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Full Circle Reviews
Author: David Whyld
Reviewed by Lazzah
My efforts to solve this game reminded me how rusty I am at actually playing adventure games after years of writing them...in fact I have virtually siezed up! I didn't get very far before I was yelling for help only to be told to use one of the cardinal rules of adventure playing, i.e. examine EVERYTHING you see!
Once I tried this then the game started to flow. It is very well written although I did find one bug that the playtesters should have picked up on. Some of the commands are a bit odd and there is "sudden death", but whenever you do get killed you are resurrected.
There are a variety of puzzles which range from fairly obvious to downright head-scratching. All-in-all a very good game which I vey much enjoyed playing.
Reviewed by DB
Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy Full Circle. Its setting is interesting enough: a dark fantasy like Doomed Xycanthus or the author's previous Shards of Memory. Its presentation is sleek. Exits are clearly displayed and there's a special touch to the inventory: it's organized, convenient, and appealing, unlike many other inventories one sees in i.f. I expect that with some revisions it may yet win my enjoyment, but those revisions may be numerous. As it is, the story is almost completely suspenseless and the conscious choice of a design aesthetic based on obscurity and frustration with the expectancy of players progressing by revelation (“the time-honoured method of slamming [one's] head into the desk until something clicks,” as Mr. Whyld himself put it) actively works against the game's favor in my opinion.
When I say it is suspenseless, I don't mean you'll know what's going on right away. What I mean is that the writing seems to want to be suspenseful, but constantly gives itself away or plays up mystery where the audience already has answers. Even in the opening text dump we're presented with our amnesiac protagonist and asked, “Have you been here before?” and so we the audience know that, yes, we have. After being mauled by the beast away from a glade (very early in the game, so it is no spoiler), we are flatly told, “Death wraps you in its icy embrace.” Upon being returned to the glade: “Did you die? Have you been reborn again? Is that how you ended up in the glade in the first place?” Again, the author tells us first (we have died), and then questions so insistently that mystery is dispelled. This is not suspense. For an example of a very good ontological mystery IF with player-character persistence after multiple deaths, see Shrapnel.
Many interactions in the game are badly designed and become unfair Guess the Verb puzzles. On seeing a man hanging from a rope, for example, >GET ROPE flatly refuses because “the rope is of no use.” For the unclued command >UNTIE, >UNTIE ROPE gives “I don't understand what you want me to do with the ropes.” One must specifically “untie corpse.” “Body” or “man” do work as synonyms for “corpse.”
On top of being very puzzle-heavy, the relation of player/protagonist knowledge is not always clear. We can see a statue in the first room, but must examine its several parts more closely before coming to what should have been an easy or more general observation about it available from first-level description-- where its arm points. Close by this, we are offered a >DIG verb from the help menu, which is never used by the player, but automatically done by the protagonist. In fact, the game's major unique verb is not listed in the help menu-- all the more pernicious because it is possible to explore the game world without any knowledge of it and become irreversibly stuck.
Verbs offered in the help menu also don't accurately reflect their usage in the game. For one, the player must use >BURY instead of the already given >DIG, for no reason with no indication. Toward the end of the game, the author changes the rules of conversation unexpectedly, without warning and without indication of the newly expected syntax.
Even beyond the obscurity of many solutions, many of the game's descriptions are often misleading. For example, the game describes the use of a branch as a possible weapon, but it never seems to be used in this way. Instead, you're supposed to make it into a torch using a verb that you might never be able unlock if you go east of the quicksand without learning the spell from the cave. For another, upon examining oneself, the game says, “You are... you... You seem to be in reasonable health, aside from your memory problems.” However, this is patently false, as your character has a “mark” on him that not only appears as a large bruise (so you're not healthy), but is the key to learning how to cast magic without which it is impossible to progress. This sort of writing is not helpful; it is badly designed.
Though I did finish the game, I think my last shred of hope it would be any good basically went away on reading the ship's log. Many of the previous GTV troubles, cruel design, and misleading descriptions could have been accidental, just a forgivable hazard of solo development and lack of outside beta-testing. Reading the ship's log, however, shows 1 of 10 pages completely at random. There is no diagetic reason that the protagonist should have to read pages at random, nor a reason offered why he would, rather than reading chronological order from the beginning to the end like people do. This use of randomness and frustration over order and flow was an intentional design decision that was completely needless in its frustration, and may best sum up why I did not enjoy this game. The log also makes it clear that basically all of the exciting stuff happened on the ship; as in a game of Clue, we find ourselves engaging the world of this game only after all the action is over. This might also serve to explain the lack of suspense in the story.
If you have a very high frustration threshold, an unabidingly old school love of unravelling mysteries in high fantasy worlds, and ADRIFT 4, then version 1 of Full Circle might just be what you're looking for.
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