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IFCOMP 2005 - Amissville II

Game #2: Amissville II, by Santoonie Corporation
Played On: 10/03/2005 (7:55 PM to 8:40 PM and 9:00 PM to 10:45 PM)
Unofficial Score: 3.5 (4.0 base with -0.5 skew)

     The second game on my random list was one of two that I beta-tested (Chancellor). I plan to play the competition release and review it too, but I’ll move it to the end. That bumps Amissville II up to be next in line.

     The Santoonies did a decent job last year with Zero. All things considered, that game ended up low on my list, yet I still had fun with it. I liked the concept, and it was a good game. I gave it an unofficial 6.0.

     Compare this to Amissville II. It’s the sequel to a game the Santoonies seem quite proud of. For all the effort claimed in the credits, I would have expected a polished masterpiece. At the very least, I would have expected one or two of them to have some experience using the English language. I’ve only played Zero, but that was enough to give me better expectations for this year’s entry.

     The game starts well enough, putting the player among simulated Santoonies at the Amissville campsite. One guy has separated himself from the group, on a trip into town for some fast food. The others are busy with chores of their own. I didn’t realize until later that the build-up had me expecting something like The Blair Witch Project -- a small group, camping in the woods at night, finds that evil is closing in.

     That’s not Amissville II. At least, that’s not the first two and a half hours of it. Initial exploration goes fine, provided you don’t look too closely and you don’t stray more than a room or two from the starting point. Before I gave up, my high hopes had turned to simple optimism, shrinking to a growing suspicion, then to budding frustration, and finally to a dismal realization that the game is nearly – if not entirely – unplayable. It might be Santoonie tradition to leave players stuck without a walkthrough, but this left me without the ability to write a review based on the entire game. I couldn’t even find the hints that were reportedly available at the Santoonie website.

     If bad grammar, poor spelling and faulty writing in general had been the worst of it, Amissville II might still have been redeemed by its story. I can’t say for certain that the game even has a story. It seems more like a collection of elements and communal experiences meaningful only to the Santoonies themselves. Lacking a plot, it could have been saved by solid gameplay and clever puzzles. However, the game itself is so severely broken that playing to completion seems impossible.

     The bug report alone could take up pages. I’ll skip all but a few examples. After all, my suggestion last year that “fowl” should have been “foul” was overlooked in this year’s offering. The CB seemed totally worthless, until one point when (somehow) I hit upon the right phrasing to make it work… once. Pat kept repeating the same dialogue, as if stuck in a time-loop the game never actually acknowledged. Much of the scenery – even things that seemed important by their in-room descriptions, could not be referenced at all. In at least two places, it was possible to go one direction without a way back. I was stuck twice that way (NE from the Grey Ghost Winery and SW from the “Enbankment”). If this was intentional, the game gave no indication. Once, I even stumbled upon an area by going generally southward from the start, then found the same area after restoring an earlier point by going generally northward. If this was a design gimmick, it seemed more like a bug. I found and rode a horse (using just a stirrup – apparently a whole saddle was unnecessary), which was the start of an interesting twist. Interesting, that is, until it disappeared without explanation when I tried going west into Amissville. I’m no pro, but even I was bothered by the bad grammar and awful spelling found throughout. The game was so thick with these problems that I couldn’t quite enjoy what might have otherwise been very entertaining text. The only puzzle I managed to solve was riding the horse, which is a shame, because with so many items to be found and carried, I think the game has more to offer.

     I do have session transcripts, guys – yours for the asking, if you’re interested in releasing an update and (more importantly) using my frustrated commentary to improve your future games. I only noted a few of the problems in the text, but the more serious bugs are clearly identified.

     It seems that the Santoonie Corporation is full of creativity but shy of talent. That’s not a slam – just an opinion. Even though I found little to enjoy in Amissville II – and even though I can’t recommend it with its present glut of problems – I hope the Santoonies turn it around with a more impressive entry in the 2006 competition. By my scale, I have to give this one a 4.0 (to me, it was frustrating and unwinnable). This is skewed down half a point, because I suspect it was entered into the competition fully aware that it wasn’t quite ready for a public release.

     On a side note, I also suspect that Santoonie isn’t a real corporation...

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