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The Cellar Reviews
Author: David Whyld
I've just finished The Cellar a short piece of IF horror. There's a spooky cellar, a mysterious expedition that goes horribly wrong and your father who is harbouring some kind of sinister secret.
I normally don't enjoy IF where you are just pressing enter or typing "talk to uncle" to get onto the next bit, I seriously question why people wouldn't just write a short story but in this one the story is well written and engaging enough to keep me interested until the end - which is also excellent.
Personally I would have liked to have had more interaction with the story, perhaps taking the part of the uncle on the adventure and then returning to being the listener or something along those lines. I would even have enjoyed rummaging around the house a bit more but you can't really criticise a game for not giving you what you want especially as it does what it sets out to do very well.
I enjoyed it, as a big fan of Lovecraft I liked the premise but also appreciated the nice presentation and good descriptions. Even though it's not the style of game I would normally go for it's a good story and well worth trying.
Reviewed by The Dominant Species (TDS)
And you're never to go into the cellar, Nevare!"
"Never, you understand! If I ever find you've gone down there-"
"Good, Nevare. I knew I could trust you. You're a good boy."
But now your father is away on business and you're all alone in the house. And you know where he keeps the key to the cellar.
So begins David Whyld's short horror IF, The Cellar. It was created with Lovecraftian themes in mind, it being an entry in a H.P. Lovecraft themed competition. Lovecraft--if you don't know--was a horror writer par excellence, responsible for the Cthulhu mythos, and more popularly, The Re-Animator. (Although that selection probably doesn't do him justice; one should Google if they want decent background on the superb author.)
The question is: is The Cellar something H.P. Lovecraft would be proud of?
Well, in certain ways, no. One: his droning, extended (read: purple) prose is nowhere to be found in The Cellar, a fiction that requires a bit more finesse to tell its story. Its story was described in the quotation above; basically, a boy is curious as to the contents of a certain forbidden cellar. (This is never a smart move, in real life or imagined, by the way, but it makes for good horror.) Whyld explores this in interactive fiction effectively, although things get bogged down a bit by conversation.
Conversation after conversation gets rather wearing, but there is a bit of light puzzle action to break up the monotony. Unfortunately, it is a little too little, even for short game standards. Not that the conversations were boring, but they were too frequent and uninterrupted. Being snack-sized IF, the player already feels as if he's being nudged in one direction; nudging him straight to the end with dialogue after dialogue is overkill.
It would be wise, however, to keep in mind the nature of Lovecraft's writing before giving up because of “death by lecturer.” Lovecraft's work often featured people that went into long, drawn-out monologues that had no certain end. They were a staple of his work. Whyld is much better at conversation, however, than the old master. (It's no new fact that Lovecraft had the most awkward character conversations ever; they were fragmented and disjointed, creating a madman out of the most sane of characters.) There are quote-worthy bits of convo:
“I looked evil in the face and evil looked back at me.”
This reminds me of Nietzche's “When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.” A slightly better quotation, I think, but this is interactive fiction not philosophy class.
There's also noteworthy descriptions, one person in the story being described as being “a grotesque mockery of a man.” Whyld writes with intensity, as well as precision, and clichés are either absent or blend in smoothly. That being said, the writing style does get a little mechanical and formulaic. I predicted what characters would say and how they would react and would be right more times than I'd like. I wished for a monkey wrench to be thrown into the story and catch me completely off-guard, maybe the house falling to bits or his father taking out an axe in mid-game, but alas, that isn't the Lovecraftian way. (He had his twists, mind you, but not the kind I'm talking about.)
As stated before, the game is on-rails, a product of its brief length as well as narrative style. The main problem with the game is that it focuses on the story after the story. There is a tale being unwoven that is deep and mysterious, yet the reader only gets his knowledge second-hand. Now, this is acceptable in static fiction, but it would have been nice to see Whyld put the player into the shoes of the explorers who made a horrific discovery. Even if it were driven, it would be a welcome break from rolling screens of text. Just a little more interactivity would have put this game on the pedestal of IF excellence.
Nonetheless, this game is still recommended to anyone that wants a brief diversion in the form of a horror. It isn't difficult by any standards, and it isn't crappy by a long shot. It is fun and interesting, as long as you don't take it too seriously (as in: dissecting it for literary merit).
If you haven't played it, and you like horror, I strongly suggest you give it a try.
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