Posted by: Ben | October 25, 2014

if: Creatures Such As We

This is a review of Creatures Such As We, a web-based game by 2013 winner Lynnea Glasser, written in ChoiceScript.

The usual disclaimers apply:

  1. No misanthropy intended.

  2. Not your peer group.

  3. Grim = 1-3. Good = 4-7. Great = 8-10.

  4. Content warning: may contain content.

(My earlier review of the same author’s 2010 entry, Divis Mortis.)

In an imaginary future, factions of humans and undead zombies are engaged in a vicious civil war which is unlikely to lead to a satisfactory outcome for anybody. In another imaginary future, a socially awkward tour guide who was dissatisfied with said outcome is showing a team of game designers around the moon, while trying to mitigate some wretched treatment from their employer and squeeze in some gaming in their spare time. This is a good one.

The cast of characters might be typical of the sort of people one could expect to find working in game development (I wouldn’t know), but they also seem to be avatars of the creative process in the mind of one individual: so we have the charismatic lead designer, the transgressive writer, the flighty artist, the analytical coder and so on. Which makes it especially interesting to note it’s the publisher who turns out to be the outsider who spends most of his time vomiting and is suspected of bringing in a dangerous virus.

Any issues with the quality of the writing in the same author’s earlier work have been fimly put to rest, by the way.

While it’s a mostly linear story, there is a substantial degree of branching when it comes to choosing which characters to spend the most time with. With those exceptions, the majority of the decisions to be made were of the “how do you feel about this” variety. Characters practically lean out of the monitor to question the player about their interpretation of the text. This results in the slightly unnerving sensation of completing a questionnaire for somebody’s postgraduate research, and since I was playing online, I couldn’t help thinking that if player responses weren’t being collected, analysed and theorized on, it would be a missed opportunity.

I found the length to be well-judged, two hours being sufficient for one good playthrough followed a bit of messing about. I couldn’t find any way to undo decisions, which wasn’t a problem. It was hard to tell whether they were the “right” ones, though. Ought the sort of people who complain on forums about unsatisfactory endings to be derided as whiny point-missers or celebrated as co-creators of the narrative? It’s all about the Death of the Author, if that’s not too risqué a concept nowadays, and it looks, from a certain perspective, like the author choosing to accept their own symbolic mortality. The game-within-a-game even ended with the opportunity to type “happy” and get a happy ending, which might have been a punchline, but even then it wanted to know which of four different ways I felt about that. Relaxed, as it happens.

Rating: Great

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