Saturday, 4 October 2014

Slasher Swamp by Robot

I don't know if other reviewers would admit to anything so petty, but the truth is it's fun to be the first person to review particular games. What if one could be the one to break the news about something awesome? I've done this a few times in the past. Mostly due to blind luck, of course.

My choice of first thing to play this year was easily made. Horror is important to me, and while great would be great, run-of-the-mill is OK, too. It is in this spirit of, ‘Well, that's not exactly a ringing endorsement,’ in which I bring you what I hope will be the first review of Slasher Swamp for IFComp 2014. Unless some other bastard writes a review really quickly while I'm dictating this into my computer.

As much as I hate having to use the word ‘tropes’, Slasher Swamp is an old school (i.e. all puzzling for puzzling sake, sparse prose, several schtick mazes, scores of instant deaths, no UNDO) adventure in which you find yourself a witness to a nonsensical mishmash of slasher film tropes after your truck breaks down in the middle of nowhere. It’s a Windows application with a parser of the author’s creation (I think?) which mimics a lot of modern parser styling and capabilities, though almost none are needed in this game. The author proffers a small command set which can be used to clear the whole thing. I mapped the game and played to completion in about an hour, but I have to admit I achieved this by brute-forcing the content of locations using a hole I found in the parser. And there are a lot of locations.

The prose is a mixture of the atmospheric, the overdone atmospheric, the jokey and the juvenile. It's a tone that will be recognised by anyone who’s played any old school games which indulged their authors. (P.S. I just described 80% of old school games.)

By the Vivienne Rule (when two years ago, I didn’t distinguish between my valuation of old schooler Castle Adventure and the fact that Vivienne, a visitor to my blog, commenter and civilised human being, didn’t like it, and was unlikely to have ever have liked it) I’ll say now in my capacity as consumer guide: I think I’m being realistic when I say that if anything that I wrote about this game during the preceding two paragraph sounds remotely unappealing to you, you won't like Slasher Swamp.

As for me, I mildly enjoyed ticking off the scores of discrete images and moments I recognised from horror films I’ve seen, but they're assembled in this game with no overriding design and no consequence, and thus to little effect. Most objects go unused, including conspicuously important-looking ones. The player has no direction or purpose other than to keep throwing themselves at everything until they can win by a kind of exhaustive attrition of props and puzzles, though there are few puzzles in light of the size of the map. The forest mazes are small but tedious, and the random deaths are numerous, and truly, deeply random. The worst symptom of the disabling of UNDO is that in the scores of rooms with teleport-like one-way exits, you can’t go back. I would often save the game just so that I could try each of the four exits from a room without having to circle the entire map after each teleport.

In the end, Slasher Swamp has all the shortcomings of both old school senselessness and aimless design. These puzzles have all been done before, better. The world is the base for something decent, but the hodge podge of slasher film tropes isn’t woven into any specific gameplay content. They’re just there, usually described to you and then gone again all in the space of one move, unrelated to each other, unrelated to progress in the game.

(I still got moderate amounts of fun out of throwing myself at this swamp for an hour, as is my wont.)