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IFCOMP 2008 - Nightfall

Game #30: Nightfall
Author: Eric Eve
Played On: November 15th (2 hour 30 minutes)
Platform: Inform 7 (Glulx)

F:1 + T:2 + P:2 + S:2 + W:2 + B:0 = SCORE: 9

     Game’s Blurb:
     The Enemy is expected to arrive at any moment. Staying behind is either the stupidest or the bravest thing you've ever done. Only one thing - or one person - could have made you stay. So now there's nothing for it but to find her before it's too late.

     There's no orange smoke and no magical translation; if you want to go somewhere you'll just have to walk.

     I didn’t get the chance to review Nightfall before the results were announced, but I played (literally right up to the voting deadline) in time to cast a vote. Its second-place finish is exactly what I expected, so seeing the results doesn’t seem like much of a pre-review spoiler.

     Since I played through Nightfall the night of November 15th, the game’s urgency came across far better than it might have otherwise. At the start, though, I checked the map and my first words muttered were “oh (f-word).” The map is enormous, and I’m accustomed to Eric’s games being large, thought-provoking, puzzle-filled enterprises that take far longer than two hours to complete. I suppose if I expected any different this time, it was wishful thinking.

     However, the game has a pace that almost carries the player along. The >go to (location) ability is a life-saver, coupled with the provided map. The game plays out as the protagonist follows a series of clues, looking for her (a girl he’s crushed on for many years) before an unknown “enemy” invades the city or conquers it or destroys it or something. Every moment could be the last, and the urgency comes across well in the story despite all the side endeavors and memories.

     Amazingly, I completed the game at about two hours, albeit with a losing ending. Of my complaints about the game (all of which are fairly nit-picky), this is the first. This losing ending felt like a fitting, albeit tragic winning ending. My first reaction was that this was exactly what was supposed to happen. It was only after casting the vote and playing past the voting deadline that I began to retrace steps, follow up on additional clues, and ultimately check the walkthrough.

     I haven’t yet gone through the game again from the walkthrough, but I did manage a winning ending just by re-loading at the endgame and taking a suggestion from the walkthrough. Actually, the game diverges enough even at that late stage that it’s possible to get a couple of winning endings (one of which even leaves the nature of “things” a mystery to the protagonist).

     Nightfall is a perfect example of kinder, gentler, modern-day interactive fiction that still manages to offer a challenge. It’s user-friendly beyond a point I’ve seen in most other games, not just in its auto-navigation but in its near-perfect >think clueing, its automatic handling of mundane tasks (unlocking doors if you have the key, for instance), and some puzzles that can be avoided entirely.

     Some of it, I just didn’t understand (although it might become more clear with the longer route offered in the walkthrough). Why were some of the status-listed directions in all-caps, and some not? I thought it might have something to do with “her” name (I’ve assumed the last name after learning the first), but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Why couldn’t the protagonist think of her as anything but “her” until the end? And this is more a nit-pick than a plot head-scratcher, but if the protagonist wasn’t athletic enough to climb a light pole, how could he trek the city (presumably miles and many miles of walking) over the course of the story (which can run long) without tiring? Adrenaline? Love?

     Despite what sometimes feels like hand-holding (I’ll call it good pacing), it has a story that should keep most players nail-biting and seat-edge-sitting for its duration. Few other games have made me want to know what is happening to this degree, where the premise of a city under evacuation comes across as perfectly plausible and immersive. It’s interspersed with memories of “her” (which can be a little annoying, but only a little -- and a big part of the point of the game), but most of the game is focused on the task at hand. Very little gets in the way of being swept along with the game’s flow.

     With little time to reflect, I voted the game a “9.” Upon reflection, that’s top points in every category (the writing, the implementation, the puzzles, the story -- it’s all top-notch), but without the bonus point. It comes close to being the best of this year’s competition, and with its large geography and epic plotline, is actually the antithesis of the game that just nudges it out.

     Well done, and a must-play.

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