IFComp 2019: Summer Night City

Here we have a lightly choice-based work about someone who doesn’t have many choices and has to make the most of the few he has. A political prisoner of a brutal dictator, he saw too much, and so his sight was taken away. Then, for reasons that initially baffle him, he’s put to work as a bartender.

The story that follows is one of signalling and distrust, of trying to discern who’s a member of a revolutionary group trying to contact him and who’s a government agent using him to identify members of the revolutionary group. In this, he doesn’t have a lot to go on. A regular customer repeatedly states that he “has no confidence today”, then orders straight rum; he does this day after day, then one day suddenly declares that he’s found his confidence, and orders a daiquiri. What does it mean? That’s the kind of thing we’re dealing with here.

The player isn’t really expected to interpret these clues without the player character’s help, though, and it’s a good thing, because the logic too often feels like it skips a few steps, and slides too easily from supposition to certainty. It’s a little frustrating, because the scenario feels like it would be a good one for exercising the puzzle-brain, if it weren’t for the lack of ways for a watched and guarded prisoner to verify his findings. On top of that, the player character is so cagey and suspicious that even his narration to the player circles around pertinent details and makes you feel like you have to figure out clues to understand him — it took me quite a few pages to understand that he’s blind.

At one point, a crucial decision about whether you get a premature ending or go on to the final chapters is made via a choice of “So” or “But?” all by themselves. This is emblematic of the work’s approach to information.

In the very end (in some of the endings), there’s one outright information-based puzzle, where he finally trusts you to put together some of the pieces. It came as a relief to figure something out, but it also seemed almost out of place.

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