The Online Interactive Fiction Review Site
By: Andrew Pontious
In some ways this is the ultimate timed puzzle, and I don't always like timed puzzles. "Change in the Weather," wonderful though it was in other respects, drove me just about nuts. I survived the experience only with a walkthrough and laudanum. Since "Rematch" is just the one move, however, you don't have a long sequence to replay only to fail. The structure also enforces careful puzzle design: one common complaint about bad puzzles is that they don't give enough feedback when you are close to, but have not yet arrived at, the solution. In Rematch, everything you can do necessarily produces some outcome, often an instructive one.
Rematch also accomplishes nicely a difficult task of IF recently discussed on rgif: encouraging the player to use non-standard verbs and syntax in order to accomplish game-specific goals. There are a number of verbs in the game that fall outside the normal lexicon of IF games. More to the point, however, Pontious has hacked the parser to accept much longer than normal input strings, with multiple indirect objects, for instance. I wouldn't have attempted these except that game play seemed to demand it; after my first few successes in this direction I had greater and greater faith in the game's ability to understand the most outlandish sequences (and, in many cases, to have an interesting outcome for them.)
This combines with the game's other embedded hints to make for a forward-moving rather than stuck-and-frustrated play experience most of the time, and Pontious has also taken care to provide colorful or entertaining outcomes for verbs that aren't immediately relevant to the puzzle, so that experimentation is rewarded. Helpful also is the auto-undo command, which undoes your actions each time you fail.
The one-turn format does also work against the puzzle, though -- or at least it did for me. In order to reach a solution, you need to do a certain amount of exploration -- gathering information, but at the cost of losing over and over again. This might have been less of an issue had the event-to-be-prevented been less horrific. As it was I felt faintly guilty doing things that were not direct attempts at solution, and it wasn't until I was actually told to explore more that I had the gumption to ignore the outcome and do so systematically.
Approached with this systematic detachment, it's a successful if somewhat evil puzzle. I was confused when it was going on, then gradually had more and more of a sense of what I wanted to do; at the end, however, it all clicked together with a satisfying snap, leaving no loose ends.
As writing or story I think it is slightly less successful. Even excellent descriptions and dialogue begin to pall on the 129th reading, and much of the NPC conversation has a somewhat stiff and unconvincing quality. There is a good reason for this, gameplay-wise, but it lends strength to the impression, especially on repeated playings, that these are clockwork people carrying out their clockwork functions in a world where you alone are sentient.
I mention this only because there is a story and characterization going on here: adumbrated in the opening words of the game is the relationship you have with the other characters, and the more you play the clearer the situation becomes. It is significant not only from a puzzle point of view but also for the whole flavor of the game; but it never develops beyond a certain point, because the scope for development of complicated interrelationships is necessarily somewhat limited here. Shallowly worked out, but thematically important. My PC's frustration with the unstoppable cycle of Fate (the puzzle, the disaster, which play out over and over again) mingles with his frustration over the interpersonal situation. This far, I think, it is effective. On the other hand, the aforementioned need to distance myself from the urgency of the puzzle distracts me from viewing the characters as characters and encourages the attitude that they are merely cogs in a complex interlocking gear system.
Deeply moving narrative, then, it is not, partly because that is not its purpose (arguably) and partly because the puzzle goes to war with the story aspect and wins. As a puzzle, though, it's an entertaining and rewarding one.