The Online Interactive Fiction Review Site
By: Adam Cadre
Welcome to hell. You may recognize it.
Adam Cadre is a talented writer. He can do humor. He can do pain. He can do setting and plot and all that other fun stuff, but what he does best are the characters, and shrapnel is no exception.
There have been several games in which the protagonist has one form of madness or another. I won't mention names, since that itself can be a form of spoilers; you can ask on ifMUD if you're interested. The storyline usually goes something like this: The PC thinks something is true, and as a result the player thinks it, since the player only knows what she sees onscreen. Something happens which cannot fit into this worldview, which results in the player and possibly also the PC, figuring out what's really going on. Everything is wrapped up nicely and the PC gets either the girl or a straitjacket.
You can forget everything in that synopsis starting after the first comma, since it doesn't apply to shrapnel. Of course. We are, after all, talking about Adam Cadre here. Of the five games and one novel of his which I have read, only two end the way you'd expect, and that's because they start off telling you how they end. Which is not a bad thing, but explaining that is beyond the scope of this review.
shrapnel jumps quickly between genres. It borrows liberally from other sources, as Adam explains in the afterward on his website. It is original. This is also a good thing. I don't know if I could take it if more than one person wrote like Adam.
It occurs to me that I'm not following my rough idea of how a review should flow: What's it do, why's it do it, and does it work. I can't do that, spoilers be damned. This is the sort of game where it's okay to play it through again after you know what's going on, but only if you discovered for yourself what's going on.
It is, as I said before, a game about characters. There's a sort of good-cop/bad-cop pairing (but they're not police), a hero of sorts who talks in l33tspeak, and a few people who are brave enough to do what may be the only right thing. These characters are not fleshed out very much; a good deal of their power comes from being stereotypes. They're not very happy people, though. They have plenty of excuses not to be, starting with the way the world's falling apart around them.
I meant that literally. Space and time are unreliable in this game. A step east may take you ten yards north and ten minutes ago. The world is quickly coming undone, which has very interesting effects when coupled with the particular mental aberration with which the PC is afflicted. The characters last just about as long as the world does; I have no lingering concern for them, like I did for the characters in Photopia.
In short, this is a gimmick game that shouldn't be a gimmick game. It's got a couple of good gimmicks which are fiendishly clever, but the real strength is in the characters. Which, as I said, don't last long, but they could. Adam could probably have lengthened the game, added more meat to it, but he said himself that that wasn't likely to happen, and I'm glad to have had the chance to play this, even as rough as it is.
Welcome to hell. You'll find your companions to be interesting people.