(Note, in a change from my normal routine, I’m keeping these reviews relatively spoiler-free, given the competition is still going on.)
Cursed is an incredibly well written and surprisingly expansive game that unfortunately cannot remotely be completed within the two hour time limit afforded IFComp judges. Since I probably will not be officially judging any pieces, since I doubt I’ll get through the whole list before the end of the comp, I kept playing through to see the ending and was rewarded with a very cohesive story with a lot of intrigue and surprises. Unfortunately, as a game, I found it to require more than a few leaps of logic that I was not accustomed to.
The game has an interesting mechanic behind it, where you are given a choice in the early prologue of the game and depending on that choice about 25-40% of the game can be completely different. Even the character who eventually arms you with the knowledge and powers to defeat the true villain of the story is different, which surprised me when I took a gander at the other walkthroughs. As of this writing, I’ve only gotten my way through the ‘Fox’ play through, but I have an idea of how the Snake and Rat games play.
As I mentioned above, the writing is incredible in this game: imaginative, grammatically correct, and evocative of living in a medieval fantasy world of intrigue and magic. There were more than a few times I recalled Choice of Games’ ‘Choice of Romance’ because of the various factions an political machinations. The characters in this game all have fairly weird names, which I had difficulty remembering without notes, and frequently mistyped, but this could easily because of the rush I was in to experience as much of the game as possible within two hours.
While I’m not a very experienced IF game player, I did run into a heck of a lot of problems that required me to consult the walkthrough. I’m not sure what is considered the culturally appropriate amount of hunting and poking around in IF games these days, but I often felt that while my overall objective was clear in any given situation, the immediate problem before me was fuzzy. Solutions are not well hinted within the game, I found, often leaving the player to figure out what the author was thinking. While the solution always makes sense, I rarely found myself coming to that conclusion on my own, and frequently consulted the walkthrough.
Part of this, I believe, has to do with the gimmick of being a non-human character for most of the game. Descriptions, I found, don’t appropriate designate what is reachable or intractable when you are a fox and you have to try to mess with every single noun in the room descriptions to determine if it’s too tall to reach or too smooth to climb or too heavy to move. There were several times I made things happen and wasn’t clear on how those things helped me.
Ultimately, this is a game where a great story is being told but the amount of player agency is startlingly lacking. I believe there was only one path and that path was often mired in confusing clues. Using my normal rating scheme, I’d have to side with Not Recommended, because it’s impossible to get through without a walkthrough and within the 2-hour time limit, but that’s unfair, because the writing in this game deserves to be read. Perhaps I’ll go with: Recommended with a Walkthrough Only, and leave it at that.