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Last Week Before The Wedding Reviews

Author: Raul
Date: 2009
ADRIFT 4.0


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 ExLibris (Inside Erin Volume 5 Number 8 - September 2009)

Basic Plot/Story

It takes a brave man to release the first full-length game since School Dreams 3, all the more so since it seems inevitable that SD3 will sweep the Erins this year (even in the categories it doesn't qualify for). But
Raul is that man. His second game, Last Week Before the Wedding, represents the culmination of three years work and is the largest non-graphical AIF ever created for ADRIFT.

The player takes on the role of Travis as he discovers that he will have to completely reorganise his wedding a week before it's supposed to happen. The game is non-linear in the sense that although Travis
has a list of tasks he has to complete it is largely up to the player in which order he tackles them.

Overall Thoughts

Plot
As a motivation for the protagonist I found organising Travis and Samantha's wedding to be too abstract, especially since Samantha is absent from most of the game and her relationship with Travis is never
described in any detail. As a result it's unclear why they want to get married. You might assume that they're in love, but for a game supposedly about a wedding the L word is largely conspicuous by its absence.

Of course, in reality the wedding is only a device to get Travis to interact with the other characters since, like most AIF protagonists, his actual goal is to have as much sex as possible. While that doesn't
necessarily decrease enjoyment of the game, I did find it disappointing that the plot of Last Week was so  secondary to the sex.

Despite these misgivings, I think that the actual execution of the plot works well. The player never feels railroaded into a particular course of action, though it has to be said that a lot of the time his path is perhaps
too well signposted. I also liked the way that certain actions trigger events, such as the arrival of Samantha's family. This gives the impression that the story as a whole is moving forward, as opposed to
the protagonist meandering through a static plot.

Character
Characterisation is a strength of Last Week. Most of the characters have a large amount of implemented dialogue, and many of the responses change to reflect events in the game. Given how many characters there
are in Last Week this is an impressive amount of work. This high level of implementation helps to establish the characters as real people rather than simply objects. It also helps to make them distinct in the player's
mind, an important consideration given how many characters there are.

Unfortunately I think the author is guilty of trying too hard in some places. For example, I learned that Christine had been homeless because she wedged it into the conversation the first three times I asked her
about something. "Aha!" you say, putting on your deductive reasoning cap, "if she's been homeless perhaps bribing her with a few luxuries might be the means of getting that passkey she has." Except that
you don't need to do any thinking because she tells you all that herself, as well as half a dozen stories about how grateful she's been for gifts in the past. In fact you almost never have to deduce anything about a
character, because most of them tell you all about themselves. In the rare cases where they don't, e.g. Holly, some other character will tell you. This makes the game quite straightforward, but it also makes the
characters seem superficial as there's nothing left below the surface for you to discover. "Show, don't tell" is a maxim of writing fiction that could have been used to better effect here. However, in the grand scheme
of things "trying too hard" isn't exactly a major flaw. I'd be quite pleased if more games were as 'flawed' in this respect as Last Week is.

Writing
In general the quality of the writing is reasonable. In particular the environments are well described and implemented. The descriptions of the locations also reflect the people who normally inhabit them. For
example, Kelly's home furniture is barely used since she's a workaholic who's always in the bakery. This is a source of characterisation that is often neglected, so it was good to see it put to use here.

However, after reading a sentence I occasionally found myself thinking that it didn't sound quite right. This was more common when it came to dialogue, with some lines sounding unnatural and stilted if I imagined
them being spoken out loud.

Puzzles/Gameplay

Part of the satisfaction of playing IF in general comes from solving the puzzles. Last Week has a large number of puzzles, but unfortunately it tends to veer towards making them too easy by giving clear
indications of not only what the player is supposed to do next, but also the exact command in many cases. This is probably a lesser sin than making the puzzles frustratingly hard, but it did reduce my sense of
accomplishment.

The puzzles themselves are quite well constructed and generally make sense as things that Travis would have to do in order to make sure that his wedding takes place. However, they do occasionally call attention
to themselves as puzzles by blocking alternate solutions. For example, Stacey will only accept a $150 coupon from Jenny's hair salon as payment for doing the flowers for the wedding; Travis can't just give her
the money. It's also quite easy to block off certain paths without realising it (e.g. forgetting to pick up the bra in the dressing room, or giving the schnapps to Christine before meeting Kirsten), which led to me
quitting the game in frustration at least once. This is mitigated somewhat by the efforts that have been made to create multiple solutions to certain puzzles.

Sex

The author's writing is strongest when it comes to description, and strongest of all when describing sex. Last Week has eleven interactive scenes, as well as a number of non-interactive scenes that Travis can
enjoy if he is in the right place at the right time, or has found the right object. Mechanically each of the scenes is very similar, with two responses implemented for each of up to fifteen actions. However, despite
this each scene has something that makes it unique and distinctive.

Like the puzzles, many of the sex scenes fall into the trap of being almost too easy. The women virtually hurl themselves at Travis and afterwards tell him how great he was. I know that AIF protagonists are wish-
fulfilment figures in this regard, but the extent to which it's taken with Travis strained my suspension of disbelief. The other minor criticism I had was that few of the characters attach any emotion to their
encounters with Travis. It's more "How can I thank you for finding that DVD? Oh, I know..." This happens so frequently that after a while you get the feeling that none of the characters actually know how to express
gratitude except through sex.

If you can maintain your suspension of disbelief, most of the scenes are very enjoyable. One of my favourites was the Amanda/Maggie scene, which whets your appetite with a teaser scene, and then keeps
cranking up the anticipation by forcing Travis to remain a spectator as the two girls enjoy themselves, until they finally let him join in. Another scene I enjoyed involved Samantha's little sister, Kirsten. Although it's
another case of a girl hurling herself at Travis, the fact that Kirsten is a virgin stops her from hurling herself too far, and Travis has to gently guide her to her destination. Again this has the effect of increasing the
anticipation and getting the player interested in the scene. The only scene I really didn't like was Holly's. An NC scene feels out of place, and frankly having her say "you made me feel like I've never felt before"
after Travis has effectively raped her just disturbs me.

Technical

Given its size, Last Week is comparatively bug free. I noticed only a handful, such as the game's assumption that the PC will only strip in the presence of some other person, or the fact that it's apparently
impossible to distinguish any regular telephone from the PC's cell phone. These bugs and glitches are annoying rather than game-breaking. There are also a few typos and spelling mistakes, as well as
formatting errors. The fact that they are uncommon probably makes them more noticeable when you do encounter them, but again they're an annoyance rather than being a major issue.

On the plus side there are a number of nice programming touches, such as the way character descriptions and responses vary according to circumstances. Completing the game also reveals a number of meta-
functions that have been built into the game for those who care to use them, such as the ability to summon objects or view the status of certain characters.

Intangibles

I have to admit that I was initially a little disappointed when I first played Last Week. Not, I hasten to add, because it isn't a good game, but because it wasn't quite what I was anticipating. I really enjoyed the
author's first game, Riding Home. It was a pleasant change of pace from the key/lock puzzles that frequently characterise relationships in AIF, and was the sort of character focused game that I enjoy.
Consequently, I was hoping that the author's second game would be similar to his first, just on a larger scale. Of course it wasn't, and in hindsight it's difficult to see how such a game could be carried off (though
that doesn't stop me hoping).

Comparing the two games, one of the things that struck me was the difference in the protagonists. The PC in Riding Home came across as intelligent and mature, which is something of a rarity in AIF (and sadly
didn't carry over to his cameo in Last Week). By contrast Travis is an almost stereotypical AIF protagonist, which feels like a step backwards. Something else that disappointed me a little was how irrelevant the
actual wedding was. It doesn't even take place ingame, and could have been changed to someone else's wedding or some other event entirely without affecting the overall game very much.

However, it's very heartening to see an author who has released a strong minicomp game go on to release a full-length game that's equally strong (albeit in different ways). In theory the minicomp is supposed to be a
catapult that launches the careers of new authors, so it's nice to see it working in practice

Final Thoughts

Overall, Last Week is a very solid game where the good considerably outweighs the bad. There are some things that I would have done differently, but those quibbles don't stop Last Week from being a very
enjoyable piece of AIF. While I don't quite consider it a classic in the same league as SD3 there are some areas where Last Week is arguably stronger. Given that this is only Raul's second game, I'm greatly looking forward to his third. I only hope we don't have to wait another three years for it.

Rating: A-
 


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