IFComp Reviews: Across the Stars

(Updated 10/14/07, after someone pointed out that I’d managed to get the title completely wrong. I’ve got the Beatles on the brain, it seems.)

Another IFComp 2007 game. Spoilers beyond the link.

First the good news: There were no bugs. After playing some of the other games in this year’s competition, just a little competent programming was enough to lift my spirits.

As for the bad news…

Ferrous Ring doesn’t give you enough background. Across the Stars gives you too much, all at once. The folder comes stuffed with an intimidating infodump of pdf files, websites and even desktop pictures. The viewpoint character’s blog is in here. Do the authors really expect you to read all this?

Hard to tell. You don’t need to read it to play the game. But that might be because this world is so derivative that anyone with even the most microscopic geek credentials will find it instantly overfamiliar. I’d have forgiven the big infodump if this world had any individuality, any sense of invention, any sign of a personality of its own. It hasn’t. This is leftover Star Trek served from faded Tupperware. We’re talking “Spock’s Brain” here, not “The City on the Edge of Forever.”

That might still be okay, with some work. Unfortunately, words do not exactly flow out like endless rain into a paper cup. The implementation is shallow to the point of boredom. There’s almost nothing in the ship beyond what you need to solve the puzzles; any extra object is an inert mass responding only to EXAMINE. The authors added a dishwashing robot for color, but it has hardly anything to say, so fails to provide any.

The planet isn’t much better. You get a sense of the general level of detail from the fact that you encounter two dangerous monsters within about three rooms of each other, and both can be defeated by typing the same command. As a reward you can rescue a beautiful woman who’s risen to the rank of captain but who for some reason seems to need a third class crewman to come up with all the ideas. I wish the authors of Across the Stars had had one handy; he might have helped them write something more than a third-hand photocopy of a 1950s pulp magazine.

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