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IFCOMP 2008 - A Date With Death

Game #15: A Date With Death
Author: David Whyld
Played On: October 16th and 17th (2 hours 45 minutes)
Platform: Adrift (Version 4.0)

F:1 + T:1 + P:1 + S:1 + W:1 + B:1 = SCORE: 6

     Gameís Blurb:
     It's not easy being king. Especially when you're the king of a nation constantly at war with, well, everyone. And when the Grim Reaper comes knocking on your door, you wonder if being king is really worth all this hassle...

     >xyzzy
     You find yourself disappointed that the author couldn't think of a witty response to be made to the xyzzy command.

     >plugh
     ĒPlugh!Ē you cry, to which someone stops by just long enough to wittily respond with ďput a plugh in it!Ē before departing swiftly.

     A Date With Death is the first game in this yearís IFComp that I simply cannot finish through to the ďfinalĒ ending. (Strictly speaking, thatís not true; one game wasnít finished by the authors and therefore ends abruptly, and another -- a more obvious joke entry -- apparently has some super-convoluted way out of its maze.) A Date With Death has plenty of plot beyond the point where I became hopelessly stuck, but I would either (A) have to think of some solution unmentioned in the hints, which hasnít yet occurred to me, or (B) start over and hope that this isnít an event that happens every time.

     I stopped in the gameís 6:00 hour (although I think this can vary), where I get teleported back to The Seat of Rulership, confronted by the Angel of Death, and left with seemingly no way out of an imminent demise a few turns later. I found the glove (little good it does me), but carry nothing else in my inventory. I can summon a servant, but can get him to do absolutely nothing except fetch High Chancellor Verenor (who refuses to come). I have a guard, but heís transfixed and unhelpful.

     As a result, this will be a review of only part of A Date With Death. I made it through maybe half, but based on my weak score out of 100, maybe far less. Iím disappointed that the game doesnít include a walkthrough, and that the built-in one is found only through a super-secret command that I was unable (despite many attempts) to guess. Reviews based on only part of a game tend to bother me, but with so many more yet to play in this IFComp and the days rapidly falling off the calendar, my only other reasonable alternative was not to review it at all. At least itís not a review based on only a few minutes of play, where the reviewer gave up out of boredom or crankiness -- not to call anybody else out on that.

     If a player is thorough, several minutes of introductory material must be read prior to entering the first command. This is one of the most text-heavy works of IF Iíve played, where even the room descriptions are supplemented with paragraphs of narration. This is often the result of game events, because a lot is happening in A Date With Death.

     The story is a familiar one. The protagonist -- in this case, the king of some realm -- must cheat or con his way out of death in what will probably turn out to be a battle of wits with the Grim Reaper (I say ďprobablyĒ because I couldnít complete the game). The twist is that death has proven temporary for this king in the past, in a realm where his cruel but loyal and adoring advisor has a means of resurrecting the dead. A Date With Death is the third in a trilogy, but I found the storyline easy to follow and the important events of the prior games well covered without having played the first two.

     The gameís humor succeeds most of the time, but two particular bits left me cold. One of the kingís bodyguards has a bad case of gas. Call me crazy, but fart jokes seem like the low-hanging fruit of comedy (and, incidentally, at a level of humor thatís likely to be inversely proportional to the readerís age). Also, the Chancellorís penchant for having the kingís subjects brutally beaten or senselessly murdered crops up again and again and AGAIN, to the point that I began to feel horrible for the plight suffered upon these innocent people. It was kind of funny at first, but when you really start to think about it, itís pretty depressing.

     I like the way the story is told otherwise. Even though itís plenty to read, itís usually fun to read. A few typos are jarring (and of the kind that should have been noticed in beta-testing) and a few sentences seem awkwardly worded, but the game reads well enough most of the time. My biggest complaint, at least as a reaction while playing, is that the text-to-command ratio seems a little high. I would have liked to spend a little more time doing and a little less time reading. Even as-is, it might have mimicked bite-sized segments by using a blank line between paragraphs. I see this often in games, and even finagled Hugo into doing the same thing in my last IFComp entry. It seems to work well.

     I didnít encounter many bugs. One odd thing is that Ibben the servant will run away when the Angel of Death appears, but if you summon him afterwards, he seems to be completely unaware of the danger. Thugg is said to already be in the throne room when youíre ďteleportedĒ there, yet he arrives from elsewhere on the next turn. They all seem like pretty minor issues, and donít appear to break the game.

     The game is typical of what Iíve come to expect from David Whyld. Itís interesting, with a sort of dark, cynical humor to it. The characters -- or caricatures -- seem familiar in their stereotypical and ďone trickĒ behavior. Itís usually fun, but maybe too easy to get stuck at a point that prevents further progress. Iíve rated it a ď1Ē in every category (including the bonus, mainly because I feel guilty for not putting even more time into trying to get unstuck) for a composite score of ď6.Ē That was my gut reaction at the two-hour mark (hence, my vote) as well.

     David Whyld is one of the most prolific among Adrift authors -- well, among all writers of IF, actually. I havenít played many games from his back catalog, but of the few I have, there seems to be a... sort of sameness, for lack of a better word. Iím not claiming I could tell you a game was written by David Whyld simply by playing it, but he does seem to gravitate towards the same kind of twisted humor. Thatís not necessarily a complaint. There is a ďsamenessĒ to Star Trek and Star Wars books (of course), or in the picaresque plots of Jack Vance (incidentally, the one author I consider my ďfavoriteĒ among several I enjoy incredibly). And thatís not meant to be a comparison -- merely an observation. My round-about point is, I think this might be holding David back. Something different, unexpected, and in a vein far different than A Date With Death could prove worthwhile too.

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