IFComp 2020: Shadow Operative

Now this is what I call an Adventure Game. The very first thing that happens is that the player character, a master hacker, menaced by corporate thugs, is forced to flee across the city sky on a stolen hoverbike. After that, it’s all about pulling a daring data heist in cyberspace playgrounds. This is cyberpunk in wish-fulfillment mode. Last year’s Comp saw more than one thoughtful cyberpunk piece that asked hard questions about technology and society, extrapolating things to nightmarish extremes. Shadow Operative has you uncover some secrets that make a throwaway gesture in that direction, but it’s basically all about the power fantasy of doing what you want while powerful people try and fail to stop you.

It uses the Vorple library to provide a hybrid parser/hypertext interface, with a big menu of verbs on the left side. It’s reminiscent of the UI in some of the games by Legend Entertainment, and, just like in those games, I found I preferred to type in commands most of the time — the exception being clicking on object names in the output text to examine them.

I don’t think the resemblance to Legend’s UI is coincidental, either: the two cyberspace sequences reminded me a bit of Gateway, even pulling one of the same tricks, letting you complete a mission too easily only to discover afterward that you’re still in the sim. Cyberspace in this game takes the form of shared fantasy worlds: you get one D&D-ish medieval fantasy and one Samurai fantasy, little mini-adventures that aren’t under the same obligation of in-world plausibility as their cyberpunk frame. They’re still in basically the same mold as the frame-story, but a little more self-aware.

It keeps the pace brisk and does what it sets out to do. My only complaint is that there are some menu-based conversations where you have only one option of what to say, prompts without interactivity.

2 Comments so far

  1. RavenWorks on 6 Oct 2020

    The second-to-last paragraph seems to be cut off (“basically in the same mold as the”?)

  2. Carl Muckenhoupt on 7 Oct 2020

    Not sure how that happened! Fixed now.

Leave a reply