Withdrawal Symptoms by Niclas Carlsson [Comp00]

IFDB page: Withdrawal Symptoms
Final placement: 36th place (of 53) in the 2000 Interactive Fiction Competition

When I saw the title of Withdrawal Symptoms, I wondered whether it would be a sort of follow-up to the drug themes in Nevermore and The Trip, an intense tale about a junkie’s triumph over addiction. Nope. The title actually refers to a bank withdrawal — it seems your recently deceased aunt left you the key to her safety deposit box at the bank. You’ve brought the key to the bank’s lobby, and now all you need to do is find your way through a few fairly contrived problems to discover what’s in that deposit box. WS is a short, inoffensive, and moderately enjoyable game based in the “real world”, or at least the real IF world, where you’re allowed to pick up and vandalize things that don’t belong to you, and where obstacles to your progress hinge on some highly dubious connections.

I guess that sentence ended up sounding like kind of a slam, but I don’t mean it to be. Once you’ve set aside the notion that you or the world will have to behave in more or less realistic ways, you can have a lot of fun with WS. I didn’t have much trouble reaching this conclusion, but I can see how somebody without much IF experience might balk at some of the actions required, or in fact might not figure out some of those actions at all, especially since the game takes place in such a quotidian setting. My own deductions weren’t based so much on the “What would I do in this situation?” model, but rather on the “I haven’t done anything with that implemented object yet, so I bet it’ll help me get past this problem” model. Once I moved into that mode of thinking, I found the puzzles in WS pretty enjoyable, aside from a bit of hunt-the-verb here and there. There weren’t very many of these puzzles, and they led to an ending that was kind of funny, though (like the rest of the game) nothing particularly memorable.

Man, there I go getting negative again, so let me be clear: I enjoyed playing Withdrawal Symptoms. The code was bug-free, or at least I didn’t find any bugs in my session with the game. The English had a few errors here and there, mainly misspellings and awkward phrasings. Based on the fact that the author’s email address ends in .fi, I’m guessing he’s not a native English speaker, and considering that, the prose holds together pretty well. I particularly appreciated the fact that although many first-level nouns were implemented by the game, a number of them simply gave the message “That’s not something you need to refer to in the course of this game.” That’s all I need to hear, really — it certainly beats “You can’t see any such thing,” which I always found a fairly irritating response for examining something that’s clearly mentioned in a room description. Of course, ultimately I prefer that all nouns ever mentioned anywhere in the game get their own description, but I think that would have been overkill for this game, and could have even created some possible red herrings and confusion. It’s not the harrowing, David-Crosbyish journey through hell I expected when I saw the title, and after I finished playing Withdrawal Symptoms, I actually preferred what it turned out to be.

Rating: 7.5

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