The Online Interactive Fiction Review Site
Game: Losing your Grip
By: Stephen Granade
Stephen Granade's Losing Your Grip is (or, rather, 'was': registration is no longer possible, and there is a free version forthcoming) one of the few shareware games in the IF world. And like most shareware IF, it was well worth its price.
LYG is a huge game. It is divided into five fits and two interludes, some larger, some smaller, but it'll take you quite a while to get through the game.
Then you read a hint request on one of the Interactive Fiction-related newsgroups, and you realize you can't remember that happening in the game you played. Surely this person got the game wrong?
They didn't. Stephen sneakily made the game even larger -- and, thus, a lot more replayable than it already is -- by sending you to one of two different versions of a fit depending on small choices made in the fit before that.
And he doesn't do this once -- he does it twice. It's pretty daring to include multiple paths in a story given the danger nobody ever discovers them, but he pulls it off beautifully. And the game is good enough you'll want to go back and try the alternative fits as well.
Apart from being huge and sneaky, LYG is also a difficult game, especially in the later fits. The game begins harmless enough:
Rain and mud.
Come to think of it, this isn't harmless at all. Nevermind.
Like in the commercially released (and horribly under-rated) graphic adventure game Sanitarium, Losing Your Grip is a bizarre journey through the depths of the subconscious that would make Freud go green with envy. This is also where the similarities end -- almost. LYG's backstory is partially given away in the feelies you receive upon registration, and the game makes a lot more sense with them.
After an encounter with the now famous buried human head [*] you do manage to find shelter. And this is where things start to get really strange.
There is an abandoned building full of stopped clocks; a person named Frankie, cataloguing spheres; objects that appear out of nowhere, containing -- what? Memories? Threats?
Your explorations soon yield a companion, a name-able dog who accompanies you on your further travels as well as being vital in solving puzzles. In fact, the first puzzle involving him (no gender is given, but I think of the dog as male) is not clued at all, as far as I can tell, and will probably involve having to restart for most players when they realize they can not carry objects across fits. This is, however, the only puzzle I really found "unfair" or "arbitrary" (in a sense) -- I may have needed to use hints continuously in the later fits (especially the Mathematical and the Abstract), but those puzzles were well enough clued to be solvable without resorting to the excellent in-game hints, given enough time.
(Did I mention hints are only available when you register? Don't worry, the forthcoming free version will probably provide them also.)
Very many things in this game are allegorical, and most do not reveal their deeper meaning until a later Fit, if at all. Stephen deliberately does not explain his own designs; he fears that players will see his words as authoritative (which makes sense, him being the author and all) when he is much more interested in what players think. "Yes, it's deliberate," as Zarf would say.
Later fits take the player, Terry, into a hospital or his old school (depending), a fairy-tale world, an abstract or mathematical puzzle-fest (again, depending) and finally to confrontation with his nemesis -- and himself.
The game is extremely well-written, the scenery pulling you right in. It understands a surprising number of commands. My favourite: after a doctor had told me to "Administer CPR. Now," I typed, without really thinking as the situation was urgent, ADMINISTER CPR, and lo! it worked. Excellent.
The NPCs in the game respond to what they need to be able to respond to, and not much more. That's perfectly fine with me; I've never been a friend of talking to NPCs just to try and break mimesis. The only thing seeming a bit odd is dialogue along the lines of:
>ASK FRANKIE ABOUT SPHERE
This response feels (and is, of course) artificial. Again, I don't care much; gameplay is much more important, and this is where the game delivers. And delivers. And delivers. After I'd beaten the game the first time, I tried all the possible alternative endings, which add so much more to the game. Then I went back and replayed it for the other two fits right away. When I replayed part of it for this review, I still liked it as much as the first time round.
And that, my friends, is what counts in a game.
[*] For those not in the know, Stephen implemented KICK HEAD as a verb. Naturally, instead of trying to help the head, everyone kicked it instead. [Ed. Note: This is untrue. There are people who did try to help the head first, and only tried to kick it after running out of other verbs to try.] Moreover, this one thing is what the game became (in)famous for, though there is so much more. Can't have it all.