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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Review - Saving John

Oh boy. I think the real question we're dealing with is what exactly are we saving John from? From his debts to sketchy creditors? Are we saving him from death-demons from the mouth of hell? Are we saving him from his very self??? Yeeah. I'm going to go with that last guess. The title screams intimate personal drama. Perhaps John is suffering from a drug habit. Maybe it's low personal self esteem. Maybe it's the fact that he's made an internal pact to review all of these God damned Interactive Fiction games and he hasn't given himself an out. Who knows? Well... you know who will know? Me! As soon as I finish writing this paragraph and then complete the game and come back and write the review. Which you can then read after the jump. Hooray!

Quick Take Review: A generally well written stream of consciousness CYOA about a man with crippling depression. If that's your slice of pie then have at it!

Okay, this is getting tough. First off: I was right! For the first time in judging these competitions I was correct about my assumptions based on the title. The "story" is written in a melange of disparately connected recollections from the protagonist (I'm not sure (even having played the story now twice) if that's the John of the title) as he (i think?) is in the process of drowning.

John (we'll call him that) is pretty fucking depressed, and he has a lot of somewhat banal memories that you can zoop through willy nilly. I don't use the adjective "banal" as a criticism. I think, in some respects, the drabness of the memories is in many respects the point. The first time I played through I distinctly tried to make choices that would bring John out of his shell and see the better side of life. The second time I played through, I did the opposite. The first time I was saved. The second time, not so much.

If I have a criticism about the game it's the brevity of it. There's a lot of things I respect about it. The fact that when I played it the second time through I felt like in general I got a fundamentally different experience than the first, that's awesome and that's what one hopes from interactive fiction. The fact that I was able to read and play through both versions so quickly is not so... impressive.

I don't know. I have to say, these web games are getting tough to evaluate. The truth is, that the simplicity of creating games like this as opposed to coding them via other methods (though, as a quasi veteran it's hard to imagine an easier coding system than Inform 7) has opened the door to a bunch of decent to good writers who might otherwise not have the capabilities of entering a competition like this. This game, like many of the other web games I've played, is markedly well written (though I do think it lacks the narrative depth of a game like "Solarium" or the poetry of "Vulse") but at the same time I also think to myself... is it fair?

Or actually more to the point, is it fair to compare it to the games written on traditional platforms? I feel, in many respects, that we're comparing Apples to oranges. How do I compare this game to Threediopolis which shares none of the intimate aims of Saving John, but is extremely innovative and excels at what it sets out to do? Perhaps this is an age old question of reviewing not just this platform, but any platform. Which is a better movie? Citizen Cane or City Lights? (the answer: City Lights)

It's all subjective, but what is not subjective is craft. This is a very competent (albeit short) work of interactive fiction that is evocative and an interesting and personal exploration of depression. I would... recommend it, but not before I'd recommend some of the other stuff I've seen thus far.

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