Fear by Chuan-Tze Teo [Comp96]

IFDB page: Fear
Final placement: 6th place (of 26) in the 1996 Interactive Fiction Competition

Another very strong Inform game. The concept here gave a new spin to the “locked-door” genre of puzzles, and it was a delicious irony that the purpose of the game was to get through metaphorical “locked doors” of emotion and reach a final climax of unlocking a physical door to get out of a house rather than into one. However, this key feature of the endgame also provided one of the game’s logical flaws — how many houses lock from the outside? The game didn’t seem to take into account the notion that someone inside a house should be able to unlock the front door without a key. SPOILERY NOTE — in the two hours allotted I did not reach the endgame. However, I had figured out from the first time the sirens approached that the key to dealing with the police was to unlock the door before they broke it down.

Prose: Quite good. Describing different kinds of fear is not an easy task, and the author acquitted himself well. The opening was gripping, and the descriptions of the objects of terror (especially the spider) were very evocative.

Difficulty: I found the game quite difficult, and rather jarring in its swings from totally plot-based puzzles (overcoming fears to pass obstacles) to extremely mechanical puzzles (the Egyptian statues, the duck.) Again the time limit and my immersion in the plot led me to the hints much more often than I would have used them in a non-competition situation. However, I can’t say I wouldn’t have used them anyway, especially with the statue puzzle.

Technical (coding): Fairly smoothly coded work. Can’t recall ever running into any coding jams, and many situations were well-anticipated. However, several were not. I mentioned my strong beef against the locked front door, which should have been coded beyond a standard response. Another example is the jammed drawer, which could not be pried with the plate but did respond to a kick (this illogic creates a bit of a “guess-the- verb” puzzle) and falls to the ground still described as “closed.”

Technical (writing): Errors were few and far between. In fact, the only error that stands out in my mind is a reference to a light hooked to “the mains power supply”, and even that may be attributable to my ignorance of electrical terminology.

Plot: The plot of Fear was basically a clever way of stringing together a number of mechanical puzzles, but it worked charmingly. Again, this review is written without knowledge of the endgame, but I anticipate a clearing of the amnesia, an alleviation of the oppressive emotional weight, and a general tying together of loose ends.

Puzzles: The puzzles were quite good, though quite difficult for me. Then again, I’m not a great puzzle solver. For me the primary appeal of interactive fiction is the emotional pleasure of experiencing a world and moving through a gripping plot rather than the more cerebral aspect of puzzle-solving. For my taste, Fear came down just a bit too heavy on the puzzles, making it a little too hard for me to move through the story.

OVERALL — An 8.8