Pantomime / Robb Sherwin (2006)

review by Draal Ranger


" Why under mars?”

-All's Well That Ends Well, Shakespeare-

Pantomime, (lets say it three times for effect; Pantomime, Pantomime, Pantomime!) is another game by that third categorical text creator, Robb Sherwin. Conceived for and submitted to the 2006 Spring Thing Festival, it achieved third place. Why? Because he wasn't able to nudge his semi-comatose pack of rabid, forum mongers to vote for the game. That and a meandering splatter of various game ideas that didn't quite work out.

Were beginning on a negative!

We'll finish on an uplifting cloud of joy and sorrow!

Pantomime is (is? Most servently is!) a Douglas Adams dark humor motif. No.. This isn't a review for a book cover, so let's delve into that statement. The tone of the game is a fair representation of life; tone deaf, semi-ironical, taken one step at the time, and fairly insane. Compare and contrast towards a regular day of living and general bemusement for any human being; awake, coffee and food, /drive to work, /begin Job, /talk to various compatriots, /go home, /go to bed. That's how the story is represented; except it's occurring during the interesting bit between breakfast and going to work, where the phone rings and your informed that your entire family has been smeared across the road way by the unfortunate act of driving head long into an eighteen wheeler.

Truly, the only interesting events in life are when were forced to defend our pulsing egos from outside influence. Which is where this story begins; the main character is merely trying to indulge in the most comfortable position that has ever availed him; the companionship of a certain girl, who has rejected him. Except it's through a clone, a pantomime, that he finds his love ever bountiful. Which is promptly taken away... How? Play the game!

The HAHA of the story lies in this; that at any point it wouldn't be unreasonable for the protagonist (the guy were playing through the story), to simply walk away instead of hanging onto a precarious figment of his past. Pantomime is an oddly human story of control and comfort as opposed to growth and change.

And the game takes place on Phobos. Gotta remember that.

The game plays wonderfully to, except in places where we can tell Robb's day job was sapping his strength and commitment; the puzzles leave the player wondering how to advance. No large signs pointing to an alley, or subtle clues indicating a previously explored area. Consider the puzzles a long, unmarked hallway bridging the events of the game. And the actions made available are hedged in by the egos and personalities of the character. A vast depth of writing is explored, in exchange for a lessening of the player's investment in the direction Pantomime takes them.

Which would be fine, except our point of view becomes divergent from the characters; Victorian conceits, oddly square idioms, trap doors for the characters to fall through, rounded hedges instead of grey cloaks of fire, and an ending that is completely quarantined from the influence of the player. The only explanation is one of every single character in the game being completely insane, which is only hinted at in the off hand way of not being hinted at.

“ Robb should write a novel! It'd be wicked!”

A logical fallacy… So the story of Pantomime rumbles Phobos itself, while the “interactive” part of this Interactive Fiction is a dead body falling upon you from nowhere, and in the mad dash to get it off, is pushed off a steep cliff to splatter on the rocks below. Can you appreciate that the body was once a human being? No? And the interactive portion of Pantomime isn't really interactive aside from picking and choosing actions the characters decide are necessary.

It works though, mainly because you'll probably not think about it as much as I have. Unless you've read this review, wherein I say…


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