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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Oxygen – A review

At long last, I’m reviewing the first of many (nice!) Glulx games! Glulx games and Z-code games are actually pretty similar beasts, considering they both compile the same programming code. But Glulx has multi-media capacity and also allows for much larger (memory-wise) games than Z-code interpreters do. The larger the code, the more work one can (sometimes falsely) assume the writer put into the game. That or they have pictures and sounds! Either way, I’m looking forward to some good Glulxy action!

So get those lungs ready and join me for a big heaping breathful of “Oxygen”.

Note: My reviews give away everything that can be given away. Endings, solutions to puzzles, etc. If you have any plans on possibly playing this game at some point in the future, do that first before reading further.

Final Verdict: …And we’re back. A game that balances puzzles, story, and cool mechanics in a sinfully playable package brings us back to quality games I can whole-heartedly recommend.

Full review after the jump:

Well, that’s more like it! This was a really fun game! A bit short, but fun nonetheless. It was so short, in fact, I played it again to see what would happen if I made a different decision and more importantly, knew what I was actually doing!

So the last review I lamented the fact that I wasn’t so good at puzzles, but this game was pretty puzzly, with a big complicated looking (though actually not that complicated once you figured out what was going on) engineering puzzle. And I didn’t consult the hints once, though it took me quite a while to figure out how to deal with that stupid safety cable. Moreover, it was tied to a surprisingly gripping plot of life and death and competing loyalties. It was really an excellent balance. All that and the entire game played out in one room. Pretty snazzy stuff.

So, you play a miner trapped by an explosion dealing with a diminishing air supply. I wonder if the author knew his story would be so unfortunately timely. Of course, you’re not a stuck in the caves of South America. You’re on a galactic mining colony from the empire of yadda-yadda-yadda-space-opera-blah-de-blah. But pretty quickly the story sets forth a pretty dramatic dilemma.

The explosion is said to be caused by a group of picketing miners cut off from the rest of the colony by the Chief who has labeled them traitors. Since the colony is sectioned off into one-third strikers, two-third workers, the question for you becomes: who gets the air?
Oh wait, wrong kind of "Air Supply"...

The air is leaking from an enormous air tank and every three turns a big chunk of it get siphoned off, via some ratio into the colony’s tank, the striker’s tank, or out into the cold vacuum of space. You have a limited control how this oxygen gets divvied up, but it’ll take some figuring out of various control cards and in the meantime you’re dealing with orders barked out from an inaccessible intercom and the arrival of an unexpected visitor.

It’s a really fun game, and because of the ticking time bomb, it never gets boring. Just when you’ve figured out how things work on the puzzle dimension, a story element crops up to distract you afresh.

Did I mention this game has sounds? Well, it does, and they’re small but effective and I thought they made a very nice addition to the game in general. I wish more games would incorporate sounds in their games (and by sounds, I do not mean annoying MIDI music that I can’t turn off, programmers).

All in all, there are only a few things to nitpick. The game is very short, which makes sense, since after all there’s literally a ticking clock running throughout the thing. (I wonder what would happen if you deliberately let all the air escape, dooming both sides to annihilation. I’ll try that after writing this post!) But it was so short that I was a little sad to have it over (which is probably better than wearing out your welcome, I suppose).

Also, the choice you have regarding allegiances is pretty binary, and more specifically (and maybe it’s my leftist leanings) but pretty obvious which side the author favors. It might have been more interesting if things had been a bit grayer? I don’t know.

But I’m quibbling. I enjoyed the game thoroughly. I’m only going to give it a seven, because while it did all the above things, it was too short and the puzzles were ultimately not challenging enough (and this game did rely on it’s one big puzzle). Plus the story wasn’t as engrossing as some of the best. But these are all quibbles and this was a great fun game. After a couple of mediocre entries this was a pleasant way to get back to form.

Go play Oxygen. You’ll have a good time. (Though I suppose if you haven’t already played it, then I’ve already ruined a good chunk of the experience for you. What did I tell you about reading spoilers????)

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