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IFCOMP 2005 - A New Life

Game #14: A New Life, by Alexandre Owen Muniz
Played On: 10/23/2005 (3:40 PM to 6:40 PM)
Unofficial Score: 8.0 (7.5 base with +0.5 skew)

     Once again, I have jumped ahead to a game later in my list. This time, itís because A New Life was recommended to me. If I really wonít have time to finish all the games before November 15th, I might as well take them in any order, right?

     Iíll probably go back to the list now. I enjoyed this game, but I found it incredibly difficult. Maybe itís just me and my sub-par puzzle-solving abilities, but I was only able to complete the game down the path set by the walkthrough. I was already over two hours into the game my own way, using the built-in hint system more and more, and I had exhausted all of those options. I may have been in an unwinnable state. Iím not sure.

     Itís a very unique story, hinting at parallel realities and mythical races where a personís gender can be changed from time to time. While playing, I kept wondering if the goblins were really humans and vice-versa, but this was never confirmed. A New Life has a lot going on, and much of it surfaces as memories (a ďrememberĒ command does this), or as considerations when examining scenery or talking to the gameís characters. The back-story is an epic tapestry of magic and mystery. Much of the fun comes from learning more and more about the unique world in which the game is set, and about the people who inhabit it.

     The biggest problem is, itís sometimes (okay, often times) unclear what to do without getting pointers from the hints. Even then, it can be a little confusing. This is the kind of game that would be great outside the competition, where it might be played over the course of three or four nights without that two-hour mark looming ahead. I think it would be more rewarding taken at leisure. I spent three hours on it, and the last of that was just typing from the walkthrough. My original path might have been interesting, if I had been able to figure it out. The thing with the three bags and the two staffs was pretty clever, but even putting them to use, I never quite felt as though I had solved everything. On my own plot branch, I couldnít figure out what was important about the stars and panels, even though I could make them light up as described in the hints.

     This is either a really great game I just didnít fully understand, or a pretty average game that does a great job of seeming to be a really great game I didnít fully understand. If taken without recommendation, I might have based it at 6.5 or 7.0 Ė lower because of the complicated puzzles, and the lack of clear objectives. This is the trap we fall into when judging a game we know is or isnít liked by others. If Iím to trust in someone elseís opinion, I have to believe the game is better than it seems. And now itís my turn, to pass my opinion along to others by way of this review.

     The writing in A New Life is excellent. This is one of the few games where the text just flowed right. It wasnít forced, it wasnít overdone, and it wasnít choppy. Good writing makes a game seem more real, and when the unique world seems to be the focus, thatís important. This is the basis for my +0.5 skew, from a base of 7.5. A New Life may fare well in the competition. Itís a good enough game: worth the time, but not my favorite. I recommend playing it without expecting an easy, two-hour experience. Donít rush, ease into it with exploration and experimentation (looking, remembering, asking), and youíre likely to have a great time.

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