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Review by: Greg Boettcher
Game: An Escape to Remember
By: Various Artists

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[Ed note: because I am one of the authors of the game, this review is being published exactly as it was sent to me; no editing was done except to add html tags.]

By Dan Shiovitz, Sean Barrett, N. B. Horvath, Mark Musante, Roger Carbol, Mordechai Shinefield, Tom Blawgus, Lucian Smith, Ricardo Dague, Carl Muckenhoupt, Josh Giesbrecht, Karl Parakenings, John Cater, and Jeremy Douglass

An Escape to Remember is the second game by the IF Whispers team. Like The Corn Identity before it, this game was developed through a process inspired by "Telephone," a.k.a. "Whispers," a game in which a message is passed down a line of people, getting distorted as it goes. Accordingly, An Escape to Remember consists of fourteen segments written by fourteen authors, each of whom saw only the preceding segment. This makes for a weird game, and I am left puzzling over how to assess it.

The game's first segment takes place in your luxurious apartment suite, where you have some high-tech gadgets. You have corresponded with a man named Maurice, who knows some insider you haven't met. Within a few moments, you get the signal to move.

This opening scene is quite specific, laying out quite a number of plot elements, many more than in the opening segment of The Corn Identity. It's as though Dan Shiovitz -- who wrote this first segment, and also coordinated the whole project -- was trying to see how many of these plot elements could be sustained through the segments to come.

Well, not many could be sustained, as it turns out. The whole espionage thing gets lost by Scene 4. Likewise, other aspects of the game come and go. In Scene 2, you learn about a mysterious man named "the Sultan," who keeps getting mentioned through Scene 5. In Scene 5, you meet up with a weasel, who travels with you until Scene 11. In Scene 7, you go underground, and stay there until Scene 13.

Once the espionage thread gets lost, it quickly becomes clear that the real genre of the game is "surreal." How could it be otherwise, with nothing to bind the segments of the game together? As a surreal game, it had some good moments. I liked Scene 10, the one with the stone head, which I found weirdly memorable for some reason. I also liked Scene 12, which temporarily made me feel like I was doing more than just wandering around.

Some of the puzzles were clever and satsifying. For instance, Lucian Smith's puzzle in Scene 8 was well-clued, and used an impressive technical trick to go back to an earlier scene that Lucian Smith couldn't have known about! I also especially liked John Cater's puzzle involving the mouse in Scene 12.

If this description of the game intrigues you, then you might find the game worth playing.

Unfortunately, however, you might not. As early as Scene 2, my progress was halted because I hit upon a puzzle involving liquids, and the liquids were so badly implemented (e.g., PUT X IN LIQUID does not provide the meaningful information that it should) that I was thrown off track. There was an even worse "guess the syntax" puzzle in Scene 6. In Scene 4, the puzzle was either badly clued (thus requiring a huge amount of undoing), or else perhaps I didn't find all the clues. And Scene 9 required a lot of repetitive sequences of actions, making it rather tedious. Perhaps because I don't like hard puzzles, but also because the puzzles were badly implemented, I spent a lot of time greatly annoyed while playing this game.

I was also annoyed by unimplemented scenery, "guess the verb" problems, unimplemented synonyms, and general sloppiness. These problems were such that it looks like the game didn't get much beta-testing, or rather, it looks like it got none at all. These aspects of the game may certainly make some people not want to play it, especially since, as I said, it interferes with gameplay. On the other hand, at least you can consult Dan Shiovitz's web site (http://www.drizzle.com/~dans/if/ifw2/) and search the source code for answers if you get stuck.

What is the best thing about the game? Oddly enough, I enjoyed the ending best of all. How can that be? In a game like this, how can an ending possibly tie together loose threads or come to a satisfying conclusion? Nevertheless, the final scene does these things much better than I expected. Jeremy Douglass, the author of that scene, uses the same clever trick as in Scene 8 to remark upon things he cannot have known about. Furthermore, after reading his remarks on remembering and forgetting, I was left with the feeling that he had a clearer idea than anyone else what the game was about. Yes, believe it or not, by the end of the game, I thought the game might actually mean something.

Is An Escape to Remember worth playing? Well, I spent most of my time intensely annoyed with it and not having much fun. But if the game's premise intrigues you, by all means try it out. If you get halfway through the game, it's worth playing to the end.

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