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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The People’s Glorious Revolutionary Text Adventure Game – A Review

So… what’d ya think about that title, eh? Quite a mouthful. Either this game is an earnest piece of Marxist propaganda or it’s a scathing satire from the Tea Party crowd. Or maybe it’ll just be a fun adventure game. Here’s hoping for the later!

Note: As always, the full review will be replete with spoilers. I’d advise against reading it until after you’ve played the game.

Final Verdict: Haltingly amusing. The game is under the impression it’s much funnier than it actually is.

Full review after the jump:

So a bit of back story before we dive into the game: After high school I went to a hippy dippy college that believe-you-me put the Liberal in Liberal Arts. Now I consider myself a pretty left leaning gentlemen. Heck, I ride around with a “Democrats – At Least We’re Better Than the Alternatives” bumper-sticker on my car. But compared to many of my fellow students, I was practically Glen Beck. Many of my friends were full bearded Marxists who spent all their time reading Socialist tracts, discussing the merits of Trotsky vs. Lenin and arguing amongst themselves how best to foment the revolution in Pot-stenched dorm rooms. (Fun Fact:  There’s only thing Communists hate more than Capitalism, and that’s other Communists)

One of my best friends was this girl from India whose father was the head of the Communist party over there. She was infamous around campus for being one of the only Socialists who would defend Stalin. She and I spent many many nights together playing chess and watching bad Bollywood movies. I could always make her laugh. She would often beat me in chess. She would call me “Capitalist Bastard” and I would call her “Communist Pig”. What I’m trying to say is that as seemingly out there as the protagonist seems to be in this game, there are people alive today who are like this. I have known them. They exist. So when sitting down to play this game it was almost like experiencing the world through the eyes of an old and much loved friend.

I cannot say that the author of this piece shares the same sense of humanity with his characters. Granted, this game does not take itself seriously. At. All. At the beginning of the game you are presented with a list of tasks that must be completed, which remains the funniest joke of the game. Here’s a sample: “Win hearts of Proletariat, cripple capitalist government infrastructure, find supplies to throw a communist party!,” etc.

But the world view of the protagonist is simplistic at best, zero dimensional at worst. The other characters, of which there are several, are all wooden … I don’t even want to call them stereotypes… objects in a series of mundane fetch quests. Each personality lacks… well, personality and the constant use of Soviet-style hyperbole gets very old very quickly.

All of this might be forgivable if the game was funny. After all, it’s not like the previous game, Rogue of the Universe, had much of a deeper story. But that game did make me laugh, and it had character and incidental details that made the world seem inhabited by more than just the player character. Every place and object in this game is merely a piece to be used as some sort of larger humdrum puzzle. It feels like a completely arbitrary and fabricated world.
Ah, Lenin. He would have approved.

There was one time, besides the admittedly funny checklist at the beginning where I chuckled. Your character becomes equipped with a “ventriloquator” which upon pointing it at people can make them instantly spout Marxist propaganda. This is generally not as amusing as it sounds, but on occasion, instead of spouting a quote from Karl Marx, it’ll make someone spout a quote from another famous Marx instead: namely, Groucho. That, I admit, was pretty funny.

And there are a few other neat things as well. There’s a device which allows you to bypass any puzzle, but you can only use it once. This was pretty neat and though I did wind up using it (thank you, very much), I kept it until the last puzzle I couldn’t solve and I think its inclusion prevented me from looking at any hints.

But the game is depending on its charm as a revolutionary parody, which I admit worked for about the first ten minutes, but the style became increasingly grating as the game wore on. I needed more depth. Is this piece trying to be a satire? Is it trying to say Marxist revolutionaries look at the world in a stupidly facile way? If so this technique does not make for particularly compelling commentary as anyone can create stupid straw men. Moreover, with a “twist” (and I use the term liberally) near the end the author doesn’t seem to have much love for Capitalism either, and you are after all rooting for the Reds throughout the game. Despite having such a heavy hand throughout, I couldn’t tell what on earth the game was trying to say.

So either the game is trying to make a satirical point and fails (to this reader at least), or it’s trying to be a light bit of funny fun and fails for being neither very funny nor very fun. I’m suspecting the later, but if so, then why choose such politically charged subject matter? I mean, come on, these questions are going to pop up in the players head.

I’m giving this game a four. It didn’t have any bugs as far as I could tell, and there were points that made me chuckle. But as I’ve made pretty clear I didn’t find it a very entertaining or gripping piece of IF. Oh well. Two out of three, aint bad.

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