If this review were anything like the game, you would have died four times before the end of this sentence.
It’s not as bad as it sounds, though. In fact, it helps set the perfect mood at the beginning. This thing opens in a really dark place. You’re a nameless farmer whose entire world is decaying around him, body and soul, through the poisonous attack of some mysterious dark pestilence. So like a boss he decides to go do something about it.
That little description doesn’t do justice to the surprising vividness with which it’s portrayed. I’m not kidding. This blighted world practically seeps right out of your screen in a cloud of noxious vapor.
The minimalist black-and-white drawings might not look like much at first glance, but add some nice lighting and fog, ominous music and crisp sound effects and they really come to life. They remind me of this book of horror stories that everybody had when we were kids. You know, that one with the picture of the corpse woman that scared the hell out of every child in America.
The game itself is sort of a hybrid. Not really a point-and-click, even though you do interact with objects and solve a few little puzzles; and despite being driven mostly by text-based decisions it’s not quite a choose-your-own-adventure either, since there’s a good bit of non-linear exploration to be done.
What really stood out, though–and I wasn’t expecting this at all–was the emotional arc that the game follows.
To say that you start off in pretty dire straits is an understatement. They sketch a portrait of a thoroughly beaten man who’s about T-minus half a day from just lying down in weary defeat and withering away to dust with everything else. The writing here is simple but its flat, gray tone is very effective in conveying a state of mind beyond even desperation, to the point where you can feel real despair. It’s kind of scary; and in a game with no other living people to defeat or save that actually created a surprising amount of motivation all on its own.
Maybe it’s divine intervention, or maybe he summons the will to fight from some last, hidden well of inner strength; but he takes a step, and then another. And as the player at first it all seems futile; everywhere you turn you find only death. At some point, though, you see a little success and it sparks a glimmer of hope. Before you know it you settle into an adventure which carries you through to the end. When you finally triumph, you feel a sense not only of victory, but almost of purification, like you clawed your way out the vilest swamp imaginable into the sunlight of a spring morning.
That’s how it felt to me, at least. Pretty compelling stuff.
As epilogue to all this, I finally read the whole store descripion after finishing it. The author claims it was “inspired by experiences of depression and addiction,” and I believe him. It definitely carries a certain weight that seems to propel it beyond mere plot into the realm of allegory.
Maybe I should have known that ahead of time, but what can I say. When I see “free” it’s download first and ask questions later.