SHADE By Andrew Plotkin (2000)
Reviewed by Eric Mayer
(For what it is worth, I wrote this review right after playing the game and before I knew its author was Andrew Plotkin, whose HUNTER IN DARKNES was, for me, the most enjoyable game of the 1999 Comp. I mention this because, had I known who the author was I would've suspected, immediately that the game was something more than it seemed to be at the outset which I suppose would've diluted the effect.)
So I'm sitting in a boring apartment waiting for a taxi. Feels like a plain old I have-nothing-to write-about-but-I-must-code and whoopie-the-refrigerator-really-opens IF game. I was about to explain how, after a few of these, opening a verbal refrigerator isn't any more exciting than opening a real one but then...well. . .how do I review this without spoiling it?
Let's just say -- stuff happens. And how!
You're on rails mostly, but the ride's exciting. This is a story in which you find yourself involved, rather than an actual game. A well crafted story. There's a seemingly meaningless event near the beginning, for instance, that, by the end is only too meaningful.
Well, look...is there anybody going to be reading this that doesn't know what basically happens in this game? (If so, go back! Go back!)
This event was the sound of a helicopter going overhead,outside your window, seemingly a random, meaningless happening, but it has some resonance by the end if you figure you've become lost in the desert and it was the search copter that never spotted you.
As a player I have one criticism although almost everything you have to do to advance the story is well clued the one action you must take to really get events rolling, so far as I could tell, isn't clued very well, if at all. Most players might find the action obvious but I would think the action you need to perform to actually start the story should be made so clear that even an IF Idiot like me can't miss it!
This ties in to the first of two observations I have from a writer's standpoint which is that the game begins so "obviously" as a typical this-is-my-apartment coding exercise that there is really little incentive for the player to fiddle with it long enough to trigger the real game. The author takes advantage of the fact that, as players, we will tend to mess around with a boring game for awhile just because it is there. So, OK, that's part of the point -- this time, but it does highlight a problem with
a lot of IF, my own small effort definitely included, in that we too often expect players to humor us and trudge around opening refrigerators and such rather than putting them right into a story.
My second niggle is that the game/story continues on a little too long after it has become obvious to the player/reader what's happening and this dissipates the overall effect. How many objects have to turn into sand before you know damn well that everything is going to turn into sand? Not many, I think. How many players really expect that something different is going to happen with the fourth or fifth object? If the path up to the climax, and the climax itself, had both been shortened the impact would have been even greater. It is a good rule to make your point, hit the reader with your climax, and then get out. Niggles aside, SHADE is a very
enjoyable and original bit of work.
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