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Sun 28th Aug 2005
By David Whyld - See all my reviews
New ADRIFT games – and by “new” I mean those not entered in the various competitions which seem to have comprised about 90% of ADRIFT’s recent output – are a rarity these days. The only exceptions seem to be the joke games put out by people who aren’t anywhere near as clever as they like to think or the games people upload when they’re “learning the system” and would be better off sent straight to the recycle bin. So when I saw there was a new game out, I hurried over and downloaded it.
Some games start well and then go bad, others start bad and then become good. A Walk At Dusk was a bit of a mixed bunch. It started fairly well and if the storyline – involving the player deciding to look for a tree frog during a walk – didn’t blow me away, it at least wasn’t so horrible I thought about quitting. At least it made a nice change to the “save the world” storylines that populate so many games and nor was it some deep and fundamental game with ‘serious’ issues.
My first time through the game led me feeling as if there wasn’t a lot of point to what happened here. I wandered around, examined a few things, became alternately impressed with the decent standard of writing and depressed with the often clumsy programming, and then I found what I was looking for – a tree frog – and the game ended. It told me I’d achieved four of the ten things I would have wanted to do and nicely listed them for me (I say nicely because it was nice idea not because of the formatting used for the listing which was a bit of a jumbled mess). Which left me sitting thinking “well, is that it?”
I played it again to see if there was anything else I had missed. There were a few things, mostly to do with examining bits of the scenery I hadn’t thought to examine the first time, but overall it seems that, yes, that is it. Which isn’t to say that what’s on offer here isn’t enough for a bite-sized game to while away half an hour on a rainy afternoon.
In the end I was left with the impression that A Walk At Dusk isn’t so much a game as an exercise for the writer in telling a story using ADRIFT. The intro states that this is “an interactive essay” and there is a definite ‘story’ feel to the game that is a break from the norm.
Looked at from the viewpoint of “something to pass the time” or “a story with ADRIFT”, it’s quite likeable. It’s certainly well written (mostly anyway) and while the occasional lapses in programming are a pain, they don’t distract too much from the game itself.
As with the writer’s last game – Wax Worx – there are some great pieces of writing in A Walk At Dusk often let down by some exceedingly poor game writing and general lack of attention to detail. Some objects listed in the room descriptions can be examined, others can’t. Some obvious commands are missed out in one location yet equally obvious ones in another location are covered; this leads to the sneaking suspicion that this was a game written very quickly indeed and subjected to no more than cursory testing.
The lack of attention is bad in several places, notably the very first location in the game where the room description notes a field off to one side but trying to examine the field produces the default error message: “You can’t see that here.” Strangely, just about every other item in the location can be examined and most of them have nicely detailed descriptions.
In other places, the description of a single item seems to have been used to cover the descriptions for many (a case of the writer cutting corners?). The description of the trees and shadows in one location returns the same description for each, which also happens to double (triple?) as the room description. Clearly the three are separate and should be treated as such for the sake of descriptions.
Sometimes the responses you get from the game aren’t what you’d expect. I walked into a spider’s web at one point and tried to break it with some wire I was carrying yet the game seemed to think I was trying to break it with the board.
There are no real puzzles in the game* but sometimes the game’s unhelpfulness can lead to unexpected puzzles arising. One command, in particular, needs to be repeated at the end of the game yet why would the player type it twice when the first time it didn’t produce anything special? As it happened, I only typed it the second time because I had run out of things to do and was going through the various items in the room description and just typing “x [item]” one by one to see if there were any that I had missed. By chance I typed the same one as I had already typed and this time I got a meaningful response whereas the first time I hadn’t.
* Okay, there’s one but it’s so simple and straightforward that I doubt many people are going to struggle to get across the stream.
The only other problem I had with the game was with its often strange spacing between various parts of text. Sometimes the room description will immediately follow the direction command, other times there will be several lines between the two. There are also quite a few instances of weird spacings in the text itself with multiple spaces separating words in the middle of a sentence. No big deal and hardly the sort of thing that is going to either make or break a game but a little unusual all the same.
“I don’t understand what you mean!”
The default ADRIFT response of “I don’t understand what you mean!” pops up often, usually in response to commands that really should have been covered but, for some reason, aren’t. There’s a stream the player has to cross at one point yet the option to swim across it isn’t covered despite this being the first thing a player is likely to attempt. Elsewhere there’s a fence but it can’t be climbed. The same goes for several trees.
Although I wasn’t much impressed with A Walk At Dusk after my first play through it, subsequent playings (as I tried to figure out just what it was I needed to do to get the best possible ending) impressed me more. There’s quite an involved game here and the idea is a lot cleverer than it first appears. Puzzle-less IF has never been a favourite of mine (despite the fact that I’m hopeless at most puzzles and inevitably start typing “help” the first time I come across one instead of trying to figure it out myself) but, handled well, it can certainly work and while I don’t think that this game has quite succeeded it was nevertheless worth playing. A more polished version, or perhaps a larger and more ambitious game along similar lines, might be an interesting idea.
5 out of 10