Monday, October 19, 2015

Life on Mars? (a review)

"Life on Mars?" is an interactive fiction written with Inform by Hugo Labrande for the 2015 Interactive Fiction competition.

This game won a French IF comp previously.  I haven't played the original, but the translation seemed very well executed.  I experienced no grammatical errors, and only one minor typo.

More after the break.

The PC (Charlotte) is marooned in a research station on Mars, following an accident during transit from earth.  She has been alone on the red planet for five months.  Marooned, but not without some contact from earth.  Charlotte has an email connection, though true to the physics of our universe, it takes five minutes for messages to pass between the neighbor planets.  Much of the story is revealed through reading past emails, which are annotated in italicized type by Charlotte's own thoughts.  These emails and annotations are all best viewed (I was warned from the beginning) on a 160 column screen.  I wasn't playing on a screen that wide, and I'm sure that others must have had the same experience, but the mis-formatting wasn't a huge distraction.  The writing is strong.  The game provides a rich character study of the protagonist, who is suffers from PTSD and feelings of extreme isolation. The author recommends a musical play-list to accompany the game.  I would encourage other players to follow the author's recommendation.  I played for a while without it, but once I added the music, I thought it added considerably to the emotional impact of this game.

The game is puzzle-less, to the extent that any parser game can be made without puzzles.  When I tried to drive the story off track, I was sometimes disappointed.  The game doesn't understand the word "dance", but it should with all that music playing in the background.  The PC might have suicidal ideation, but when I tried "kill me" I was met by an inappropriate default response.  Because of the "puzzle-less" nature of the game, and the weakness of the parser when I tried to go off track, I felt more like an observer than an interactive participant in this work.  However the text-effects are well done, and I don't think this experience would have been quite the same without a computer as the medium of delivery.

Powerful short story.  Not very interactive.

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