I’ve played about half the 2013 interactive fiction competition entries, and Coloratura by Lynnea Glasser is the best so far. The narrative is a science fiction story with strong horror elements. In some horror games you hear of bad things happening in a remote place and you may just meet a horrible monster! In this game, things happen – but you’re close to the action – you’re the monster!
You love nothing better than to sing sing sing! The whole universe sings in pure saturation. But out of timeless bliss comes dissonance. Hurt. Jolted and jostled. Disarranged. You can feel some beings around you but they are benighted. Blind, solitary voices groping in cacophony, colours awry. If only someone would help them! They just need somebeing to reach out…
Coloratura is a full-length parser-based game which can be completed in an hour or two (if you solve all the puzzles). There are HINTs and HELP (you can enter highlighted words in this review into the game as commands). You mostly interact with the game by typing commands to the protagonist like “GO NORTH”, “TOUCH MAN”; and occasionally by asking the protagonist to command another character “CAPTAIN, LISTEN TO ME” (this means that the protagonist should ask the captain to “LISTEN TO ME” i.e. listen to the protagonist). The game reports the result of a command (it might succeed or fail). The game world changes each turn (and as a result of successful commands).
There is a large graphic map provided with the game download. I didn’t find it easy to locate the protagonist on the map – it was not until half way through the game before I could match locations (which the protagonist visited) to those depicted in the map; by then I had stopped looking at the map.
When you type commands in this kind of game, you rely on the game recognising what you want the protagonist to do, and responding aptly. The game’s responses to commands show good intuition from the author or capable testing or both. Serving the player so well demonstrates uncommon mastery. In a departure from convention, the alien protagonist can’t carry things. There are environmental puzzles – when the alien touches some objects, the alien embodies their character e.g. touching a hot thing makes the alien hot; now you can heat something by commanding the alien to touch it. If you’re finding it hard to get started, EXAMINE things mentioned in descriptions, and try TOUCHing things.
There were one or two glitches which escaped editing. There are two protagonists but the WAVE command gives the response for the first protagonist (an alien) even if the second protagonist (a human) is the current protagonist (in the EPILOGUE).
The language was mixed: sometimes creative and beautiful, other times like a bad translation. With a nod to Shyamalan the protagonist is shy and retiring not a bloodthirsty rampager. More cultist than wirehead. The creature’s chromatic sense of human character’s emotions’ is delightful although using the creature’s colour-shifting powers on people was disturbing. I loved the glimpses of a horror story from the reverse perspective. The (best) ending cleaves to the horror theme, a gothic departure from realism which may be a little frustrating for science fiction fans.
I will be surprised if there are more than one or two other entries as good as Coloratura. If you can cope with entering commands to make things happen (and don’t mind an inhuman protagonist who may become sympathetic through the story), I recommend it highly.