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IFComp 2010: One Eye Open, by Colin Sandel and Carolyn VanEseltine

This is the twenty-fifth game I am reviewing in the 16th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition. There needs to be some text here so that when Facebook links to it it doesn't include bits of the actual review. And thus it is that I say: Depth perception is tricky, and putting a bar in the middle of an Ames's Window will totally screw with your head.

I am going to scream now, and no force on earth will stop me. I've played The Blind House and The Warbler's Nest and Leadlight in rapid succession and I am as creeped out as I am going to get even without wandering around after a test and finding that everybody's dead, most of them particularly gruesomely.

The game mostly has a high level of polish, with deep implementation, some good key-management and fiddlier but clearly intentionally crafted note-management, technical correctness, and an overall effectively visceral style. It started to wear on me after a while, but that's a problem horror often has: the dial doesn't actually go up to 11, and eventually the reader gets acclimated to grotesquery: "Oh, another flayed corpse, with its viscera suspended from the ceiling. Does this one have a key or a clue?" There were parts that were authentically revolting, particularly the second floor, and the genre style is consistent, with heavy body-horror and biological contamination elements (kind of like what When Machines Attack wanted to be, I think).

Despite all of these plaudits, this game has some significant problems. The note-management is, as mentioned above, fiddly, and in a lot of rooms the disambiguation is surprisingly harder than it seems like it should be. The hints are inadequate, and I'd have much preferred puzzle-context or even item-context clues to room-contextualized hints, which are often unclear. Also, it's too damn long for the Comp, it seems. There's a lot to explore and getting an optimal ending would almost certainly take more than 2 hours.

My own playthrough was definitely suboptimal, some of which was my fault. It wasn't obvious to me that the focus command was useful past the prologue, so I guess I missed a lot. I wasn't even clear on the chronology: in spite of all the notes from the 70s, I assumed that what I was encountering was near-future, that I was Ian, and that the prologue was also in the 70s (despite the plentiful clues of chronological weirdness, like the references to American Beauty and cellphones). Nonetheless, I saw enough of the game, I think, to get a good impression both of its strengths and its missteps.

Rating: 8

Tags: if, ifcomp 2010
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