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5 Stars IFReview Rating The Cave of Morpheus

IFReviewed by Paul OBrian on 2006-07-20 09:04 

Game Profile

Author
Mark Silcox

Idiom
English

Authoring System
Adrift

Release Year
2001

IFR Overall Rating
5 Stars IFR Overall Rating
Separator
Ah, another IF competition begins. There's nothing quite like unzipping that big pile o' games, firing up the random list generator, and diving into the first offering. Of course, the thing about diving is that you may find the water a bit less pleasant than you had anticipated. There's a misspelling on the first screen. The game engine doesn't recognize the "script" command. [I figured out later that there's a "start transcript" command from the menu, whose functionality is happily improved from last year. I'll keep it in mind for the next ADRIFT game I play.] Oh yes, and then there's the wonderfully opaque ADRIFT parser:

WEAR CLOTHES
Wear what?

CLOTHES
Wear what?

AAARGH! CLOTHES! C-L-O-T-H-E-S! IF YOU DON'T RECOGNIZE THE WORD,
JUST SAY SO!
Wear what?

It's not that The Cave of Morpheus is untested. The author's notes claim that the game "has been beta-tested fairly extensively", and I can believe it. Sadly, though, the testing cycles didn't quite catch all the problems, whether they be with voice ("I slap the palm of your hand"), room descriptions full of dialogue that repeats on every "LOOK" command, or glitchy parser trouble that leads to output like this:

GET ALL
I pick up the library book and

Okay, enough bitching about the bugs. TCOM is a college game, combined with that wonderfully flexible genre, the nightmare story. Because much of the game's action takes place in dreamspace, you're not to take it amiss that, for example, you're naked and can't find any clothes in your own dorm room. Of course, once you see the game comment on the PC's penis, then dream or no dream, your reaction may be the same as mine: "Ew." When that comment turns out to be an extended metaphor about drooping flags... well, double ew. TMI aside, there are a few other strangenesses about the design, but the dreamlike setting makes it hard to know whether they're intentional or not. For example, there appears to be some random combat, and it can indeed kill you. All that's necessary to survive is to run away, but as a player, I was still left asking, "What was up with that?" I never really found out.

Inexplicably, the game is split into two files, and right about the start of the second one, I thought it was about to take off into something really cool. The PC plays Crowther and Woods' Adventure on his laptop, commenting along the way like so:

X BIRD
{You scratch your head. This Crowther 550 thing is getting weirder
and weirder. What the hell would a bird be doing hanging out in a
Colossal underground cave? And if it did find itself there, what
reason would it have to be happy??...}

"Wow!" I thought. What a neat concept -- a mini-implementation of Adventure, but seen through the eyes of a particular character, thus shedding light on both the game and the character. Sadly, it turns out that this cool idea wasn't the idea the game had in mind. Rather than a mini-implementation, the Adventure section is a very long non-interactive passage, one of those dismal IF moments where it doesn't matter at all what you type; the game keeps choosing your actions even if you just sit there hitting Enter, waiting for a chance to actually do something again. The interplay between character and game still happens, but it feels rather ironic to have interactivity completely removed just as the game is paying homage to a seminal example of interactive text. There are some pleasures available in TCOM -- the character of Alice is nicely delineated, and I found the PC's relationship with her quite believable. The spiraling, repetitive structure of the game made for some effective scenes, and the notion of some idealized version of Willie Crowther as Virgil to the PC's Dante is well worth exploring. Though these gems are embedded deep within a bland setting and an unfriendly implementation, their simple existence makes me look forward to the author's next game.

Paul OBrian Profile

Name Paul OBrian
Gender Male

This IFReviewer IFReviews

- 1-2-3...
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- The Last Just Cause
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