Saturday, March 14, 2015

Lockdown, by Richard Otter

This is a game about someone who has just gone on a shooting spree. They're faced with the consequences, but there's still one more thing to do. The question: what?

It wasn't really clear to me at first. I figured it was some sort of experiment, but it's tough to put everything together. The main character's job is to figure why his experiment has gone wrong, or he can't show people his breakthrough. I confess I'm very confused why the game starts at 2 AM. It makes me wonder how long the dead people were there for, and why you didn't do things sooner, or why the SWAT team didn't break in sooner. This makes a bad first impression re: realism.

My first play-through, I got locked into the Control Room with no way out. The walkthrough has a typo--you need to go east twice at one point--but it made sense when I looked at it. I don't think the energy rod was well-clued, but at least you could TAKE ALL to plow through it. At that point it becomes a bit Rube Goldberg-y for me, and I figured you have to push a bunch of buttons, but actually getting the rod and crystal in place didn't work. Maybe this is me rushing things. After all, I only did X LIST and not READ LIST until later. Perhaps the hints could poke you to do that before giving the full walkthrough?

This was an awkward game to play through but my impression was that it didn't mean to be this awkward. Perhaps another reason was that I'd played another game this person wrote, Again and Again, and I remember a lot of similar phrases and was trying hard to reconcile the humorous tone of that game with the far more serious tone here. And while I hate being grammar police, the lack of commas made me picture the dialogue flashbacks as far more flippant than they were meant to be. I also found the player's internal tone to be a bit too smug, while Leadlight (disclosure: the author, Wade Clarke, is a friend and I tested his game) captured the whole just letting things out there a lot better. In this case, it feels like an author who's disposed to humor is trying a serious tone and just missing the mark. The solution here is to have a lot of critical testers--oh, and don't let the killer take a victim's panties? And refer to "a receptionist" as something more? Even the receptionist whose name you didn't mention? I think stuff like the diamond ring you search and find on the receptionist is potentially the right sort of creepy, and you don't want to give too much detail--but as is, it feels disbelievable.

I think there are a few ways to go about doing this better. The introduction could mean more. Perhaps build a stronger story with each body you examine. I'd have liked a way to turn myself in, or at least a stern reject of why I can't unlock the office or don't want to. And I think a lot of parsercomp games will have neat tweaks to make them better, but this felt like it fell far short of its emotional potential--while Sunrise upset me, it outlined some scenarios and its flashbacks gave me something to wrestle with. This feels splashed out there, and X-ing various people, well, they're just there, and the protagonist hates everyone, and it feels sort of emo. I don't know--even providing the player with hints like "How'd this experiment go" or "You're bumbling around like X did" might hit the right tone of self-righteousness for the character.

So I think this experiment didn't work, and I'd like some way to sympathize with anyone here beyond "the protagonist's experiment failed." Maybe his small successes were ignored? He was teased around the office? Maybe people around the office weren't total monsters, but something earlier affected him?

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