Rereading what I wrote about Richard and Alice after having played Sepulchre, I’m slightly surprised I felt as negatively about it as I did, given that Sepulchre has a lot of the same issues and yet I feel much more warmly about it. Maybe it’s simply because Sepulchre didn’t depend on me giving an iota of a damn about One Of The Most Obnoxious Children in The World. Maybe it’s just shorter–a fifteen minute short story as opposed to Richard and Alice, which was padded out to be a novella. Maybe it’s just free. Maybe it’s just got better graphics–I’ve spoken appreciatively about Ben Chandler’s artwork before, and the look of the thing is exquisite compared to R&A.
It’s got just as much Adventure Game Crap–go to one side of the screen and do a thing, then go to the other side of the screen and do a thing, then go back to the first side of the screen and do a thing, and then cross over to the other side and do a thing–and the puzzles themselves are more busywork than anything enjoyable–but then, the game’s something like six, seven screens large and short enough that it stops before it can begin to wear out its welcome. The puzzles themselves are either literal lock-and-keys, give-thing-to-dude, or incredibly simple object manipulation. The hardest part of the game was realizing that I had to put whiskey in a flask rather than giving the bottle directly to the guy who wanted it. And there are so few things in the gameworld that click-every-thing-on-every-thing isn’t exactly, you know, a problem.
You know, it’s a short little spooooooooky horror story, one which owes a clear debt to Poe, to King, to Lovecraft, to Christie, but rather than coming off as an overused set of cliches, as the internet attempting to make a horror story, Raze ends up using some of the lesser-known themes and settings, or taking them from such an odd angle that it feels at once familiar and yet off.
Yes, you can probably see the ending coming if you’ve read a book, especially considering how laden with obvious dramatic irony much of the dialogue is. At one point, in response to being charged for a drink, the protagonist moans, “You’re burying me alive here!” One can imagine the bartender, muttering under his breath, Dude, shut up, there’s foreshadowing, and then there’s foreshadowing.
I don’t mind, actually–Raze is writing extraordinarily tightly here; pretty much every word and image serves a dual purpose. Most of the story is told through misdirection and implication–something fairly funny in light of several peoples’ complaints about the little expository speech the main character gives about himself at the beginning, which may or may not be completely incorrect.
It’s the kind of thing you play once, with a decent idea of where the thing’s going but a few bits stay unresolved; you play a second time, and most of the bits fall into place and you notice bits of foreshadowing you didn’t before; maybe you’ll give it a third time and figure out, you know, why he names the paper dog Sam (something which is either utterly meaningful or something I’m reading too much into), or perhaps what exactly the Grub is intending to say to you.
There’s some deeper stuff in there, and the game’s so short, particularly once you know what to do, that digging for them–Ssh, says the bartender, don’t give it away!–becomes one of those Fun And Rewarding Experiences that we engage with narrative games for in the first place. You’ll see it advertised as horror, but it’s more properly Weird Fiction, but, you know, it’s October, and we can all use a cold night where we end a story with a vague chill down our spine or whatever.
Yeah, I think I really liked this one.