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Hoedown in Ho-Town Reviews
Author: S. Welland
What does AIF stand for? Adult Interactive Fiction. If you likely to be offended by games with sexual content, you are advised not to open these files.
Reviewed by David Whyld
What is it about the adult side of the text adventure market that keeps me coming back for one last try? After all, for every good adult game I've played - which is a grand total of two actually with a couple of others showing promise - there are at least half a dozen I've hated. They've either been poorly written, riddled with so many errors they're almost unplayable, or just been so feeble and lacking in ideas that I've regretted ever downloading them in the first place. But something about the genre just keeps me coming back for one last game. Maybe I think that if I try hard enough I'll eventually be able to find another game as good as The Backlot or Ghost Justice.
Or maybe I'm just a glutton for punishment and don't know when to quit.
The last adult game I tried I didn't like but, undaunted, I decided to try another. This was the one I picked. I'm not sure why I picked it instead of any of the many, many others available at the Yahoo AIF Group (located at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/aifarchive/ for anyone who's interested) but the title seemed rather amusing. So I embarked on Hoedown in Ho-Town hoping I wasn't going to regret it.
What's it about?
Well, it's a game about sex. That's probably a given considering its location at the Yahoo Adult Interactive Fiction Group but I thought I'd just clear that up in case anyone had missed the rather obvious reference to sex in the game's title or the bit above where it says "Genre: Adult".
You play a cowboy or drifter (or something similar) who has just reached the charmingly-titled Ho-Town and decided to stop here for, the game informs you, "a nice hot bath, a good shot of whiskey and a wild whore". Ho ho. (And that's "ho ho" in the laughing sense and not a reference to the "ho's" of the game's title.)
There are quite a few locations in Ho-Town yet at no time does it ever feel like you're exploring a real town. The descriptions are too short and basic for the most part - this is Middle Road:
This is a fork in the road of this small town. The Ho-town Bank lies to the east. The road continues north and also to the west. Stiffy is here. You can move north, east, south and west.
- and too little effort has been expended in fleshing them out. The few locations that show more depth are still nothing very special and often contain so many undescribed items that I wonder if the writer got bored before reaching the end of his game and just decided to rush the final stages.
What's wrong with it?
If you're playing the game purely for the sex and don't give a hoot about the regular side of text adventures - storyline, item descriptions, logic, gameplay - then… well, you'll probably still notice the rather alarming errors that seem to plague the game. As sex is the aim of the game, it's kind of strange typing "[sexual swear word deleted here] Shanna" results in being told that "I really don't think there's any need for language like that!". Now that's the standard ADRIFT response for when someone comes along and types a naughty word in a game, but in a game where naughty words have to be typed - a lot! - to actually make any progress, the fact that the one you're going to need delivers a response telling you off for swearing is quite an oversight.
Guess the verb problems? Oh yes. In one location "[sexual swear word deleted here] Abigail" won't work yet sucking a part of her anatomy does work. The first displays a message telling you off for swearing. Ouch!
There is also one decidedly unpleasant scene that I felt was a bit extreme even for an adult game. In the morgue you find a dead body and the description of her is a bit too close to the cuff for my liking. You can also, ahem, have relations with the dead body if you're so inclined. Yuk.
There are the usual things that bring down most adult games: namely lack of descriptions for items. Okay, this is a game about sex, sex and more sex, but it's also a text adventure and a few descriptions for items would be nice. You don't need to spend an age writing descriptions for every blade of grass in a field but a game with decent descriptions is definitely better than a game with no descriptions.
Sloppy programming showed in several other places. In the general store I read a sign (examining it told me nothing) advertising condoms for sale, yet trying to buy a condom (singular) didn't work. Confusingly, trying to buy condoms (plural) results in a message telling you that you don't have any money whether you happen to be carrying any or not.
Remember those games back in the 80's with limited inventories? That died out because people thought they were a pain? Turns out they're not quite as extinct as you might originally have hoped. Hoedown In Ho-Town is one such game. Unfortunately, the precise science of determining what is considered "too much" to carry hasn't improved in the last twenty years, so while it's perfectly possible for the player to wander around town with a red velour chaise lounge chair and a claw-footed bathtub*, try picking up a two-dollar bill and you're over the limit.
* Both of which I'm pretty sure the writer intended to leave as static items but which he's put down as dynamic meaning you can pick them up and move them around all you like.
There are also more than a few genuine errors that will probably leave you shaking your head in exasperation. In the saloon, the in-game text advises you to solicit the young ladies by typing "solicit [name]" yet "solicit [every darn person's name]" just hits you with an error message: "I don't understand what you want to do with [name]."
The in-game text… ah, that's another thing that tends to lower my opinion of a game. Now I've never really been someone overly bothered with the whole "dear god, he's breaking mimesis! Lynch him!" idea, but when a game actually displays hints telling you what you need to do then the whole atmosphere (not that there is a lot here anyway) gets thrown right out of the window. Surely a better way of handling it would have been via conversation? Or a sign advising you to solicit the ladies? Or something else?
By far the worst thing about Hoedown In Ho-Town as far as I was concerned was the writer's habit of only covering the necessary responses to the majority of commands. If you type in a perfectly acceptable command - "open gate" or "x gate" in a location with a locked gate - you're just hit with default error messages until you're blue in the face. If you're especially good at text adventures, I suppose it's possible you might actually make it through the entire game without coming across one of these default error messages, but if you're like me you're probably going to be stumbling across them every five seconds. And when you've seen your fiftieth error message in ten minutes, you really wish the writer had gone ahead and found himself someone to test the game beforehand.
Shoot the beta-tester!
Nice idea if there was one. Unfortunately there isn't. Now I'm not one of those people who cry out from the rooftops for every game ever released to be subjected to vigorous beta-testing - some simply don't require it, others are small enough for the writer to test himself, some are so bad that even beta-testing isn't going to save them - but this is a game that was clearly in need of some serious beta-testing. Want an example of something any half-competent beta-tester would have caught? Here's a classic:
You see this blonde haired, blue-eyed goddess untying your horse from the post. She whispers softly, "Meet me in the hayloft later..." With that, she flashes you a seductive smile and tends to your trusty steed. You can move north, east, south and west.
You see that after a little incident in the stable. It's fine the first time. But the second? And third? Fourth? Fifth? Etc…? Hell no. Yep, it's one of those annoying bugs you see displayed every time you visit the location outside the stable and how it got missed even by the writer is hard to imagine. It's even more annoying that the blonde haired, blue-eyed goddess can't even be examined or spoken to.
Anything good about it then?
A few things. It's got a better standard of writing than you generally tend to find in adult games. Not that the writer is likely to be winning any awards for his literary skills any time soon but at least I didn't find myself wincing every few words at spelling mistakes and grammatical errors (something that usually happens whenever I play an adult game). There are also some amusing moments which, while not making me burst out into hysterical laughter, raised a wry smile from time to time. Discovering that one of the whores I was trying to bed was actually a man (or maybe an hermaphrodite (I'm not sure of the exact details as I didn't hang around long after my unwitting discovery)) was quite funny.
But the sex! Tell me about the sex!
I must be getting better at these adult games as I actually managed to reach a sex scene. Yes! A good sex scene? I prefer the real thing to reading about it on a computer screen but it certainly wasn't the worst one I have ever read. A little too graphic for my liking (the sex here is strictly hardcore so don't try playing this game if you're an old romantic at heart) and I think I was probably more thrilled to do well enough in the game to reach a sex scene than for the actual scene itself.
Not too horrible was it?
No, not too horrible, but it's also a game clearly several stages away from being completed. There are so many rough edges that I haven't got the time (or the willpower) to mention and so many places in which the game is clearly crying out for improvements. So many missed opportunities. And even more instances that show a complete lack of any kind of testing. The writing is better than average for this sort of game and if the gameplay itself was a little more competent I might even find myself recommending it. Unfortunately in its current state it's in need of so much work that you're better off trying something else.
3 out of 10
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