IFComp 2010: Divis Mortis

Spoilers follow the break.

Well, here’s a game that’s had its thunder stolen. For the second time this Comp, I am a zombie, and this time around, it’s a more typical zombie-game experience: you wake up in a hospital to find yourself in the middle of a Romero-style (or Resident Evil-style) zombie apocalypse, with the groaning and the infectiousness and the headshots and all that. Now, the twist here is that the player character doesn’t know she’s a zombie: the treatments she was receiving in the hospital had the side-effect of restoring her mind, and if you survive to the end, your experiences provide the basis for a partial cure to the zombie plague. But the player character spends the game thinking of herself as a survivor, not a zombie, and acting accordingly: barricading doors, killing fellow zombies, etc. The player, on the other hand, is likely to figure it out before getting out of the first couple of rooms, because it’s foreshadowed pretty heavily. I mentioned in another review that this kind of dramatic irony can work well in horror stories, can make the audience dread the inevitable moment when the truth is finally brought to light and the protagonist’s eyes are fully open to the awful situation. But it didn’t work that way for me here. I felt no dread whatsoever. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because the coming revelation didn’t seem so bad — the worst part of the prospect of being a zombie is the idea of your will being subsumed to the point where you lose your identity, and you’ve already kicked that. It’s as if the revelation in Oedipus had been “You killed your father and had sex with your mother, but she’s really just your stepmother and not a blood relation, and actually your father was rushed to the hospital and is fine now.” He’d still have a few things on his conscience, but nothing eye-gougingly bad.

Now, I refer to the player character with feminine pronouns solely because the game brings in a wee crumb of romance with a male character at the very end. Before that, unless I missed something, there’s no indication of the PC’s gender, and even at the end, you could just as easily be male and gay. No time for sexually distinguishing activity when you’re in a life-or-death(-or-undeath) struggle, I suppose. It’s just striking, after all the hints about your true nature, that the endgame does contain an unexpected revelation after all. I have to wonder if it was intentional.

Beyond that, what we have here is a fairly satisfying bunch of object puzzles, mostly aimed at enabling exploration: you need a weapon, you need a light source, you need specific items to overcome specific obstacles. There’s a repeated gag of hiding the useful items among collections of non-useful items — for example, the various things on the shelves of a gift shop — where you only really pay attention to them when you know what you’re looking for. It’s not a bad way to handle the problem of presenting tools to the player in a natural-seeming way, but it’s done often enough here to stand out as a pattern.

Rating: 6

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