IFReviewed by Paul OBrian
on 2006-07-19 07:12
Strangers In The Night starts out with a cool premise: You are a vampire, and you awaken with a terrible thirst for blood. You must feed on at least three different victims (draining each only a little, so as not to arouse undue attention.) However, it's the summer solstice, the shortest night of the year, [The longest day, and therefore the shortest night. Thanks to Daphne Brinkerhoff for helping me through my apparently immense confusion on this issue. --Paul] and so you have only a limited time to slake your desires. Done well, this could be a sort of undead Varicella
, where with every iteration of the game you figure out more and more about how to satisfy your needs. Unfortunately, Strangers In The Night turns out to be more of an undead Fifteen
. You wander around an extremely minimally described cityscape (most rooms have no description at all) solving rudimentary puzzles, most of which just amount to unlocking a door, then walking in and typing "BITE <victim>". What little writing is present has some nicely gothic moments -- I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of the PC's apartment. On the other hand, it is also riddled with a goodly number of errors, including two in the first two sentences. Misspellings, plural/possessive errors, awkward phrasings -- they're all there.
Compounding this problem is a generous serving of bugs. The game credits no beta testers, and the lack of testing definitely shows. Some locations (restaurants and the like) are described as closed when they definitely (at least, according to the information you get from the doorman) should be open. My first time through the game I failed to find any victims before the sun came up, mostly because I was exploring the gridlike map to see if it was really as empty as it seemed, and as the sunrise approached the game started giving me warnings. This is great, although giving them EVERY SINGLE TURN NO MATTER WHAT I DO might be considered a little excessive. In addition, the warnings describe the sky getting pinker, etc., even when I'm inside locations like a dank night club or my own windowless apartment. Anyway, heeding the warnings I returned to my apartment and got back in bed, but when the sun came up, the game told me I was trapped where I didn't belong. It then helpfully chided me "Pity you never made it home." In addition, there are lots of spots where the game displays the default response abutting a specialized response. If this were an Inform game, I'd say the problem is a lack of "rtrue"s. I don't know what causes it in TADS, but I suspect it's something roughly equivalent. Here's an example:
>ask bouncer about bouncer
You have no interest in or use for the bouncerThe bouncer is in a rather
public place; that kind of interaction isn't advisable.Surely, you can't
think the bouncer knows anything about it!
After hitting a long stretch of bugs and writing errors, the novelty of the premise wears off pretty quickly.
It's that much more frustrating, really, because an IF game from the point of view of a vampire is just a really cool idea waiting to be done well. It just seems that nobody quite gets to it. Infocom had one in the planning stages before they folded. (It was to be written by Plundered Hearts author Amy Briggs). A guy named Sam Hulick made a big announcement that he was going to write one -- even got a piece of it included as an example in the Inform manual -- but it never materialized. Now there's Strangers In The Night, which definitely has some nice conceptual elements but whose execution (no pun intended) is sorely lacking. The vampire PC is so rife with possibilities -- it can have unusual goals and vulnerabilities, as demonstrated in this game. It can have unique modes of travel. It can allow the author to play with all sorts of interesting questions of moral ambiguity and complicity within the player/PC relationship. Even better, it gives the writer access to a wealth of popular and canonical allusions, and allows the kind of rich gothic writing practiced by Anne Rice and any number of Victorian writers. Frankly, I think it would be awesome. Hey, all you IF writers out there: write that great vampire game! I know it doesn't exist yet, but I very much want it to, because Strangers In The Night really got me itching to play it.
[I just reread this and something in the back of my mind said "Horror of Rylvania." I haven't played that game yet, and the only review I've ever seen was very brief. Somebody care to review it for SPAG so I know if it's what I'm looking for?]