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IFCOMP 2005 - Beyond

Game #11: Beyond, by Mondi Confinanti
Played On: 10/19/2005 (12:45 PM to 4:45 PM)
Unofficial Score: 10.0 (no skew needed)

     Okay, I cheated. Beyond was much lower on my random play list (fifth from the bottom), but after peeking at it a few days ago, I was impressed by the visual style and the title graphic. I didn’t want to wait, especially since it looks like I might not even make it through all the entries before the competition ends.

     The biggest problem with the game – and I’ll get this out of the way first, because I don’t have much to complain about otherwise – is that the not-quite-right English is a little jarring. This was more noticeable in the first chapters, where “an” and “a” were sometimes misused, and phrases like “…the man came here about at eight o'clock…” would have read better with “about” and “at” swapped. My transcript is full of grammatical criticism, but the more involved I became in the story, the less a distraction this was. I know a few random words in a few random languages. To write an entire game in another language is unthinkable to me. These guys did a great job.

     I don’t really want to talk about the story, except to say that it’s purposely manipulative to the player’s emotions. That’s probably redundant. All good fiction is likely to manipulate the reader’s emotions, which is the point of storytelling. It took a while to decide whether or not this was working for Beyond, because it deals with some troubling subject matter and the prompted emotions are outrage, regret, and sadness. It seemed forced at first, as though the authors were writing this particular story in this particular manner just because that’s what the IFComp judges go for. It won points once I realized my first suspicion – the cause of Elena’s death – was totally wrong. It might have been a forced political/moral statement, but thankfully it wasn’t.

     Each chapter – and each interlude between chapters – is unique and varied from the others. That’s not to say the style of the game changes. It remains consistent, but it doesn’t just repeat the same thing again and again and… again. One scene has you questioning witnesses. In another, you chase a shrouded killer. Later, you visit a might-have-been farm-home that never-was in a life you never had. When it came to catching a bright light while my companion demonstrated a dim one, I thought “Wow. These guys never slacked on the creativity.” I can’t say that the story is without flaws, but it isn’t one that I felt inclined to pick apart even so.

     The game isn’t flawless, either. In the dim/bright lights area, you can get hopelessly stuck if you go north or south without going through the door. These things are the proverbial exception, not the rule. For instance, I was very impressed with the conversation system – not because menu trees are new or unique, but because it stays up and remains responsive even while normal actions work. While it might be said that “ask-about” is more realistic, I really liked what I saw here. You could take any actions you like (except leaving the room) while the conversation was going on. Look at the guy, then pick a conversation option. Check inventory and look at a photo, and then continue the conversation. It worked very well. It’s likely I might steal this technique for a future game – sorry, guys.

     I’ve never seen a hint system quite like this, either. A request for help whisks you off to a pseudo-room where important components of the current chapter exist. Interacting with these items provide further clues to the actions you should take. I didn’t slide into the hints area often, and once or twice I still felt stuck afterwards, but it was unique. Ultimately, it worked for me, even if some of it may merit improvement.

     The style of the game hit me just right as well, from the layout and color choice to the excellent monochromatic illustrations. Despite some very disturbing subject matter, I really enjoyed this game. I listened to remixes of some Silent Hill 2 music the entire time, and even though this isn’t creepy to that extent, it worked very well. A high level of detail polishes it off, from the wide range of shapes available to the Mad Joker, to the bonus scenery responses. This is the first game that seems to fit my description of a “10” – and that’s the base, with no skew required. It’s not perfect, but it made me say “wow.”

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