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A Few Minutes to an Hour
Review by: Emily Short
Game: The Last Hour
By: Roberto Grassi

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Olvido Mortal
Roberto Grassi's "The Last Hour" is a brief, puzzleless Adrift game which opens with the player character being placed in a cell.

You might think that the player's main motivation at that point would be to figure out how to escape the cell, and indeed I spent a little while playing with the various objects in the room -- with no particular result. No, your task is to hang around while the backstory is gradually presented to you -- typing TALK TO CHARACTER repeatedly at one juncture -- and then to wait for the game to end. It is not a piece that leverages the interactive aspects of IF to very great effect.

"The Last Hour" has some surface weaknesses as well. Grassi is not a native speaker of English, and he frequently misuses words or phrases things unidiomatically. He makes heavy use of profanity, asterisked out. I'm not exactly sure why he bothered with this semi-censorship, since there's a warning about language at the outset of the game, but this was an aesthetic choice that didn't work for me.

Another weakness is that the parser doesn't handle a number of commands that I'm used to: >LOOK IN BOWL, for instance, doesn't turn up any information about the contents of the bowl in your cell. Spacing is another problem: some portions are given double carriage-returns, some aren't, and the effect looks a bit sloppy. Little things, but they add up. I could have forgiven them if I'd been sufficiently compelled by the gameplay.

Finally, the implementation of the game is thin enough that I didn't feel encouraged to spend a lot of time trying to break out of my cell. I think that that is what I was supposed to have been doing, rather than sitting around typing WAIT until the story ended, but there didn't seem to be a lot I could do for myself.

It's hard to say much more about it than that without entering the territory of spoilers. Consider yourself forewarned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spoilers below

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The basic gimmick of the game is that your character is in fact a KKK member, entirely guilty of the crime of which he was accused. Grassi's authorial notes explain that his intention was to trick the player into feeling sympathy for the player character, only to be repelled at the end by the discovery of his character's deep evil.

While this might be an interesting scenario, it doesn't work well in this case -- at least, it didn't for me. I disliked my character from the very beginning because of his violent swearing, his attitude, and his apparent stupidity. He is rude and unpleasant to his assigned lawyer, which didn't bode well. I would have been much more sympathetic to my PC if he'd tried to be polite to the lawyer, if he'd expressed concern about reaching his family or loved ones to talk to them, if he'd shown some other signs of being a decent guy. That would have made me less suspicious, and more committed to his well-being. The end would have been that much spookier.

There were also, I thought, hints throughout that my PC had, at the very least, committed manslaughter. It didn't come as any surprise at all to discover who and what he was, and by the time the game ended I was finding the whole experience sufficiently unpleasant that I just wanted to be freed from the obnoxious company of this vile PC. But, alas, there wasn't much I could do to speed him along to justice, either. There was some implication that the soup was poisoned, and I tried eating it to see if that would kill him off, but it didn't.

It's also extremely odd, given a story with such a strong regional setting, to have nominally Southern characters who talk in Grassi's slightly incorrect, Italian-styled English. I've argued before that, if you're going to write a game in a language that is not your native language, you should have native speakers go over the text for you; you might even want to collaborate with a translator for best effect. If you need proof of what a huge difference this makes, compare Nick Montfort's version of "Olvido Mortal", "Dead Reckoning", with the original translation "Shattered Memory".

I was also a bit bewildered by the game's epilogue and dedication to the victims of racial crimes. Now, I appreciate the desire to make a strong stand against hate and racial prejudice, but "The Last Hour" does not tell us anything we don't already know. The characters are very basic stereotypes: a story about a partially likeable character who was nevertheless a bigot would be much more challenging and interesting. A story which starts out by presenting an alienating, hateful crime done by an alien, hateful person is more or less preaching to the choir. The fact that this alien hateful person turned out to be the PC was not especially enlightening, given how little we know about him, and how little cause we're given to like him.

So in my opinion this game is a bit of a wash. I've encountered few pieces of IF that succeeded at the gimmick where your PC is not what he/she/it seems; I can think of one or two really work, and one that almost works and is sufficiently interesting that I didn't much resent the remaining flaws. But for the most part the revelation is hinted quite heavy-handedly, and in some cases there's not much to the story other than the "Ha ha, you're not what you think!" moment. I'm reminded of I-don't-know-how-many bad science fiction stories and Twilight Zone episodes where the protagonist turns out at the end to be already dead, or an alien, or the last man alive on earth. Not to mention more than a few mystery/horror stories that turn out to be narrated by the culprit. This is hard, hard, hard to pull off well. You have to make me care; you have to make me invested in my PC being what I think he is; you probably have to give me something to do in the game other than sit around waiting for the moment of revelation. You have to provide hints, but they can't be too exaggerated and give the game away. In IF, you have the additional problem that you can't control when the player realizes the truth. Many implementations of this idea force the player to go on playing dumb until the moment appointed by the game for the Big Revelation Sequence, even if he's already grasped the central point; it works better if you have some way to let the player change his course of action at the moment he realizes what is up.

And ultimately, it helps most if the story is about more than just the gimmick.

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