IFReviewed by Andrew Plotkin on 2006-06-25 08:52
This is a great game in the classic form: exploring, playing with machines, triumphant ending. It's set present-day, and either conspiracy-theory SF or mainstream, depending on how seriously you take that worldview. :) On a stormy night, you and your nerd-ufo-nut-boss stumble across an industrial plant, whose inhabitants seem to have stolen a shipment of Mysterious Technology. Your boss insists that you investigate...
The game is solid in about every respect. The puzzles are interesting, and reasonably well integrated. Once you grant a plant-ful (plus a warehouse or two) of wacky machines, the rest is easy; and most of it involves real-world, intuitively meaningful physics. There was a certain feeling that the puzzles dominated, in the sense that absolutely everything in the game was related to one puzzle or another. Not out of place, although a few things were a bit strained, but you knew you were going to get back to every object before the end.
I solved everything without checking the walkthrough, although with a couple of nudges from the boss, the walking hint-nudger. (He gives suggestions when you seem to be stuck. I'm not sure of the code behind this, but it seems to work, because I never got a hint when I wasn't stuck.)
The player is skillfully guided through the plot. You witness expository scenes as you explore, always in the distance (so you can't interfere) and perfectly believable as things that would be happening around the plant. (The map and plot are carefully shaped to each other to make this work. Some puzzles also become solvable only after you've seen certain scenes, keeping the plot synched up, and this is also well-integrated.) Complicated puzzle-solutions don't have to be repeated, as there's usually a way back once you've gotten to an area. In fact, the last time I saw this kind of broad yet well-guided exploration game, I was praising Riven. Kudos.
(Footnote: In describing "Mother Loose", I used the term "Unnkulian" to describe a game where you have to look behind, under, and through everything without motivation or focus. Obviously that doesn't describe this game. Don't mind me, I rarely keep grudges for more than ten years. :)
The underlying storyline is reasonable; no surprises, but good pacing up to a climactic scene. Clever foreshadowing (mmm, stormy night.) The writing is okay, though maybe a bit mechanical also -- the descriptions were fine, but the hundred-foot-high rooms didn't feel any larger than the ventilation ducts, if you see what I mean. It wasn't a big problem; the dark stormy road was vivid enough.
No characters as such. Your boss is essentially static, tagging around behind you and emitting a small range of meaningless actions, with just a few flashes of actually being interesting. There's a dog, who's fine as far as dogs go, which isn't that far. Heh.