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IFCOMP 2005 - Dreary Lands

Game #33: Dreary Lands, by Paul Lee
Played On: 11/03/2005 (12:30 PM to 1:30 PM)
Unofficial Score: 4.5 (4.0 base with +0.5 skew)

     So this is the way the competition ends. T. S. Eliot, in a phrase that is now a clichť, describes it best Ė ďnot with a bang, but a whimper.Ē Itís not really the end, though. Dreary Lands is the last game on my list, but I skipped the two I beta-tested. Iíll need to replay and review both of those next.

     Dreary Lands blends three different concepts into one game. First is the surreal, where the protagonist wakes up in a tiny, multi-colored chamber where strange things happen. Next, escaping this bit, things become a bit more fantasy-inspired. A sword, a shield, and flaming arrows are to be found in a land with a murky swamp, a sentient tree, and a looming castle. This leads into a confrontation of religious nature, where the bad guy describes his very biblical backstory. What this equals is a very schizophrenic story lacking enough originality to bring it more attention.

     The writing could be good. It isnít, due almost entirely to its poor spelling rather than any grammatical faults or lack of imagination, but it could be. During some of it, I could see good writing shine through. It just needs some revision. In the ďaboutĒ text, the author is clear that an update to Dreary Lands isnít on his agenda. Thatís too bad. I have a transcript, and I intend to point out a few problems during this review.

     At the beginning, a couple lines of non-default color were a nice touch. Near the end, this becomes a bulk of dark red on the standard Frotz blue, which wasnít. Other than that, the presentation is pretty good. The game is also fairly well clued. If not for a couple of pretty important problems (and Iím coming to that), I could have finished without help.

     Inventory management is the first problem. If you find the rucksack early on, this is all handled smoothly. I didnít, though, until playing through a second time via the walkthrough. This meant I could only hold three items at a time, putting a fourth thing inside the only box I actually kept. It turns out, I probably picked the wrong box to carry around. Not only was it too small, but near the end, it seems important to have one of the other boxes due to its special nature. At that point, though, the game doesnít let you backtrack. I found this out with a frustrated peek at the walkthrough, which is why I had to start over in the first place. But, yeah Ė find the rucksack, and thatís not a problem.

     The second thing was a weird glitch in the mud-brick hut. Itís important to take a thing or two from this room, but part of the listing shows a long series of parenthetical ďwhich is currently burningĒ modifiers to a bunch of (I assume) nameless objects. If it had been possible to see what this was, things would have been easier. The puzzles werenít difficult, and the clueing was pretty good Ė but you canít solve a puzzle if an important part of it is broken.

     The ďgoodĒ ending is interesting, but again, itís one of those things youíve probably seen a hundred times before. It was worth the second play-through to get there, but itís a shame the game was broken enough to require that. I donít have much else to say about Dreary Lands, except that itís probably not as disappointing as the author thinks (see the ďaboutĒ text). Yeah, itís not great, but itís not the worst of the competition by any means.

     I have given the game a base score of 4.0, with a +0.5 skew for simple puzzles that were not badly clued. It needs some work the author probably wonít do, but itís still playable.

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