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8 Stars IFReview Rating Shadows on the Mirror

IFReviewed by Emily Short on 2006-08-01 04:03 

Game Profile

Chrysoula Tzavelas


Authoring System

Release Year

IFR Overall Rating
8 Stars IFR Overall Rating
Played to Completion: Yes, several times
Number of Saves: 2
Rating: 8

After Risorgimento and Gourmet, I was in the mood for something more or less puzzleless, and I had reason to think this might be the ticket. And I was right. It made a really nice break from the other sort of game. Good timing, that.

I'm always intrigued by conversation games written by other people, because it gives me a chance to see, sort of, what my own might be like for someone who didn't write them. Kathleen Fischer's recent Redemption gathered mixed reviews: some people really liked it, but it didn't quite click for me, in particular because I could never get the last two points no matter what I tried. Shadows is a bit more forgiving; there aren't such narrow opportunities for you to stumble on the right thing to say, and as far as I can tell, once you've reached the park all further conversation is untimed and only affects what Galen feels toward you. I also liked the fact that if I reused a conversation topic on which there was no more content, I got back a summary of what had been said so far; that's an interesting approach, which neatly answers both the need to be able to recall already-said conversation, and the desire to avoid a repeato-bot NPC. Galen also had a nice spectrum of flinches, gazes, dark looks, and moody silences with which to ward off my more impertinent questions.

The pacing and difficulty level seemed right, though this kind of game is hard to tune, and other people might have had a different experience than I did. I failed entirely the first several times I played, but each time I failed, I learned some piece of information that offered me a new direction. Replay, replay... then I hit an ending that didn't quite please me perfectly, but it wasn't a total disaster. Replay some more... and finally I wound up with something that seemed like an actual win (and said "You win", so I guess I was right...). The timing of the ride provided a sort of shape to the game; at first I wasn't sure I liked the effect, but I think ultimately it was better to replay than it would have been to sit in the car endlessly thrashing around for ideas. Better to start over and thrash anew? Yes, somehow, I think it was, because this way gave it a sense of urgency. Replaying the early bits of the game refreshed my memory about those exchanges and always gave me a new idea about where to go with things.

All that said, there were a bunch of things that confused me. From the references to my PC's power, I thought I might be using them to get myself out of there; but it turned out that I couldn't even use the verb "focus", though it seemed to be associated with my abilities. And I was told I had some kind of power over computers, but I couldn't do much of anything with the car's control panel, and the stereo, though perfectly functional, didn't respond to me in any unusual ways either. Likewise, from the game's title and the ominous message you get when you examine it, I expected the mirror to be important in some special way (as an alternate focus? A source of information?), and I never got it to do anything. So that was a bit frustrating. I realize that the point of the game was to achieve something else entirely, but as the player, I didn't initially know that. It would have been nice if the game had recognized some of those attempts and explained why they wouldn't work, directing my attention back to the conversational interaction.

I wish I'd come out of this understanding more. I have some general outlines of the story pretty clear: that grandfather is the villain, that he souped me up with these powers, that I can use computers in an unusual way, that somehow I can slip between dimensions (whatever that means), that the necklace and the cuff are endowed with special restraining powers, that Galen was unwillingly under his control-- I get all that. But the other stuff? With the entities that I see in daylight, and the tiny feather in the pendant? What's all that about? I'm curious.

Maybe, despite my intentions and the fact that I ultimately "won", I could have extracted more information from the game by doing something that I didn't think of. There was a bug, and I assume this has to do with the newness of T3, but the built-in hint menu and walkthrough didn't work for me. (I was playing on HyperTADS 1.37, in Classic mode under Mac OS X.) It would set the menu up properly at first, but then when I selected anything, the top banner (the part that said MENU, press U for UP and so on) would vanish, and the bottom portion of the menu would remain in place as though I hadn't clicked anything. So I couldn't see hints at all. I guess it's just as well, since, not having any hints, I did manage to get through the game to a winning ending, and it was a good deal more satisfying to do that way than it would have been otherwise. (Actually, now that I've seen the hints elsewhere, I'm not sure that they would have revealed any more knowledge than I was able to get out of the game on my own.)

Finally, Galen felt a little bit flat and unfinished to me. As a thing to explore and interact with, the conversation worked pretty well, I thought -- as I said, I kept finding out just enough information to bring me back again for another try, and in due course I got to an acceptable ending, and I still cared enough to keep poking it until I arrived at a good ending. And those are all positive signs. At the same time, there are hints of the PC's personality -- the goofy glasses, the RPG dice, her mental commentary on objects and the conversation -- that don't seem to have any corresponding elements in Galen. (Unless, of course, you can read a lot about him from his choice in underwear.) Granted, he's the stoic, untalkative sort, and there's not a lot of time to waste chit-chatting about your favorite books and movies, or whatever. But for all that, I came away with a backstory, but not a very good sense of his personality. I see he has a basic streak of decency and a strong dislike for your grandfather; I see he resents your lame boyfriend; I see has interesting powers. I can read all the signs that say "Basically Good Guy" and "Romantic Potential Here". Yet he's mostly a cipher, and even the winning ending doesn't seem to really open up that door. Actually, in that respect, one of the not-quite-winning endings is almost more satisfying, because it shows him in a more playful mood, varying the tonality a little.

If his characterization had been a little stronger, I would've loved this game. As it is, I liked it pretty well. And over the course of writing these comments, I've reopened it several more times, just to check out new avenues.

(Sidenote: as I write these, I find that I am spending the largest amount of time talking about the flaws in the games that I liked. Please don't take it personally. I feel obliged to mention them, but I wouldn't be going on so long if I weren't basically in favor.)

Emily Short Profile

IFReviewer Rating
10 Stars IFReviewer Overall Rating

Name Emily Short
Gender Female

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