IFReviewed by Andrew Plotkin on 2006-06-25 08:06
Now this doth please me very much. A genuinely creepy piece of science fiction (not "horror") set in an isolated Arctic biological research lab. Your memory is gone -- you do not know who you are -- but you have a strange ability to pick up memories of past events, imprinted on objects. So you move around the game, learning more about the laboratory and what has happened there.
I think the word that comes to mind is "integration". Everything in this game fits together. The station is plausibly designed as a research facility, but also forms the structure of the puzzles and the plot. Your imprint-reading ability and its effects are the keystone of the plot, but they also are the mechanism through which the background and storyline are revealed to the player. The devices and tools you find are the equivalent of magic spells in a fantasy game, but they make perfect sense in a lab. The atmosphere is both frightening -- creeping through darkened halls -- and realistic -- an underground facility low on power.
(Speaking of darkness, this game demonstrates the use of darkness without resorting to a flat "It is pitch black." There are many dim areas, which conceal secrets until you can find light, but which are still navigable. And you are scared of the dark.)
There are several characters, seen only in flashback -- an old but effective technique; the imprint-reading episodes are "cut scenes", uninteractive but full of dialogue, the best way to define character. The added gimmick in this game is that one of the characters must be you, but you have no memory of which it is.
There is no way to lose or get stuck or run out of time, but again, Babel demonstrates that you can have the emotional effect without using classic IF limits. The power is slowly failing throughout the game, with periodic warnings; but it does not actually fail during play. I felt hurried by the warnings, and afraid I would run out of time, but it did not prevent me from winning.
The puzzles were mostly very good -- well integrated, as I said. A couple may have been too obscure. (The cabinet and the exit combination in particular.) But these are minor problems.