IF 2009 – Earl Grey

Earl Grey

I’m probably going to get spoilery in this review as to touch on the points in this game that I ABSOLUTELY LOVED.  So I will try and spoil less in the beginning and more at the end.   But you have been warned.

I loved Earl Grey.   It was atmospheric.  It was the first game I’ve played this year that really caught me into the game, and made me FEEL.  The descriptions and the prose used is flowery but still serves to create a wonderful picture of the game universe.   I got vivid pictures from every location I visited.  Locations are used sparsely.   This game does something I love in IF, that each new ‘section’ is distinctly demarked, and you don’t need ‘anything’ from one section to advance to the next.   And each ‘section’ or puzzle series is clearly demarked for you.  I find this to be wonderful.

So, this is a word puzzle game, at it’s heart.   It’s all about re-spelling words to make different words, either by ‘knock’ing out letters, to ‘cast’ing them back in, or the special verb at the end.  This is by no means a new idea.  Plus, I suck at this kind of game.  I’m not good at spelling, and so I’m not really imaginative enough to figure out what words can morph into.

And the puzzles are really the weak point in this game.  I had to follow the walkthrough to make it through.  I did figure out a good number of the puzzles myself.  I chalked up my failure to just my ability to spell, but after reading some other reviews, I thought more about it.   The domain of the puzzles is never clearly specified.   That is, What words you can and should use to knock to cast letters is not very clearly demarked.  Sometimes the game will give you a hint in the form of the vibrating bag if you knock an object and you’re supposed to knock an adjective.   But even this is uneven.  In several puzzles, you knock the examine text, but others you knock the room text.   And you have free reign on anything, in theory.  The game acknowledges that some words are knockable, but shouldn’t be, if you try, but not all of them.  If you had a domain to work in, like ‘only nouns’ or ‘only adjectives’ the game’s puzzles would suffer way less.

This game also perpetuates one of the biggest RPG things I hate, the forced mess-up.   You are forced at the beginning of the game to do something you are advised against. (Well, I suppose you could close the game, but, really…)  I HATE this, just narrate it to me.  I wouldn’t to this.  I couldn’t mess up this innocent man’s life like this.  Why are you forcing me to execute actions I know are wrong, then punishing me for executing wrong actions.   I don’t know.   At least it’s strongly hinted that this is the way forward.

That said, the story is great.  Locations are extremely well used, and never frivolous.  They create vivid pictures in the mind as to what is going on.  The internal logic of the game is follow pretty well, at least to my untrained eye.  The last encounter is exciting and has the right level of tension to it.  I fell in love with the story.

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