IFComp 2010: One Eye Open

Spoilers follow the break.

Blood, lots of blood. And gore. And worse things. The hallways seem to have developed teeth, and getting past them safely is one of the first puzzles. Certain other openings, like the inside of a washing machine, reveal fleshy tubes or sphincters. The high point of the game for me was when I opened a refrigerator to find the complete contents of a human abdominal cavity, filling it wall to wall, intact and apparently still functioning. As with a slasher flick, you can be grossed out or you can be amused, and experiencing it all through the abstracting distance of text makes it easier to be amused.

The context: you’re a test subject at a medical research laboratory. They’ve been giving you something that’s apparently expected to make you psychic. And then, all of the sudden, the world flips out and kills everybody. The page of text that you get when you die makes it clear that none of what you see is happening to you physically, but, as I’ve said about a couple of other games lately, it doesn’t seem to be just a hallucination. It’s more like a distorted echo of the past, or possibly a premonition of the future — but more likely the former, because the game establishes your ability to read psychic impressions from objects. You do this through the “concentrate” command, which is like an auxiliary “examine” (similar to “think about” or “scan”) that doesn’t work on everything, not even always things you’d expect it to work on, like corpses. Fortunately, you can also use “concentrate” without an object to get a general idea of what objects in your vicinity bear further investigation.

The “concentrate” command isn’t the only source of backstory here. There’s a lot — more than I could keep track of — communicated through notes and journal pages, which are scattered willy-nilly pretty thickly through the rooms. I remember when the scattered-journal-pages thing was being pioneered. I remember cheering it on, seeing it as extending the possibilities of the IF format, the kinds of story that could be told. By now, it’s been used so much, and sometimes so awkwardly, that it’s become mildly groanworthy. The author here at least mixes it up a bit, using alternatives like memos and newspaper clippings when possible. But if you think it’s possible to overdo this stuff, you’ll definitely think it’s overdone here.

If I have one other complaint with this game, it’s that it doesn’t have much awareness of what the player has seen and done. For example, sometimes a room would have several scraps of paper hidden in non-obvious places, and the command “get paper” would produce a disambiguation prompt that mentioned them all. Likewise, sometimes the response to “concentrate” mentioned objects I hadn’t found yet. OK, I suppose that this is appropriate for a psychic power, but the messages weren’t phrased in a way that acknowledged this; they’d just say stuff like “You sense something special about the brass key” as if I already knew there was a brass key. The very first scene, before the living nightmare begins, is essentially a tutorial in the “concentrate” command, in the form of a psychic test with Zener cards. When I went through this, I successfully concentrated on each of the cards, then deliberately gave the wrong answer — I saw no good reason to cooperate, and thought I might want to keep my abilities secret, and besides, I wanted to see how the game would handle it. At the end of the scene, the game basically came right out and told me that I could have passed the test if only I had thought to use the “concentrate” command.

I have yet to finish this game — at the two-hour mark, I was stuck in an unexpected time-limit scenario, trying to break out of the morgue before the tentacles got me.

Rating: 6

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