Belated Comp 2002 Reviews

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Dec 3, 2002, 3:07:07 AM12/3/02
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REVIEWS OF THE IF-COMP 2002 GAMES

When IF-Comp 2002 started, I was planning to play/review all the games.
However, life haven't missed the chance to teach me how foolish it is to plan
anything in this world: a few extra affairs to keep me busy - and all my
good intentions went awry. I didn't even manage to *play* all the games, much
less to review them. My apologies to all authors whose works I failed to
play/review.

Like in the previous year, I just rated the games according to how well I
liked them. Basically, the ratings mean the following:

1 - I couldn't find anything good to say about the game;
2 to 4 - (far) below average;
5 - average;
6 - solid work but nothing special (or, on the contrary, a badly implemented
good game);
7 to 9 - an excellent game (here, the differences were rather subtle; e. g.,
a game I rated 7 might get a 9 if I was in a different mood when
playing it);
And note - this year, there wasn't a 10.

The games are sorted according to the rank I've given them (from the lowest
to the highest one). In the review headers, the following special marks are
used: * means I didn't finish the game; ! means the review contains mild
spoilers; !! means the review contains explicit spoilers. For games I did
play, but didn't write a review, I just indicated the ratings I gave them.

Also note that, due to the aforementioned lack of time, I'm afraid I won't be
able to follow the news in r*if for quite a while. Thus, if you want to
contact me in connection with these reviews, you can reach me under my e-mail
address u...@mailru.com.


RANK: NONE
Sun and Moon, by David Brain
Rating: not rated

The blorb for the game said, "Sun and Moon is a web-based game that requires
a browser and some time on-line. If you are unwilling or unable to make this
commitment, I suggest that you do not follow the above link <www.scurra.com,
where the actual game was located>". Well, I wasn't willing to spend any time
on-line, and followed the advice.


RANK: 32
Four Mile Island, by Anonymous (who reveals himself as Chris Charla)
Rating: 1

Once upon a time (two years ago, to be more precise) a BASIC game named
Infil-traitor had been entered in the IF-Comp. The author cleverly played up
his participation in the Competition - a (purely fictional) background story
presented the game as an original text adventure from the 1980-ies that had
been found accidentally in some remote computer store. And this turned out
to be a good move - the game's parser (which was rather primitive), setting,
and the "feelies" accompanying it certainly had got nostalgic value.

This year, the author of Infil-traitor decided to repeat this trick, and
entered a sequel to his previous game the same way he had done before - with
practically the same background story. Unfortunately, a repeated joke seldom
is funny; therefore, Four Miles Island was seriously disadvantaged in my eyes
from the very start.

As I played the game I got the impression the author had made efforts to
improve the gameplay in FMI vs. Infil-traitor. No, the parser remained as
primitive as before (otherwise, it probably would be difficult to retain
the appropriate nostalgic atmosphere). However, Infil-traitor was very
frustrating to play, because it combined tightly timed puzzles with not
mentioning available exits in most room descriptions, which hampered
navigation. And the "save early, save often" approach didn't work, either -
because Infil-traitor wouldn't allow you to save game positions!

Well, FMI has fixed these issues: the player has got unlimited time for
solving the game, exits are listed for each location, and you can't get
yourself killed other than by purpose (since you get enough warnings to be
aware that your action could be fatal). Considering the easiness (if not to
say triviality) of the puzzles, it's quite possible to complete the game
within a short session.

Unfortunately, along with the frustrating aspects mentioned above, something
else has been removed from FMI, as well: namely, all the rude humour and
cynical jokes, which alone made Infil-traitor worth playing for me. All that
remained is a bare framework of a game - a pitiful sight that reminds of
what can happen to a text adventure if it isn't sufficiently fed with new,
creative ideas.


RANK: 31
Blade Sentinel, by Mihalis Georgostathis
Rating: 1
*

It's strange why people sometimes use so inappropriate tools to achieve their
goals. The author of Blade Sentinel, for instance, clearly tries to tell a
rather complex story - but the parser, which can be mildly described as not
the most advanced one (a less diplomatic designation would be "primitive"
or even "rudimentary") just isn't up to the task. The limited set of
recognized verbs turns puzzle-solving into "guess the word"; and though there
is a help command, which presumably displays the list of valid instructions,
it's not very useful: according to it, the game only takes direction verbs,
"LOOK/EXAMINE", "TAKE", and "DROP". Well, while BS's vocabulary *is* limited,
it's not *that* limited - but still, it's not easy to make the game
understand what the player wants from it. Because of the lack of a
walkthrough, I probably would get stuck at the very beginning; however, since
the game file had its text unencrypted, I managed to cheat my way through a
number of episodes - until a point where even such cheating wouldn't bring me
ahead without a good guessing. At this very point, I gave up.

But did the story reward me - at least partially - for all those struggles?
Sadly, no. It was your standard futuristic superhero (or, rather,
superheroine) comic strip, overloaded with cliches. The writing, with lots of
grammatical and spelling errors, often provided for an unintended comical
effect. And that probably was the only entertaining aspect of the game.

I was about to finish this review. However, as I re-read it, I noticed it
turned out to be rather harsh, which hadn't been my intention. Thus, I felt
a few extra words directed to the game author were needed. So...

I know pretty well how it feels when your work is ripped apart like this.
Unfortunately (or fortunately - you never know), we're neither in a
kindergarten nor in an infringed ego treatment establishment here, so
that people most often tend to express their opinions openly, without
caring too much whether someone's feelings are hurt. Thus, don't let yourself
be put off by critique; the only decent answer to it is, to clench your
teeth tightly, and to start working hard... on your next game.


RANK: 30
Castle Maze, by Steven Darnold
Rating: 2
*

(Well, this game had been disqualified, but I didn't find out until after I
had played it.)

The only purpose to write such a game I could think of seemed to be a
demonstration of the very possibility to write a text adventure using the
LINUX shell language. If that's true, the author succeeded, though he really
didn't need to prove that - such games had been written even in DOS shell
language (which is even more limited in every respect than the LINUX shell),
and they were better than Castle Maze. This entry essentially represents
an ADVENTURE clone, but with dull descriptions, trivial puzzles, no trace of
atmosphere; to make it worse, it doesn't allow you to save/restore game
positions, though it's quite possible to get yourself killed without warning.
After I encountered such an instant death somewhere in the middle of the game,
I gave up. At least, the whole thing seemed reasonably polished.


RANK: 29
Ramon and Jonathan, by Daniele A. Gewurz
Rating: 3


RANK: 28
coffee quest II: a day at the office, by Anonymous
Rating: 3

A minimalistic puzzlefest with no plot, ultra-laconic descriptions,
paper-thin characters, and the maxim about the dullness and monotony of
office life repeated many times as an ersatz for atmosphere. The fulcrum of
the whole work, the puzzles, were to a no small degree of the "read the
author's mind" type, so that I've been using the walkthrough most of the time
(though I admit I wasn't too persistent in solving them). Several bugs - none
of them too serious, but pretty annoying - complete the picture.

On the positive side: some of the descriptions were mildly amusing.


RANK: 27
Terrible Lizards, by Alan and Ian Mead
Rating: 4


RANK: 26
Moonbase, by QA Dude
Rating: 4

A long time ago, I was reading some gamer's magazine that accidentally had
got into my hands. One of the articles was praising some graphic adventure.
Among other compliments, the article said, "It's a good thing there's no
inventory in this game, because most games with inventory tend to have
puzzles of the kind, 'use screwdriver on alarm-clock then use alarm-clock on
oil bottle'". Well, since, to my shame, I've never played a graphic
adventure, I can't tell whether this statement is true as far as graphic
adventures are concerned - but it's a rather accurate description of the
puzzles in Moonbase.

And there wasn't much else, either. No atmosphere, a rudimentary plot... No,
wait, I've forgotten something: the game featured a few nifty sound effects.
Unfortunately, they remained the coolest thing about this game.


RANK: 25
Color and Number, by Steven Kollmansberger
Rating: 4

Your goal in this game is to chase down and to detain the leader of a sect,
who is hiding in a temple full of complex and mysterious machinery.

A puzzlefest, with puzzles somewhat reminiscent of the hieroglyph deciphering
problem in Curses! by Graham Nelson - but there is an important difference:
the puzzles in CaN are much, much more obscure. I'm perfectly willing to
believe that the author managed to create a polished, consistent, and elegant
system; I just wasn't able, for whatever reason, to find out how it was
supposed to work. The clues randomly scattered all over the rooms weren't of
much help; as I followed the walkthrough I thought that the only way for me
to solve the puzzles would be randomly trying out a vast number of possible
combinations.

Since it's a puzzlefest, I won't discuss whether the characters were
realistic, and the logicality of their behaviour. They didn't seem to matter
in CaN, anyway.


RANK: 24
Hell: A Comedy of Errors, by John Evans
Rating: 5
*!

This entry made me feel pity about the whole lot of work its author clearly
had invested into it. Let me explain, why.

Imagine playing a strategical game similar to Civilization, but with unlimited
resources, people never becoming unhappy, and all your enemies being much,
*much* weaker than you - in short, a strategy where winning is trivial. I
doubt such a game could be entertaining to anyone; in fact, I think it'd be
pretty boring.

And that's exactly what happens in Hell. The game comes with a comprehensive
manual that tells the player what (s)he needs to do to win (even discovering
the required commands doesn't count as a puzzle, for it's completely
impossible to find them out by oneself) - and from this point on, implementing
those "winning strategies" for creating one's own private hell becomes nothing
else as a somewhat tedious work. No plot, no atmosphere, no puzzles: you just
promote yourself to higher ranks by increasing your score - the way to do it
is absolutely obvious. (At least, it's been so at the earlier stages of the
game; it's possible the situation changes on more advanced levels - I can't
tell, for I've become bored before reaching them).

Yes, I can imagine what a challenge it must have been to complete such a
project from the technical point of view; somehow, however, all the clever
features didn't just fail to work for me - they made matters worse. Say,
allowing (and requiring from) the player to create an unlimited number of
rooms by him/herself only resulted in the game world getting more difficult
to manage, and the navigation becoming more tedious. Also, the game lets you
sort of define your player character at the very start - but it seems pretty
pointless, because even selecting your tribe in Civilization affects the
gameplay more than your PC-related choices in Hell. All in all, this entry
seemed to be rather a showcase for the author's programming skills than an
actual game.


RANK: 23
BOFH, by Howard Sherman
Rating: 5

OK, I'm acquainted with the concept of the original Bastard Operator from
Hell (BOFH), and even am fond of it (though I can't say I'm quoting from it
on every occasion, or something). However, this game has little else except
for the BOFH-idea behind it. I found it difficult to play without the
walkthrough (mainly because the puzzles were of the "guess what the author
wanted you to do next" type). The pranks I had to play on my colleagues were
surprisingly uninventive, and had astonishingly little to do with computers.
All in all, it wasn't too funny - except maybe for the opening section.


RANK: 22
Jane, by Joseph Grzesiak
Rating: 5


RANK: 21
Identity Thief, by Rob Shaw-Fuller
Rating: 5

The game was like a stub of an already consumed turnip someone planted back;
you'd tug at the tops with all your might to pull out the vegetable - and
would fall on your back, being brought out of balance by your own effort.
Well, Identity Thief had a really nice outset (OK, admitted, with some minor
issues), which ended abruptly just as the story got rolling, leaving me
completely baffled. It just looked like the author either didn't know what to
do with the story he invented, or lacked the time to properly implement the
rest of the game.

I think that's the case of a right work on the wrong place: IT probably would
make a great entry for the TrailerComp.


RANK: 20
Rent-A-Spy, by John Eriksson
Rating: 5


RANK: 19
Concrete Paradise, by Tyson Ibele
Rating: 5
*!

I liked the intro to the game, and its opening section - the way just
anything I did would bring me to jail for life was very amusing. However,
my enthusiasm was dampened somewhat as I discovered that the mean cashier,
who had called the police and thus organised my imprisonment, followed me
into the cell, and accompanied me for the rest of the game. (Well, not
the cashier himself, exactly - just the random messages describing his
actions every turn. Some daemon wasn't properly unnotified, I guess.)

The remaining part of the game was devoted to escaping from prison. The
puzzles were kept rather easy; I probably wouldn't have any problems solving
them at all - if I hadn't got the bad luck that the game I'd played just
before Concrete Paradise spoilt me by being very generous about the wording
of my commands. Thus, situations in CP where, say, the verb 'MOVE' would work
but the verb 'PULL' wouldn't, became very frustrating for me. Because of
this, as the game went on, I started using the walk-through more and more
frequently - till I got to a point where even the walk-through wouldn't help
me. After a few struggles, I gave up.

I rated this entry a 5; of this rating, at least 4 points are the merit of
the opening section.


RANK: 18
Not Much Time, by Tyson Ibele
Rating: 5

A stroll through a witch's house, rather reminiscent (accidentally or not - I
can't tell) of 1995 IF-Comp winner, Uncle Zebulon's Will. The predecessor was
better to my taste (thanks to a more solid implementation), but this one is
quite enjoyable, too. And you probably won't need not too much time completing
it.


RANK: 17
The Case of Samuel Gregor, by Stephen Hilderbrand
Rating: 5


RANK: 16
Augustine, by Terrence V. Koch
Rating: 5


RANK: 15
Evacuate, by Jeff Rissman
Rating: 5
!

Here, you need to escape from a space liner damaged during an alien ship
attack. The game is packed with lots of puzzles of different kind - some are
really elaborate, others are more straightforward - but most of them seem to
have one thing in common: it's rather difficult to make a logical connection
why doing this or that would help you in reaching the overall goal. I don't
think I'd be able to solve them without the walkthrough - much less within
the two hours allotment. Still, I'd like to repeat that some of the puzzles
were really clever and elegant: for instance, I'm thinking of the maze
(which has got an interesting twist, though it's very, very hard to beat),
and - even more - of the final puzzle, where you've got to defeat the alien
ship.

There wasn't much of atmosphere in this game, and the few characters mostly
were there to provide for puzzles. Of the latter, the central ship-controlling
computer especially struck me - mainly because it acted not like a real
computer, but a rather fretful person. The reasons it invented in order not
to let me fire the weapons seemed somehow artificial - sometimes, I really
felt like shouting at the darn piece of ironmongery, "If you're so smart, why
don't you do it yourself?" Well - on the second thought, this could be
deliberate.

All in all, the game had its charm; if the gameplay was somewhat more
directed, it'd be rated higher.


RANK: 14
Koan, by Anonymous
Rating: 5
!

This is one of those one-puzzle games that seem to poke you in the ribs,
saying, "Hey, wasn't my puzzle great? Wasn't it great?" Well, Koan's success
in persuading me was mediocre: on one hand, I admit that the solution made
sense, though it required a somewhat awkward way of thinking; on the other
hand, it failed to impress me. Thus, the rather low rating; I hardly would
rate that kind of game higher than 6 anyway, especially considering the
minimalistic implementation (though minimalism seems to be part of the genre
here).

An afterthought: mentioning the fracture in the pot description while the pot
still was on the pillar was an implementation glitch, wasn't it?


RANK: 13
Fort Aegea, by Francesco Bova
Rating: 6

OK, it can't be denied that this game is rather polished, and that its plot is
rather fancy (though it's yet another game with a dragon). However, it was
somehow... emotionless. Playing it, I found myself thinking of the saying,
"One death is tragedy, a million of deaths are statistics". Yeah, you had to
save your city by beating some dragon in sort of a tag game; but this
dangerous chase left me surprisingly untouched, and the obstacles getting
into my way seemed artificial. Well, and druids thinking in terms of
ecosystems failed to raise sympathy in me, either.

To sum up: the game had got everything - except for the passion to make it
really shine.


RANK: 12
Eric's Gift, by Joao Mendes
Rating: 6


RANK: 11
Granite Book, by James Mitchelhill
Rating: 6

I'd describe the genre of this game as a very atmospheric piece of something.
Yeah, there was lots of atmosphere, everything was done with great care, it'd
been fun to play, and the puzzles where fine, too. But all in all, it left me
wondering what the whole thing was about. It looked like the author said,
"Here, dear player, I've got something for you - try to make head and tail of
it. I wash my hands." I hoped everything would be explained to me at the end
of the game - in vain, as it turned out. The whole thing looked a lot like a
work of abstractionism. My problem probably is, I'm not very fond of abstract
art - sorry.


RANK: 10
Janitor, by Seebs
Rating: 6


RANK: 9
MythTale, by Temari Seikaiha
Rating: 6


RANK: 8
Photograph, by Steve Evans
Rating: 6


RANK: 7
When Help Collides, by J. D. Berry
Rating: 6
*!

This game is done very competently, and introduces a lot of new ideas. The
last one would be fine - except that sometimes, I got the feeling as if I
were seized by hair, and repeatedly rammed with my head against a hard board,
with someone shouting into my ear, "It's innovative! It's innovative!! IT'S!
IN! NO! VA! TIVE!!!"

Say, in the opening section of the first part (the game is divided in four
more or less independent stories, BTW), WHC required from me repeating the
same action about ten times - as it seemed, with the sole purpose to persuade
me it really wouldn't work; well, the first three times were convincing
enough - the rest was just head-banging as described above, probably intended
as a mean to make that idea stick better.

Maybe because of the headache I got from such methods of memory stimulation,
I had some trouble understanding how the remaining section of the first part
worked. Well, I managed to solve it - however, mainly by choosing actions
randomly; if a move led to a "losing" ending, I would undo it, and try
something else. This way, I got to the second part at the very least.

In the second part, you become a novice geisha; your goal is to plan every
single day of the week so that you'd learn enough to pass the final exam.
I almost can hear a chorus of voices accusing this section of the game of
insufficient interactivity, and degenerating into CYOA. All I can answer
them is, "Shut up!" To me, in spite of certain restrictions put on the
player's actions, the overall concept of this part was very interesting and
unconventional; developing winning strategies was just thrilling.

So thrilling, in fact, that, as I restarted after another unsuccessful try
to pass the exam, I suddenly noticed the judging period was almost over.
Hastily, I looked through the accompanying hint file - only to find out that
it merely described the general strategical principles I had already
discovered by myself. I got the impression that, along with following those
principles, a significant deal of luck, and a thorough planning of the whole
game (which basically means - scrupulously write down the results of each and
every of your moves, pedantically keep track of your progress, and save as
often as possible to be able to roll back if things don't develop the way
they should) were crucial for success - or, were the problems I had beating
it just the result of my general stupidity combined with the residual
headache from the previous part of the game? I can't tell - but one way or
another, I didn't complete WHC. Sorry about that.


RANK: 6
Moonlit Tower, by Yoon Ha Lee
Rating: 6


A short yet atmospheric roam through a unique setting based on Chinese,
Japanese, Korean, and Mongolian myths. It is done with great care - the
writing meets the highest standards, and I think no one would remain
unimpressed by the way the author not just replaced the standard responses
for most of the verbs but made them different for each and every room (!) in
the game. This work is to a very large extent based on symbolism, which never
has been my strong side. The accompanying material hinted at more than one
ending available; I've tried out several things, but hasn't been able to
reach more than one ending (apparently, I haven't been trying hard enough -
or was it just my inability to resolve symbolic links?) The puzzles (at least
the ones needed to complete the game) were neither many nor hard, mostly
requiring close attention to descriptive text, but some of them were just
beautiful. Other (optional) puzzles (which presumably would lead to different
endings) seemed a bit obscure to me; again, it might be that I didn't pay
enough attention to the (surely present) hints in the descriptions.

The game tries to tell its story through a series of flashbacks the player
gets when examining (or manipulating) certain objects - and that's probably
its weakest point: while the flashbacks themselves are very well-written, and
add a lot to the enjoyment, they remain fragmentary, and fail to form a
decent plot; thus, I hadn't got an idea what the whole thing was about even
after I had finished the game.

I'm almost sorry I didn't rate this (very solidly done) entry higher - but
symbolism just isn't my glass of vodka.


RANK: 5
Scary House Amulet!, by Shimpenstein
Rating: 7

Some time ago, the company I used to work for wanted to establish its own
Internet site. Appropriate requests had been made, and finally, a manager
from the web design company we planned to entrust with the creation of our
site came to our office, with a portfolio of project examples his studio had
successfully completed before. Among many others, there were design examples
of very expensive sites that had to look like low-budget solutions. The
manager seemed to be especially proud of those works, and I could understand
why.

Scary House Amulet! reminded me of such a site: it tried to sell itself as an
amateurish game, but honestly, I couldn't buy it. E.g., it featured minimalistic
descriptions, which seemed to contain more exclamation marks than actual
letters, with amounts of highlit text making them reminiscent of a skewbald
Shetland pony; but among all those palings of punctuation marks, and
grotesquely insipid text formatting, I barely found a single spelling mistake.

The same was true for all the other aspects of the game. The plot was an
over-cliched horror story - but with A LOT of self-irony; the characters
were caricatures for the most part, and certainly not very deep - yet, they
didn't answer "I don't know much about that" to 99,99 percents of my
questions, either; the puzzles were of just the kind you'd expect from that
sort of game - but they were presented with charm. Finally, SHA! offered
a hint system that wasn't based on the standard menu system most often used
by Inform authors for that purposes; I saw it as some sort of parody on
amateurish efforts to "invent a bicycle" (a Russian saying, meaning "coming
up with one's own, rather clumsy, solution for a problem that has been
solved a long time ago.") However, unlike most of the home-brewed "bicycles",
this one seemed to work at least as well as the standard solution.

(Of course, I'm aware those are just my speculations, and the actual game
author might split his sides laughing at my oh-so-thoughtful ponderings).

To sum up - SHA! isn't a game for everyone, and many people certainly will
find the rating of 7 I've given it too high; but hey - it hit my mood, so to
speak.


RANK: 4
TOOKiE'S SONG, by Jessica Knoch
Rating: 7

The game had got enough enjoyable aspects: good puzzles, rich setting, lots
of filling material, nice characters, and several nifty effects. But the main
thing that made it sparkle and prickle like good champagne was the genuine
fun the author clearly had had making it. Well, such motives as impressing
the IF-Community, and succeed in the Comp surely were present, too - but as
it seems, they weren't primary: the main thing was the joy of adding all the
non-standard responses, the variety of NPC's reactions, the numerous Easter
eggs, etc., and to get all of this as polished as possible. Yeah, there were
a few faults, but I don't want to be a nitpicker. Great job!


RANK: 3
Constraints, by Martin Bays
Rating: 7


RANK: 2
Till Death Makes a Monk-Fish Out of Me!, by Mike Sousa & Jon Ingold
Rating: 8

A high-quality SciFi-thriller; the action develops around an experiment
carried out in a submarine research station, that has gone terribly awry.

Mr. Ingold's hand can be easily recognized everywhere - be it the very
effective writing style, the creative puzzles, or the generous way of
handling user input (the game seems to recognize practically ANY reasonable
phrasing, at least for crucial commands). The implementation is very solid,
too (well, there were just a couple of slight glitches, but they're too minor
to be worth mentioning here). I'm tempted to just end this review now, saying,
"Perfection can't be described, anyway - it has got to be experienced", but...
Yeah, unfortunately, there are a few "buts" about Till Death.

The first "but" is the story. It has something magical about it: the plot
seems to make perfect sense while you're playing the game, with the events
being hurled at you, but as soon as you get the chance to sit down and think
of it a bit, it falls apart immediately. OK, there was an experiment with a
sort of body/soul exchanging machine, and it led to a catastrophe due to
intrigues of a "bad guy" - but what really happened? What was the "bad guy's"
plan? Finally, what was the machine supposed to do, exactly? If you've played
the last year's IF-Comp winner, All Roads, I think you'll find certain
resemblances in this respect.

The second "but" is, uh, let's call it "lack of psychological motivation".
I just couldn't see why the main villain would want to do what he did. Yeah,
the game made lots of efforts showing me what an *unpleasant* fellow he was -
but "unpleasant" and "vile" isn't the same, sorry. (My personal opinion is,
BTW, that a person behaving oddly and unfriendly is a far less promising
candidate for the role of the main crook than someone nurturing evil plans
behind an affable facade. Again, fortunately for me, this opinion isn't based
on personal experience.)

Two "buts" = -2 points.


RANK: 1
Another Earth, Another Sky, by Paul O'Brian
Rating: 9


I remember that, when I was reviewing Earth & Sky during the last year's
IF-Comp, I dismissed E&S as a trailer to a full game, and rated it
accordingly. Well, it's hard to admit one's mistakes, but as it seems, I
can't avoid it: looks like I've missed the point entirely.

Earth & Sky wasn't a trailer; rather, it was the first episode of a comic
strip series. Note the difference. Also note that knowledge of it isn't
needed to enjoy (and complete) Another Earth, Another Sky, but if you've got
the chance I'd recommend you play E&S first.

Another Earth, Another Sky is the second episode of the series, and in many
aspects, it surpasses its predecessor (though E&S was a work of a very
high quality, too), even in such ones where an improvement in comparison to
E&S seemed sheerly impossible. For instance, as E&S was released, its
conversation system (which essentially was a combination of the most
conversation systems existing in IF) seemed like the ultimate in flexibility.
However, in the second episode Mr. O'Brian managed to perfect it even more -
by adding a special option for haters of menu-based dialogues. Also, he
wisely used the additional features the new game platform offered (E&S had
been written in z-code, and AE,AS in Glulx): while the game isn't overloaded
with illustrations, the few graphics present clearly help creating the
overall comic strip atmosphere. Finally, having Emily as a companion was even
a greater joy than her brother in the first episode.

The puzzles are as terrific as the rest of the game; in some sense, most of
the game represents a single puzzle made up of several smaller problems. One
important thing that especially impressed me: you see, the PC is a superhero
endowed with overnatural strength. Very often, games with PCs of that kind
end up inventing "excuses" why the PC can't solve this or that problem just
using brute force. AE,AS manages to avoid this; the restrictions put on the
player's actions never seem artificial. Well, add the wonderful in-game hint
system, which is implemented with a lot of kind humour, and here we've got
an almost perfect game;). Seriously, perfect or not - it's a *must* to play.

My last year's review of E&S ended with the words "I'm looking forward to
seeing the full game" (as I assumed E&S was a trailer). Well, I'd like to
finish my review of AE,AS with "I'm looking forward to seeing the next episode
of the series".

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