attend a ball. Each of these scenarios will normally give you bonus to your stats such as physique, finesse, charm magic, mind, and wealth.  Afterwards there will be an extra task or event that will follow on from the original; say in the hospital, a jar of leeches is broken and are swarming all over the wards. You're given the option to either blast them with your magic or beat them up. If your magic stat is high enough, that's the option you should go for. It's always worth checking your stats as it's easy to make the a choice that's going to end up badly but some of the situations could be better explained as to what skill is needed. Some situations end up influencing the rest of the game; an accident involving a magic potion being thrown into the town's water supply ends up helping plenty of residents grow an extra leg for the rest of the game. Another scenario involves a magic spell building and building until a player unwittingly destroys one of the locations in the town. This provides some much-needed replayability as The Yawhg can be completed in about 10 minutes. What elevates The Yawhg from other interactive fiction games is that the writing displays charm and humor that's never mawkish or contrived. When the game's finale arrives, there can be a sense of poignancy and melancholy that somehow seems natural despite some of the lightheartedness of the earlier weeks. Once the Yawhg has wreaked its anger on the town, your character has the option of choosing a role in the rebuilding of the town, such as a builder, doctor, and so on. Whilst it's likely you'll choose an occupation that will reflect your accumulated stats, a random choice will give you a "bad" ending -- but even this feels natural and well-suited. The endings have a mix of hope and regret; there are no "happily ever after" endings. Such is life. It's a testament to the writing and also the gentle and beautiful music by Duralyn. The game is portrayed through still images showing every possible combination of your choices; your burly male character can attend a palace ball as adeptly as your female noblewoman can hunt in the woods. All the character portraits are simply drawn but are distinct and colorful.  Gamers might be put off by the fact that a single game of The Yawhg can be completed in a matter of minutes, yet there's enough depth here to merit playing the game numerous times to see all the scenarios play out and how different the endings are. Whether $10 gives you enough value for a mechanically simple, short game is down to you. It's rare to to play a game that has such simple mechanics but resonates in the memory for so long.
 The Yawhg review photo
Interactive fantasy manages to be heartwarming yet melancholic
"The Yawhg will be here in six weeks.... and no one expects it." An air of nervousness hangs over the town; there is much to be done but so little time. What is The Yawhg, can it be stopped, and what will be left if it wreaks...

Review: Monster Loves You

Apr 23 // Alasdair Duncan
Monster Loves You (PC)Developer: Dejobaan Games/Radical GamesPublisher: Radical GamesRelease: 18th March 2013MRSP: £6.99/$9.99 Monster Loves You could best be described as an interactive novel. You'll guide the development of a monsterling from its birth all the way to multiple story endings, picking a solution to a variety of challenges in your way. There's not much interactivity outside of these story choices, although you have some big decisions to make at each stage of your monsterling's life, all of which will affect the end game. At the start, your monsterling will be born in big tank of slime, you'll be given choices that will start to shape its appearance, and it will gain early attributes. Your monster will gain points in Bravery, Cleverness, Ferocity, Honesty, Kindness and Respect, all of which will come into play later on in the game. For instance, if you own up to breaking something, you'll gain points in Honesty; blame it on another monster and you'll gain points in Cleverness. Each scenario you come across will give you two or three options as to how you want to see things play out.  You monsterling will eventually grow up to be an adolescent and develop even more once it moves to the town of Omen. Here there's more adventures to be had before again, it's time to grow up. Eventually, your monsterling will be grown up and having its first encounters with humans, who are the age-old enemy of the monsters. It's here where any respect gained from encounters really starts to matter; there's a split in the story where you can interact with either monsters who are debating various matters involving the humans or even humans themselves. You may want to pursue an agenda of fighting the humans or maybe even try to broker peace between the two races. If you're playing with kids, then the story choices really resemble a child's book where you're illustrating life lessons; my playthrough pursued a path of of honesty and kindness and resulted in the monsters making peace with the humans. It left a warm, fuzzy feeling inside which is surely the type of thing you want to impart to impressionable kids. That being said, there are multiple endings in Monster Loves You, even to the point where the game can end much earlier than a full play-through.  It's only in the latter stage where there's slightly more involved gameplay; when you make a certain decision there will be a check made against the points that you've accrued in your various attributes. So, if you want to make a decision which needs Bravery then there's a check to see if you'll succeed, but this is all done in the background. Even though your stats are numbered, there's no point value tied to the decisions; there is an animation of a dice roll but it's never explained how well you did. It's slightly frustrating to see but at the same time, it wouldn't mean much to a younger player to see lots of seemingly numbers pop up when they're trying to tell a story. Depending on how you approach the game, you can finish a playthrough of Monster Loves You in 30 to 40 minutes. Unless you want to see how the different endings are worded, there's not much reason to return to the game. Again, if you're playing this with kids, it's easy to see them wanting to know how the stories pan out. There's plenty of scenarios and you won't encounter each of them in a single playthrough, especially the neat references to fairytales and popular stories. In my playthrough, my monster foiled the schemes of a Dr. Frankenstein-esque scientist.  If you go into Monster Loves You with the knowledge that this is really an interactive story for children, then you can get plenty out of it. It's quick to get through and packs the same kind of charm and sweetness as a good kids book but it really is a game designed for younger gamers. If you're looking for in-depth mechanics, then there's really not much on offer here but given the target audience, that is understandable.
Monster Loves You review photo
High on charm but lacking in substance
Dejobaan Games is probably best known for the crazy AaAaAA!! - A Reckless Disregard for Gravity but Monster Loves You, co-developed alongside Radical Games, is totally different from the studio's previous title. It's a kid-fr...

Review: Analogue: A Hate Story

Feb 14 // Daniel Starkey
Analogue: A Hate Story (PC)Developer: Christine LovePublisher: Christine LoveReleased: February 2, 2012 MSRP: $15Rig: Intel i7-820QM @3.06 GHz, with 8GB of RAM, GeForce GTX 480M GPU As a game, Analogue is nothing if not minimal. The interactive components primarily consist of a few given commands and binary dialogue trees. Beyond that, narrative is constructed through diaries and epistles of the long-dead former inhabitants of the generation ship, Mugunghwa. The player enters over 600 years after the last of the crew died, and is tasked with reconstructing the events surrounding their last days on the ship. As you pore through text, you can occasionally call for assistance from one of the ship’s two AIs. They each have very different perspectives, and to get all of the content you will need to carefully balance the two occasionally playing them off of one another. Additionally, at some point you will need to interact with the ship's override terminal. This allows you to reallocate power, control the AI programs and ultimately download and/or transmit the data stored on the derelict vessel. Immediately a great sense of purpose is established and the gentle, non-intrusive soundtrack harnesses and cultivates that initial sense of intrigue to create a solid backdrop for a decent albeit heavy-handed mystery novel. I came into this with virtually no expectations other than a science-fiction story about transhumanism, traditional marriage, and loneliness. And while each of them is present, all of the moral complexity and subtlety of these issues are never explored, effectively reducing each issue to one or two words. The pieces of exposition are expertly woven together, but the complexity of the ship’s political factions and the interactions between the characters are lost with a shotgun blast of names. There are a few guides within the game to help, but I still ended up taking quite a few notes. An initially intelligent, "enlightened," and well-read crew was mysteriously wiped out and supplanted with a damn-near illiterate populace that desperately holds to rigid class and gender roles. The new social paradigm is heavily influenced by the structure of feudal Korea. Patently offensive to most modern audiences, these circumstances are used to elicit sympathy from the audience for a woman initially known only as the "Pale Bride." It’s difficult to say much without giving away some pretty massive spoilers, but I felt like much of this set-up was established merely to pluck at my heart strings. While successfully and superficially well-executed, it is clumsy and I think a great opportunity to address issues of gender equality was lost here. Other themes "explored" by the work are side-stepped in much the same manner. Cosplay is, for example, mentioned, but not really discussed. The result is a well-written system of alluding to conditions and social phenomena, with no analysis or reflection. Comedy, by contrast, is plentiful, and serves to help redeem the work. There are a couple of romantic options for the player to take, though neither feels particularly believable. The player is effectively silent, and the two potential love interests are more caricatures than anything that would resemble a relatable human being. When sexuality is brought up through the examination of crew logs, it is tragic; however, when the AI reflects upon the diaries, it comes off as cheap fan service. Neither relationship is tangible, nor does their inclusion do anything but detract from the work as a whole. My first run of Analogue took me about five hours. There are a total of five endings though, and the other four took me another six hours to navigate. There is some trial and error to unlocking certain sequences, but they all fit together well. Analogue is a really mixed bag. When I hear the word "transhumanism" I immediately think of a jungle of moral quandaries and reflections upon the interplay between class, technology, human nature, and our future as a species. I came in expecting Deus Ex and instead I got a politically milder, sexually-charged Phoenix Wright. It isn’t great but it isn’t awful either. To its credit, Analogue’s non-linear story does take some thought, and the journey is worth it, if only to resolve the dramatic tension sparked by the introduction. The legitimate questions that are raised are answered quickly by the author, apparently discouraging audience reflection. What is here is solid, but superficial. My feelings about Analogue are nuanced. For every thing Love nails, there's another place where the experience falls short. The middle stretch doesn't live up to the standard set by the intro, but the finale is just satisfying enough to even it all out. If I had to sum up the whole game in one word, it would be "ehhhhhhhh". Don't take it personally, but this just ain't my story.  
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Analogue: A Hate Story is a sci-fi visual novel taking place thousands of years in the future. It has a strong pedigree, coming from the mind of Christine Love, a well-regarded figure in the English-language visual novel...


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