Game Review: A Study in Steampunk: Choice by Gaslight

Type of game: Text / interactive fiction
Written by: Heather Albano
Published by: Choice of Games
Year: 2015
Played on: Steam

Exercising your brain, and your conscience rather than your aim and your reflexes, text-based interactive fiction games make an enjoyable change from the more graphically intensive FPS games and action RPGs that I tend to play the most. Choice of Games have published some real crackers in this genre – Choice of Robots, particularly, remains not only one of my favourite games and favourite reads, but one of my downright favourite experiences – so it’s great that so many more of the publisher’s outputs are becoming available on Steam, both games from their back catalogue and new releases. Heather Albano’s A Study in Steampunk, falls into the latter category, a brand new game released with the following blurb:

Steam-powered mechs meet forbidden sorcery in this interactive steampunk novel, inspired by Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, Jekyll & Hyde, and Jack the Ripper!

Given my love for the mecha, for the steampunk aesthetic, and for all things Victorian-noir, this was an insta-buy for me. Did it live up to its promise?

A Study in Steampunk: title screen

A Study in Steampunk: title screen

Let’s survey the evidence, shall we Watson?

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Game Review: Mecha Ace

Type of game: Text / interactive fiction
Written by: Paul Wang
Published by: Choice of Games
Year: 2014
Played on: Steam

Cover art by Paul Wang

Cover art by Paul Wang

Stop and think rationally for a minute and there are so many reasons why doing battle from inside giant war robots is daft idea. We all know this, and yet it’s a trope that surfaces again and again in anime, sci-fi and fantasy. You ask why? I ask you why are you even asking that? It’s the Rule of Cool! It’s because mecha are spectacular!

So I’ll admit I was simultaneously excited and doubtful about picking up this choose your own adventure game by Paul Wang. “Step into the cockpit of a giant robot in an interstellar civil war!” The blurb entices… “Customize your mecha to duel against enemy pilots with “monosaber” plasma swords.” Who hasn’t yearned to do this? Personally, I’ve spent so long fantasizing about being a mech pilot that I spent months sewing costumes so that B and I could cosplay as crew of Pacific Rim‘s Cherno Alpha. But you see the thing there? My first response to just how much I adored Pacific Rim was to do something visual: to make costumes. Mech war is a hugely visual genre. Yes, there are some great stories woven in there too but generally mecha are loved because they look awesome. So I wasn’t sure what to expect from a text only interactive novel on the subject. When so much about mecha combat doesn’t convince – if, that is, you ever you get past the awe-inspiring visuals enough to actually consider this fact – then just how will a story hold up where precisely all you do is consider?

The answer? It holds up surprisingly well. Indeed, it’s a testament to the world building skills of game writer Paul Wang that Mecha Ace: Heroes of the Vedrian War manages to create an enjoyably tense and tactical textual experience within this usually most visually-reliant of genres.

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Game Review: Choice of the Deathless

Type of game: Text / interactive fiction
Written by: Max Gladstone
Published by: Choice of Games
Year: 2013
Played on: Steam

Choice of the Deathless Cover Art

Cover art by Ron Chan: http://www.ronchan.net/wordpress/

Thanks to Choice Of Games I’ve already been able to cross off “marry a robot” from my 2015 to do list. My love affair with that game – the first of its kind I’d played – inspired me to begin exploring the Choice Of back catalogue, which brought me to Max Gladstone’s Choice of the Deathless. And now I’ve been able to  draw a line through ”become an become an undead skeletal lawyer at a demonic law firm” too.

skeleton

To be honest, I hadn’t actually realised that item was on the list, but hey, you’ve gotta try these things once, right?

Wrong! The beauty of these Choose Your Own Adventure games is that it doesn’t need to be only once; you can try everything, replaying the game as much as you like to explore different options and pursue different paths. This definitely appealed in Deathless as the game’s primary strength is undoubtedly its world-building. The story made me want to explore and discover more of the interesting setting Gladstone has created, a world that takes the “law is an evil business” cliché and runs with it all the way to its necromantic conclusion.

What’s it all about?

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Game Review: Choice of Robots

Type of game: Text / interactive novel
Written by: Kevin Gold
Published by: Choice of Games
Year: 2014
Played on: Steam
Review by: R

Back when I was a kid, I used to love those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. I had quite a few of them: taking in every sort of quest from exploring the galaxy to becoming a champion rider, even quaffing ginger beer and solving mysteries with the Famous Five. I’d devour them all, turning back and forth the pages to leave no option unexplored. I hadn’t realised until very recently that these kinds of interactive novels were now available digitally, but it’s a perfect fit for the format: the simple, ”choose an option and click to continue” method of progression prevents any sneaky peeking ahead or changing your mind (always a temptation in book form), encouraging more investment in the choices the reader/player makes.

As an adult, horses and plucky kids don’t really do the business for me anymore, but do you know what does? ROBOTS! And in Choice of Robots Kevin Gold has created a game that has really got me hooked.

Art by Jason  Wiser: http //madwomb.com/home.php

‘Cover’ art by Jason Wiser: http //madwomb.com/home.php

What’s it all about?

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