This game is pretty close to a visual novel, although it is very different from the usual anime styled paper-dolls and blurred backgrounds. This game is played as if you’re on an old computer monitor, running an old OS and mostly looking at bulletin boards. It is made by Christine Love, and is one of my favourite story driven games.
One of the reasons I think this game is so effective is that it draws you into the story by immersing you in a realistic environment, in this case being in front of a computer, looking at the screen and reading emails and BBS messages. You interact with the game by reading the posts and messages of others, clicking the ‘reply’ button, and logging onto (and sometimes hacking into) various BBS sites. At first it’s a simple exploration into the old style of message boards, but soon it becomes a mystery with very difficult choices, so much so that many people decide to simply stop playing the game at a certain point and consider it complete, because they would rather not make the final choice.
In this game, you cannot see why your character is typing to the other characters, so you have to work out what you say based on what they respond with. I find this a little immersion breaking and odd feeling, like I’m having a chunk cut out of the story, however there are some people who think that it improves the story, allowing you to focus on the personalities of the other characters, which I cannot deny is true, I spent the entire time focusing on the other characters.
The pacing ramps up as time goes on; at the beginning there is a very slow, fairly dull start to the game but as you unveil the mystery the pacing quickens, that is until you hit a wall and need to work out what to do, after which the game speeds up incredibly until a rather epic climax. There is also a point where the game makes me feel like a complete badass typing in modem numbers, which is something that no other game has succeeded in doing (although, to be fair, no other game has really tried). Editor’s Note: You’re wrong! I’d highly recommend you try Uplink, it’s based purely on hacking by typing various numbers and using keyloggers and password crackers in order to gain access to systems.
The game takes place in 1988, although it is is the slight future of that time as there are AI around and about on the internet (which becomes apparent quite quickly). Because of the nature of this story game I can’t reveal much more of the plot without spoiling it, but it makes you feel something of an everyday hero by the end. Or a terrible person, depending.
One of the best things about this piece, in my opinion, is the music. All of the emotions and feeling you get in the game are made powerful by the music. At one point you are faced with a situation that seems like it may be hopeless, then this music kicks in and you go through all the options you have left, exhausting all of your resources to find the solution, all whilst this track is playing which puts in my mind an image of you sitting at the computer, the camera doing a spinning pan around you, while for some reason it’s raining, completely soaked, shouting in a grizzled voice, “C’mon!” at your monitor.
There is no art, but the immersion provided by the game simulating an old computer desktop really immerses you into the game, and that makes it all just a little bit more effective at making you feel emotion for what amounts to pixels and code, quite literally.
This game isn’t exactly new, but it is still well worth playing and in my opinion is one of the games you need to play to know part of gaming history. It’s free to download for Windows, Mac and Linux at http://scoutshonour.com/digital