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Review by Matt Wigdahl, Fri 14th Sep 2012
By Anonymous - See all my reviews
OK, so in IF we now have both Curses!, the seminal Inform work by Graham Nelson, and also Cursed, an ADRIFT game by Australian newcomer Nick Rogers. Based on my cursory web search, the only IF work Nick has publicly released previously was an ADRIFT conversion of the classic Adventure, so welcome to the IF world, Nick!
CREDITS is implemented and shows numerous beta testers, which is a good sign. The game also has apparently been tested under both the standard ADRIFT Runner and SCARE, which is what I’m using. That’s a pretty good early indicator that this isn’t going to be a half-baked effort. The intro text is good in that it’s immediately trying to establish a character, less good in that it’s a bit overwrought for what a person condemned to die in an hour or so would likely be thinking.
Spoilers (some pretty major ones at the end) follow…
This is an ambitious work. Although on the surface it’s a desperate quest for justice, it’s really about relationships — family relationships, to be exact — with a strong current of “sins of the father” running through it all and a slight undertow of somewhat genericized religiosity. It feels somewhat inspired by George R. R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones” series, but that may just be because of the medieval fantasy epic genre of the story. Or maybe because of the frequent violent deaths.
You’re Torrin, the ward of King Rithusar of Rylane (get used to the “alphabet soup” fantasy names — there are plenty), and you’ve apparently been framed for the murder of the king’s son, Prince Alsanter. After being escorted to a quick trial and conviction, you’re to be executed, until Rithusar, who still sees you as a son and secretly doesn’t believe you’re guilty, convinces the court to allow the wizard Rixomas to curse you into the form of an animal instead. Once you leave the throne room, every hand is raised against you, and you have only the whispered advice of Rixomas to guide you in an attempt to get help and discover the true murderer.
You get to choose the animal you’re transformed into, which is a nice touch. The form you choose apparently has a major impact on the puzzles you face, which is another nice feature. I’m not sure how effective it is as a selling point for IFComp, though, since this is a long game as it is and the two-hour limit will likely be up before there’s significant time for replay. I chose the snake, after asking my son what he would pick in this situation.
Your task as a snake is to get to the city of Kathrentia and speak with a wizard there who may be able to help you. To get there, you’ll have to avoid hostile humans and animals, and figure out inventive ways to manipulate your environment to accomplish tasks that you can’t perform in your animal shape. As a snake, I was pretty much limited to pushing things around with my nose, crushing, biting, and hissing, but careful examination of the surroundings and creative use of these limited actions had me catapulting through the air, plopping into carriages from second-story windows, and getting blasted into the air on a burst of water. For the most part, the physical puzzles were fair, fun, reasonably-clued, and tolerant of varied attempts to solve them.
The same cannot be said of the conversations. In particular, a conversation with the wizard Mazrena (or whomever you meet up with as a rat or fox) was so finicky that I actually had to restart the game to get it to complete in an acceptable way (a way that didn’t end up with me immediately getting chomped by a mongoose). Similarly, some state seemed to get messed up during the final conflict scene, requiring me to back to an old save and try again before the game would complete as advertised. Although the author warns about frequent death, this type of totally arbitrary, unclued death is pretty demoralizing.
Mechanically the game is reasonably sound. Occasionally the game would pretend it didn’t understand a verb that it understood perfectly well in another context, which I think is a pretty annoying and misleading problem. Every once in a while it would output something that looked like a debugging state check ([locationhide-Dead=fox]), there were some difficulties with disambiguation that were flagged as a SCARE side effect, and I wished for more verb synonyms at a few points, but overall these are fairly minor issues.
My love-hate relationship with the internal monologue continued throughout the game. I like the idea of it, for the most part, but it seems pretty detached — there’s a whole lot of telling, rather than showing, going on. Much of the time these monologues jarred me out of immersion rather than deepening it.
There’s a lot of waiting in the game. Very often you just have to wait out as a cut-scene plays through, perhaps walking as directed or moving to get it to proceed. The author has quite a bit of backstory to push, and this is one way to make sure you get it, but some of the scenes go on for longer than they should.
One thing I think the author does well is to jump into the persona of different characters for interludes as the story progresses. To my mind, these conversational set-pieces are a much better way of dumping backstory than wait-driven cut scenes, so I was happy to see them used here.
The story loses a bit of force for me simply because the twist at the end is so predictable — I had it pegged before getting out of the courtyard. And despite the large amount of backstory, and the emphasis on the relationships between the King, his two children, and his ward, I never felt the player was given enough information to really understand why things played out as they did. I hope I didn’t miss something as I came down to the wire on time, but I don’t think I did.
It’s tough to rate the first game of the Comp. I like that this was an ambitious, large, earnest game, with clever mechanics and a theme beyond that of a simple fantasy quest. The fun puzzles and copious backstory make me want to rate it pretty highly. It did a good job of leading you to use nonstandard commands in interesting ways. On the other hand, it’s capricious and downright frustrating at some points, the story somehow doesn’t fully satisfy, and there are enough rough edges that I can’t give it a super high score. I’m going to call it a 7 and reserve the right to adjust as I go. Nick, this was a good debut for you. I’ll be watching for your future works!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Review by Emily Short, Fri 14th Sep 2012
By Anonymous - See all my reviews
Cursed is an epic fantasy story. It’s substantial, on the longer side of comp games, with several possible paths through the narrative.
The opening of Cursed left me apprehensive on two fronts: first, that this game really wanted to be static fiction, and second, that it was going to be a real chore to follow.
The game opens with a long linear section in which the player can’t really do much except wait, move along a preset path, and examine objects (to no particular effect), while the game supplies backstory snippets and descriptions of other people’s actions. Repeatedly the response to the player’s action is a couple of lines, but is followed by a full page or more describing what else happens during the same turn. Names, motives, and family connections come thick and fast.
Moreover, the text that shows up is, shall we say, highly-strung:
And yet it still feels like such a waste. My closest friend is dead – murdered. I still shudder when I remember finding his lifeless body and trying uselessly to will him back to life. And then, as luck or fate would have it, all fingers of blame pointed at me. I fought hard against the charges but to no avail. The evidence was just too persuasive, the motives too clear, at least to everyone else. It must have been, could only have been, me.
This is technically competent prose without being good narrative craftsmanship. It flows smoothly, it’s comprehensible, it conveys emotions and a situation. But it has the slickness of cliché (“lifeless body”, “finger(s) of blame”, “such a waste”), and it tells rather than showing. As viewpoint writing, it falls down because it feels as though the speaker is simultaneously highly emotional about and distant from the events he’s describing. How does this viewpoint character differ from anyone else who might have had a friend murdered? What makes him unique?
The world-building also struck me as implausible. Here we have a pseudo-medieval court with a king and wizards, but it’s apparently got laws and court procedure, including detailed laws about sentencing precedent of a kind that didn’t show up until the 19th century or later.
As for the characters: we’ve got a bunch of lords who look like they want to take the kingdom apart — one of whom secretly killed the heir to the throne, apparently — but the king responds to a difficult situation with a politically naive outburst that makes him look vulnerable and powerless. Might he have felt those things? Perhaps. But I think he would have found a way to take action without sharing his feelings on the matter with the whole court. I doubt very much that the sort of king who behaves this way would have maintained control over a powerful group of ambitious contenders for very long.
Once we’re out of the prologue, the nature of the game changes substantially. Now it’s a puzzler, but one full of sudden death and tight timing. That kind of design can work, but Cursed makes it hard. Actions such as LOOK and LISTEN, which are absolutely critical for detecting enemies and planning actions, consume a turn; it would be easier to plan and navigate these sequences if they didn’t take any time in this portion of the game. (Whereas they pretty much have to take time during the cut-scene-heavy prologue.)
Then, too, room descriptions run on the long side, making it harder to pick out rapidly which items are likely to be interactive and requiring a lot of investigation. Because some of the intended actions require a number of LOOKs and EXAMINEs to work out, it can require repeated dying thanks to time limits before you’ve figured out the solution to the puzzle, which you then have to execute as efficiently as possible.
So I died, and died, and died again, and finally went to the walkthrough, where I found a sequence of instructions that ran fairly counter to my intuition about what a creature like me could possibly do.
The author clearly put a huge amount of effort into this game, and it’s ambitious: it’s going for diverse puzzle options (it looks like there are three completely different midgames, effectively) combined with a complex plot and a rich backstory. The idea that you can choose senses and skills during the midgame is indeed cool.
To have the full intended impact, though, I think it would need non-trivial revision:
– streamlining the opening so that it uses less text and doesn’t constrain the player for so many turns in a row; tightening the characterizations; and giving the player any agency at all (needn’t be a huge amount, but any would be better than this long linear sequence where nothing you do matters much); then
– revising the body sections to be more fluidly playable, perhaps drawing on examples like Gun Mute, Attack of the Yeti Robot Zombies, and conceivably (though it’s commercial) Shadow in the Cathedral for ways to describe and clue action set-pieces so that they move fast and pose some kind of puzzle challenge but remain accessible to the player. (This is actually one of the harder things to do well in IF, in my opinion, but it’s not completely impossible.)
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Absolutely entertaining, Mon 31st Oct 2011
By P/o Prune - See all my reviews
Let me start by saying that this review is written from my experience when beta testing the game. So I will not be going into any lengthy mumbo jumbo about the technical quality. I assume that the author has corrected most of the bugs and errors. Also, as a foreigner I’m not going to comment on any spelling or grammar errors. There are plenty of people out there who’ll take care of that.
This review is my personal experience of the game and should be in no way taken as anything else.
The game instantly got the first two points in my book for the way the author managed to combine three games into one. Early in the game you get the choice of three creatures and have to decide which one you want to be. So the approach to solving the game depends on what creature you choose.
Another neat feature is the hint file that comes with the game. The hints are pretty much OK and doesn’t give away the solution. They came in handy in more than one occasion as I played.
My only problem was that the hint file is actually another taf file which means that you must have two runners open at the same time and switch between them. It’s no big thing really, but it would have been neat to have the hints in the game. But it’s probably just me being too lazy to switch between windows.
A little background:
You play the foster son of the king, who took you in when your father got killed in battle. The king raised you along with his own son with whom you tied the bond of sincere friendship.
The game start with you, finding yourself in a prison cell, accused of murdering your foster brother.
The members of the court have already found you guilty and to nobody’s surprise, you’re sentenced to death.
Luckily for you, your foster father, the king, intervenes and instead of facing death you are given the choice to live your life as one of three animals; a fox, a snake or a rat.
It turns out that you have more than one friend in the court. Before you are transformed into whatever creature you have chosen, the magician gives you a piece of advice which leads you on your quest, not only to become human again, but also to find out who killed your foster brother.
Your first task is to get out of the castle, and get out alive, which is not easy. Having chosen to live as one of the three animals, you not only have a miserable existence ahead of you, but everyone who sees you have the right to hunt you down and kill you .
So a sound piece of advice is to save your game often.
When playing the game, I had to constantly remind myself that I wasn’t playing a human character. Otherwise normal commands as “get object” or “Talk to character” just doesn’t work.
In ordinary IF get object will automatically let the player reach out and pick up whatever object s/he wants. But playing the role of a fox, snake or rat, force you to think differently, which in itself is a puzzle.
The puzzles are well thought, and their solution logical. The challenge often comes when you try to figure out how to accomplish the task needed to be done in order to get a certain door open, or kill an enemy. Not to mention the frustration when you have to communicate with someone without being able to speak.
You can die, and you probably will. But found no sudden deaths. The annoying thing is that you know that within a couple of moves you’re getting to get killed and you can’t figure out how to prevent it
The locations are well described. They are to the point and without too many confusing details and if you take the time and really read them, you will soon be captured by the atmosphere.
There are pieces of rather lengthy text that some may find unnecessary, and the switch between your thoughts and the descriptions of a location was a bit confusing at times. But I felt that they helped to build the character and helped set the atmosphere of the game.
The game is divided into chapters and is linked together through an interlude where you step out of your character and take over someone else. In one case I suddenly found myself playing the magician and being in a room with the king. This felt a bit strange but it ties the chapters together nicely and best of all, you get a list of topics you can ask about thus being able to get more background info on the game.
From a players point of view I found Cursed an interesting and captivating game. I will absolutely recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good game and some mindboggling puzzles.