"'Mewling pisswank,' I chime in amicably." - FoD

Fallacy of Dawn, by Robb Sherwin (***1/2)

Alright, first of all, let's get this part out of the way, for those of you who are still scoring at home, despite the fact that nobody's written anything on this website in three months, and I personally have not written anything anywhere in like three years:

Chicks Dig Jerks: Begins in seedy bar, moves swiftly to cemetary.
A Crimson Spring: Begins in seedy bar, moves swiftly to cemetary.
Fallacy of Dawn: Begins in sushi bar, moves swiftly to morgue.

Let me be the first to say that it's nice to see Robb Sherwin finally break out of that rut.

In fact, I am rather exaggerating that plot description, as a sushi bar and a morgue are only two of the nutty, crazy places that Robb takes you on this journey through "New Haz", which is an IF recreation of a fictional (or perhaps real -- I'm far too busy to get out an Atlas to look at a map of Colorado) town near Fort Collins. I am pretty sure Fort Collins is real, based on a report from Dave Barry stating that it is the home of 200 human gonads, sitting dormant (we hope) in a freezer at Colorado State University. Unfortunately, these gonads are not featured prominently in the game. Perhaps this will provide Robb with the creative "spark" to get him rolling on his next project. So we'll have that to look forward to.

Fallacy of Dawn is, by my count, Robb Sherwin's third major effort in the IF world, and in case you're just reading this review to get the "gist" of the game, so you can "download" it and then get "laughed at" by your "friends" because you're still playing "text games", let me make this clear right now: It is so much better than anything he's done previously that if you experienced even a mild whiff of enjoyment from any of his past stuff, this is nearly required reading. In fact, I'd hazard a wager that if you're even reading this review, you've already started playing it. But humor me. I'm just getting back into the reviewing business. Don't trample on my resurging enthusiasm, you unfeeling worm.

That said, the fact that you probably have already started playing it is, if anything, the game's greatest weakness, in that while every Sherwin game seems to be exponentially more well-conceived and well-implemented than the previous effort, each game seems to want to play to a narrower and narrower audience base. Fallacy of Dawn, in fact, tends to feel like it was written primarily for the group of people who had enough to do with it that they ended up in the credits. Fortunately, I was one of those people, so I enjoyed the game to its fullest. But in case you're not on that hallowed list, let me describe the basic premise of the game. From this you should be able to deduce whether it would click with you or not. Unless I can't write good no more:

You are Delarion Yar, notorious "hacker" of the near future (that's the "bad kind" of hacker that they used to talk about in the '80s, not the "good kind" of hacker that only good hackers talk about amongst themselves while not going on dates.) You were in the business of breaking copyright protection schemes and pirating software until some folks took exception to your routine[s], captured you, did freaky stuff to your gulliver, and dropped you in New Haz, a town which doubles as a holding cell for miscreants and scuzballs. Your only goal is to get the hell outta there, and you'll need money to do it. With only a failing memory and two trusty cohorts to guide you, you embark on your adventure through the town, during which you'll meet up with lots of original, eccentric characters, all of whom you must manipulate to find the means to your desired end. New Haz is a dark, endlessly gritty, dank, and unpleasant place. Nobody who's there seems to be happy to be there. But everyone who's there, and I mean everyone, seems to know a whole motherfawking hell of a lot about...

Old video games.

Now, I know that I've jokingly referred to the author as Robb "Old Colecovision Cartidges" Sherwin before, but my man has really outdone himself. If you ever had an arcade, console, or PC game you ever really loved, or more likely, really hated, chances are it's mentioned somewhere in this game. In-jokes jump out of the walls like them enemy Joust birds jumped out of those platforms. See, it's contagious. And if you even catch 1/4 of the references in this game, it's hilarious. I think I was batting about .250 myself, but after awhile you start to sort of fill in the holes. But this serves as fair warning: If you can't picture a Crystal Castles board, and if you don't sport a snicker at the very mention of Custer's Revenge, some of this game will be tough going for you.

Then again, given the kind of people that have even a vague awareness of IF, the audience probably isn't that narrow after all.

Nerdy references, fortunately, make up only a percentage (albeit a relatively large one) of the rocking good time to be found within. As one (particularly me) has come to expect, the game is rife with the neo-jargo-slang language I'm almost ready to start calling "Sherwinian". Powered by this particular dialect, the dialogue is consistently vibrant, snappy, and fresh. And aside from the stylistic considerations, a lot of this stuff is just hilarious. I actually laughed while playing this game. And I almost never do that with computer games. Then again, how funny can Minesweeper be, really.

The story moves swiftly, and I never found myself bored, and rarely found myself slowed down. New Haz is a big place, and there's plenty to do, and a lot of it can be done out of order (and some of it doesn't have to be done at all), but the game does a nice job of gently guiding you through the game world, suggesting where you might want to go next, never letting you get too far astray from the path to your fate. I like that. An IF game should be a narrative, first. A roomful of toys is never as compelling as one well-told story.

The structure of the story itself is nothing particularly new, and in fact the overall theme is uncannily reminiscent of one other IF game that I can think of, the name of which I will write here, but in white font, so you have to intentionally highlight it to look at it. I wouldn't look at it, though, until you're done with the game. Otherwise it might actually count as a spoiler. Ready? Here it is: "Delusions". But as the wise man once said, all the stories have already been told, it's just a matter of how well you tell them. So, this one was told pretty well.

On the technical front, we have some of the parser and consistency glitches which always seem to tag along as Robb furthers his IF career. However, I know he's in the process of working hard to fix most of these, so I won't bother harping on them.

Music has, thankfully, been excluded from this game. I mentioned in my ACS review that I felt that the soundtrack was cute, but a distraction, and its absence was greatly appreciated this time around. The visuals find the hand-drawn art replaced by treated photographs, and while an obviously great amount of work was done collecting and crafting these photos, I found myself rarely even looking up to see them. In fact, New Haz is far more vividly drawn in my mind than it's shown in those pictures. I only really bothered to look up when there was an attractive young woman in the frame. Thankfully, there were several of these. And you know who you are. Did I mention that I am a non-smoking financially stable single attractive male with a great sense of humor? Excellent.

So there you have it. With more positives and less negatives than any game Robb has put out previously, FoD is also a significantly more complete work, with a wholly conceived world of places, things, and people to interact with, all within the bounds of a fully realized, sweeping narrative. As a long-time friend and admirer of the man, I cannot help but feel a sense of pride as I see Robb honing his creative talents more and more with each step. The fact that his new creation is also a hell of a good time is just gravy on top. But as always, the best part about a Robb Sherwin game is that you cannot help but feel -- know -- that he had a friggin' blast making it.

You're just joining in on the fun.