Timeout by Stephen Hilderbrand [Comp01]

IFDB page: Timeout
Final placement: 35th place (of 51) in the 2001 Interactive Fiction Competition

I’m in a dilemma about this game. I played through once, found some things to enjoy about it, and reached an ending that was pretty clearly not optimal. Not having a clear idea about how to reach the optimal ending, and running short on time, I pulled out the walkthrough, and it showed me something about a particular item that I hadn’t really understood (due to the game’s vague description of that item): it had a subcomponent that could be examined to yield more information. However, when I did so, the interpreter crashed with a fatal text buffer overflow error.

Now, I’ve developed a pretty strict rule about unfinishable games — I give them a 1, write a short review explaining the problem, and move on. The question is: does Timeout fit that category or not? I did finish it, so in a sense it’s not really unfinishable, but on the other hand, it seems impossible to reach a more optimal ending. What to do?

Here’s what I’m deciding. I won’t give the game a 1. I was able to play through successfully (well, for one value of the word “successfully”, anyway), and that’s worth something. That first experience had some good points — there were some funny spots in the writing, and some sort of fun cut scenes. On the other hand, it was mostly a negative experience. Timeout‘s implementation is maddeningly shallow, leading to lots of encounters like this:

You can see a trash can (which is closed) here.

>open can
That's not something you can open.

Or this:

A steel door is set in the north wall, and a passageway heads west,
back to the hallway.

>x steel door
You can't see any such thing.

The door is locked.

>unlock door
You can't see any such thing.

Trying to get immersed in such a world is like trying to scuba dive in a puddle.

There were other problems too, including a NASTY FOUL IT’S/ITS ERROR, which is becoming my version of the Olympics’ “mandatory deduction” items. And then the fatal crash. All this comes together to make a game that’s not really worth my time in its competition version.

Rating: 3.0