IF Comp ’09 Review: Condemned

The reason it’s been a while since my last review is that I’m now working on an IF game of my own, for probable submission to next year’s comp. (A real IF game this time, not that exercise in rampant assholery that was my ‘06 entry.) I kind of got that “Okay, retards, this is how you write an IF, see? After you make the rooms, you write descriptions, and then you make scenery for the nouns in those descriptions, and then you put in some puzzles that don’t require you to guess newly-implemented verbs, and then you get someone to friggin’ beta-test the friggin’ thing.” feeling in my head, you know? And I had a pretty good idea for a plot and all. Oh, and we’re starting to implement the Nemesis quest for testing in KoL (don’t get your pants in an uproar though, because it’s way complicated and is seriously gonna be in testing for a long damn time. It’s completely full of tricky balance issues and “Is this fun?” questions.) So basically I’ve been a little distracted for the last few days.

But, even though it’s stupidly early in the morning and I really should be in bed by now, I thought I should get back to the reviews and do the next one on the list. For you, the Minimum Safe Distance readers. Because I care.

And the next one on my list is Condemned, which I’ve not heard good things about, so I’m totally taking one for the team here. I’m taking a bullet for you guys.

Condemned is by “a Delusioned [sic] Teenager”, whose name is probably Mark Jones.

Disclaimer and review list.

Spoiler-free summary: Little fragments of interactivity separated by interminably long and poorly-written (occasionally hilariously-written) cut scenes. I didn’t find it scary, but then I ended up not having the time or patience to get to what would presumably be the scary bit. It’s not the worst game this year, but that is a low, low bar.

Spoilers after whatever the first Google Images result for “Condemned” happens to be:

Media_httpwwwbreakitd_hhchh

Ew. I guess there’s a regular-type video game called “Condemned”, too. …Wait a minute, it that a giant thumb holding the zombie’s arm back? It’s almost as big as his forearm! Is there a game about tiny tiny little zombies and I didn’t hear about it?

Actually, it’s probably just as well. I’m terrible with scary video games. They wreck my shit badly. The only one I ever played all the way through was Silent Hill 2, because the plot was so good that I had no choice but to keep playing, despite the shaking hands and gigantic sad frown on my face. Fortunately, scary games rarely have good plots, so I’m free to stop playing them as soon as they get too upsetting and I can’t take any more (like I did with the original Fatal Frame, which I was forced to quit before I’d gotten even a third of the way through), or even not to buy them in the first place (basically every single horror game since then. Fatal Frame was scary as fuck).

Oh wait, I finished Silent Hill 3 as well. But only once. SH2 I played four or five times. Silent Hill 2 is really pretty brilliant.

…What was the point I was trying to make? Oh yeah, I hate scary games. Thing is, though, I’m perfectly fine with scary books. I’ve read… well not everything Stephen King’s written (I’m only in my early thirties after all), but quite a few of them, and never found them scary to the point where it was upsetting. I love books, but they don’t suck me in the way creepy visuals and ambient noises and suspenseful background music in a video game can. Video games have a much greater sense of “this is me in a scary place and it’s fucked up and I want to go home :( ” than books do. I expect the fact that books are never written in second-person might have something to do with it.

ANYway, I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t know if this game will scare me like a scary game, or not-scare me like a scary book. It messed Jenni up pretty badly, I know that. …Hmm, I seem to remember finding Infocom’s Lurking Horror pretty scary. I was a lot younger then, though.

I guess I should actually start playing this thing. Oh wait, is this the one by the guy who did “a tunnel has been drilled into the north of you” last year? Oh man.

You look up at the bicycles.  Hundreds of them hang from the ceiling.

Don’t be so nervous about this, your mind tells you repeatedly.  What is done is done, and there is nothing more that you can do; what you deserve is what you deserve, and that fact is inescapable; and what you’re going to pay is what you’re going to pay, and that—

What? …Okay, I’m sorry I hung all your bicycles from the ceiling. We cool now?

However, there are a couple of objects of importance that lie to the north, one of which you will be shamefully acquainted with soon.

I’m guessing “butt-plug”.

Completely filling the space above you are bicycles hanging from the ceiling liked condemned criminals.

Seriously, what? Are bicycles on the ceiling the new scary thing this year? Did I miss a memo?

>xyzzy
[That won’t work here:  this is a modern work of IF.]

What? What’s that got to do with it? Up yours, game!

>x me
Sweating guilty and anxiously like drops of blood running down your face, you feel like a dirty tank of overflowing mud right now, unclean enough to remain within the borders of the real world.

Well okay. You’ve kind of overloaded it with metaphors to the point where I have no idea what you’re trying to say, but at least it’s a description.

Your eyes about to unawaringly turn and look, your left hand immediately curves onto the side of your lowered head, blocking your view.

Wow, yeah, this is the same guy. What’s the matter? Do I sense a pair of menacing eyes staring collectively from the catwalk?

The thick and huge milky-white polyvinyl cover is translucent, fogging the object that it covers into a vague shape.  In addition to being translucent, it is also very wrinkled.

Ooh! Ooh! Is there something scary under there? I’m gonna guess. Is it… Rush Limbaugh in a Hello Kitty bikini bathing suit, eating live mealworms out of a rotting human head and the skin on his stomach is peeled back with hooks and wires and there’s a little face poking out? And the little face is Perez Hilton? And Limbaugh mutters racist slurs and anti-American propaganda with mealworms falling out of his mouth, while the Perez Hilton face screeches about which celebrities are fucking which other celebrities in the butthole? And then they just laugh and laugh, the pitches of their voices reverberating in mad harmony until that laughter is the only thing you can hear, and will ever hear, forever?

>look under cover
You find n
othing of interest.

Oh.

…Wait, that can’t be right.

Well, turns out there’s a cross under there, presumably one with something scary crucified to it. We don’t get to find out what just yet, though, because the scene has changed. Sigh.

Parked against one of the trees is Jill’s bicycle.

Your bicycle lies on the ground, its front set tucked awkwardly underneath the frame.

More bicycles. Okay, so, Jill is dead and it’s my fault for some reason? And she’s nailed on a cross in my garage now… for some reason? Actually I hope it’s a bicycle on the cross. That would be kind of awesome actually.

Here’s a fun pastime: While playing this game, every time you see the word “bicycle”, mentally replace it with the word “vagina”. Here’s a particularly heavy-handed example:

>get helmet
Your little sister tells on you whenever you want to touch her bicycle vagina or her helmet:  it’s as if her bicycle vagina were a personal pet that nobody was allowed to touch except her.  You shrug your shoulders.  Even if she did not care for people touching her bicycle vagina, you would not consider touching her bicycle vagina to be an entertaining activity anyway.

But personally I find this paragraph even more amusing:

It’s probably the skinniest and most socially embarrassing bicycle vagina that any teenager could ride:  if your new friends at school caught you on this bike vag, they would surely disown you.  Your bicycle vagina is an antique, hand-me-down complex of steel and rubber forced upon you by your father who has an annoying tendency to be super-thrifty and save everything.

Man oh man, the rest of this game is going to be hilarious, I can feel it.

Hey Jill? We’re going to be very careful. We’re going to do some things and we’re going to do them in an incredibly careful fashion, so remember when I tell you to be careful, okay? Because we’re being careful here. Wouldn’t want to not be careful. Because then your inevitable death might have some kind of meaning rather than just being a random gruesome accident. So be careful, okay?

Walking next to you closely is your little sister, pushing her little bicycle vagina along side her on the road.  You feel like talking to her right now.

Oh I do, huh? Right now? Well, all right. Oh look, I’m apologizing to her for using a swear word at her after she pretended to fall off the cliff and gave me a motherfucking heart attack. It’s worth it though, because I get to read this sentence:

“When I get back home, I’m going to straight to bed.  No dinner for me,” she plans out of her mouth.

“She plans out of her mouth.” That is some kind of batshit genius of a sentence right there.

…Okay, and some more talking to Jill… and some more… quite a lot more, it turns out… Huh, we got home without Jill dying. Well, that is indeed an unexpected twist.

The empty wooden cross leans against the wall in front of you, its domineering countenance making you feel uncomfortable and sick.

…Nothing? There’s nothing on it? Jeez Louise, talk about anti-climactic.

More talking… more talking… more talking… more talking…

…And obviously for some reason the assorted trash filling the backseat of the car is too important to be dumped on the floor, so Jill gets to sit on it. And dude’s football gear is too important to go in the middle seat so that Jill can have a seatbelt; Football gear needs to be securely strapped in, for safety reasons. This is a bizarrely stupid situation.

Sig tilts his head down and looks over the top rims of his sunglasses, making sure his eyes make contact with Jill’s.

*Squish* “Ow! Stop that!”

More talking… more talking… more talking… Do I get to actually do anything else, game, or shall I just leave you to get on by yourself? You totally don’t seem to need me for anything. Shall I just put a brick on my Enter key? More talking… more talking… Holy shit, we got to school and Jill’s still not dead? I have to give you credit for running contrary to my expectations, game.

Back in the garage. It’s late, and I’m bored. I need nails, do I, game? Well I don’t see any around here, offhand. Let’s see what the walkthrough says.

Holy hell, there is a lot of this game left. And if I count up all the instances of “talk to (someone)” or “z” (i.e. “Thank you for that wall of text, game, may I have another?”) that are left to go, do you know what number I get?

Sixty-goddamn-seven.

No thank you. Not in a million years.

An additional comment after the fact: I asked Jenni if Jill ends up dying in a car accident, or if all the stuff about how wildly unsafe the backseat of dude’s car is was just red-herrings. She said no, Condemned pretty much plays that game (of setting up your expectation of wild accidental death and then subverting it) the entire time. This kind of annoys me. I mean, it’s good for a plot to subvert expectations and not be predictable, but if you accomplish that by going “Oh man oh man something terrible’s about to happen! She’s totally gonna die!! …hahaha, psyche!”, then that’s just cheating. Uncool.

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