Mmm. Games that aren't what they seem at first. Except that this one, I already had a feeling wasn't going to be what it was presented at first, simply from the quality.
I have to say, with all due respect to Zarf, that I was a bit surprised to discover he was the author; I generally don't enjoy his games this much simply because his puzzles are usually beyond me. That is just not a problem in this game.
It will be very difficult for me to discuss this game without revealing spoilers, I'm afraid; I'll try to keep it to a minimum.
First-rate, and from the opening paragraphs I was nearly certain that the pseudonymous author was someone with prior experience. I never formed a solid opinion about the potential author -- I'm actually not very good at such things in any event -- but I was sure it would turn out to be someone whose name I recognized.
Consider, if you will, this bit of description:
"Odd, how the light just makes your apartment gloomier. Pre-dawn darkness pools in the corners and around the tops of walls. Your desk lamp glares yellow, but the shadows only draw your eyes and deepen."
This is something well-crafted. Without getting terribly verbose, it reveals information, sets mood, and (though you don't yet know it) also firmly sets the plot in motion. Light and darkness are important in this game (or at least certainly in my view of the game), and they definitely are properly introduced in the first paragraph.
Beyond that, I could continue to quote, but why ruin your chance to see the writing develop? The writing is excellent, details abound even where strictly speaking unnecessary, and responses to your actions are superb.
This is the thing that is so hard to discuss without giving anything away, because it is on the one hand so terribly simple, but on the other, there are some twists. Perhaps one of the most interesting parts is that there comes a time when you know precisely what will happen (at least for a while) and yet... there is still this sort of frantic "what happens next" reaction. It's eerie, it's creepy, it's just plain fun.
This would be the one area the game is a little weak in. Oh, sure, the puzzles are fairly straight-forward and oftentimes even sensical. There is an in-game hint of sorts. But... it would be fair to say that the puzzles pretty much exist to give you something to do while you're waiting for the next, er, cascade of story, and unfortunately, because of a few timing problems, it -feels- that way.
The way the apartment was implemented was interesting. There wasn't much else in the way of neat trickage (fairly surprising in retrospect). There were a couple disambiguation problems, and maybe one bug (but it may have been on purpose) with the in-game hint provision, but overall it was fairly bug-free.
Tilt (A+) and Final Thoughts
I cannot, without revealing entirely too much about this game, explain to you just what it was that had me raving about this game for two days afterwards, including randomly piping up with a particular rant that would, again, spoil things. Let me just assure you that this is the case: for two days, I was so haunted by this game that it was constantly in my head, teasing me... waiting for me in the darkness. In the shadows.
In the Shade.
Shade is a text adventure game set in a single room, the protagonist's dilapidated apartment, as you prepare for a visit to the Burning Man-alike Death Valley Om Festival in the desert. The closer you get to being prepared to leave to the airport, the more problems befall you -- mundane ones at first, such as thirst and misplaced airplane tickets, and then, grain upon grain, a whole sandbox of more surreal ones suggesting that, as in the movie Jacob's Ladder, not all is as it seems.
With your only, inert, companions a revealing desert guidebook, a helpful task list and an esoteric radio tuned to what must be a campus station, you must ply the hallucinatory depths of a failing brain's rationalisations of its final few perceptions and determine if you're going to take a stand or be taken by sand.
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