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Mortality Reviews
Author: David Whyld
Date: 2005
ADRIFT 4.0


Reviewed by Dan Shiovitz

I guess Mortality is a lot like a more focused and more polished version of Second Chance. Instead of a pretty weak story that doesn't really come together, this game has a tightly focused story with just a few characters that actually throws in a few twists. The thing is — hmm. The thing is, this is actually less interactive than Photopia. Like, although the story's pretty good, most of the actual gameplay for me was "There are exits west and east. >WEST There's nothing interesting that way. >EAST A bunch of plot occurs, putting you into another room with exits north and south." Which, argh. I was ok with that in Photopia (and anyway, as people have pointed out, Photopia had a non-railroady appearance to a much larger extent than most of the games that have followed in its footsteps) but these days I think I'd rather see more interactivity even at the price of less story, unless the story is really incredibly awesome. So yeah, this isn't bad, but I think my ideal Whyld game is something with a storyline like this but the player freedom of A Day In The Life Of A Super Hero or something. 


Reviewed by Mike Russo 

Mortality is the second CYOA-style game of the Comp (while the player does move about, there's very little interaction which occurs outside of conversation trees), and I think it winds up making better use of the format than does Space Horror I; there's a greater sense that your choices have an impact on the plot. Unfortunately, repeat playthroughs reveal that the story is more railroaded than it first appears, and the thoughtful and comprehensive manual arguably undercuts the game by revealing a bit too much. 

The plot of Mortality is pleasantly dark, and the nonlinear way in which it's told makes for an interesting experience - rather than the conventional CYOA structure, where stories branch continually from a common origin, the game's narrative resembles a wave, diverging then returning to common points. The jump-cuts also help prod the player into working with the story: knowing that the protagonist will knock off his employer, I thought about how to make the choices which would make the scenario more interesting, rather than fighting to try to avoid committing murder. 

Unfortunately, most of those choices are hollow. I'll grant that because the game moves around in time, it'd be hard to alter the story in too fundamental a fashion. Still, there do seem to be several missed opportunities. At one point in the story, the narrative flashes back to when the protagonist killed a man in a bar-fight, which has been presented as something of a turning point in his life. The player has the option of having the character behave aggressively, starting the fight of his own, or meekly, such that the killing is an accident. The choice does seem to reveal something about the character, and one would think that later conversation options might alter to reflect a more confrontational or more retiring attitude, but no such changes seem to be on offer. Similarly, while there are a number of possible approaches to offing the employer, the interrogation sequence is substantively unchanged no matter which is picked. Overall, repeat playthroughs feel far less engaging than they should, and retroactively make the first time seem less reactive. 

There's only one main puzzle in the game, and the manual comes right out and flatly tells the reader what it is: there's an internal variable tracking how positively disposed the female lead is towards the protagonist, and depending on its state at the finish, you're either headed for the good ending or the bad ending. Not only is this disclosure rather nakedly game-mechanical, it also sucks some of the enjoyment out of the story; knowing that my ultimate fate hinged on whether Stephanie liked me or not, I was loath to disagree with her. The centrality of her opinion is morally neutral, of course - given where the story ends up, it is reasonable that her subjective feelings would be the single determining factor - but it does also have a normative effect. Actions which please her are "good", those which don't are "bad." As Stephanie isn't a particularly pleasant character, having her desires be the world's guiding principles is likewise not particularly pleasant. 

Finally, though, it's the lack of player agency which is Mortality's fatal flaw. The story is a robust enough take on horror tropes, and the author is to be commended for making the protagonist be not at all a hero, but there just isn't enough interactivity or reactivity to create much in the way of investment. 


Reviewed by Sam Kabo Ashwell

Title Suggests: Moping about death, possibly of the existential variety. As with a lot of Whyld's games, this isn't so much IF as CYOA with the occasional trivial IF interlude. So much so that the code shows through if you do anything incredibly unexpected, such as this: 

> i
[i -> inventory]
I am carrying a accident item and a blib.
Or the failure ending which doesn't actually end the game, but puts you in a blank Failure Room, doesn't change your description appropriately, and leaves you there indefinitely. The fact that there's a failure ending at all surprised me; checking the walkthrough, it seems as if the game does rely on earlier player input to make the final plot decision, but it still feels like hypertext.
It's okay writing. But it's CYOA.

The essential difference between this and the more linear Cadre pieces - Photopia, Shrapnel, 9:05 - is that the latter preserve the illusion not of player control over the plot, but of the importance of manipulating the IF world. If there's no authorial interest in a world that can be explored, manipulated, meaningfully inhabited, then the IF parser is just a shell for hypertext fiction. Nothing wrong with that, but (in this instance) it's closer to straight prose than to IF.

Even as hypertext fiction, it's not very widely branching. You know from the outset that you murdered your employer and conspired to do so with his wife; you're just filling in the blanks. There is a strong feeling of inevitability about even the post-murder thread. This would be more acceptable in a piece that was actually IF, that gave you immediate things to get your teeth into; but when you're just making menu choices, it makes your interaction feel arbitrary.

Aside from the crippling not-really-IF issue, the pacing and structure is pretty good. The prose and theme are also competent, in a bland Hollywoodish Stephen King sort of way. 

Rating: 3


Reviewed by N. B. Horvath 

Score 8.
Over-the-top: Yesyesyes.
Pros: Immersive, and playable - hard to get stuck. Also, I like the idea that conversation menu choices have significant consequences for the plot.
Cons: characters are kind of archetype-ey.


Reviewed by Timofei Shatrov

Well, people at RGIF suggested that I try another interpreter, so this game gets a second chance. The premise is quite good. You are the bodyguard and you need to kill the man who hired you. The gameplay is basically a CYOA where you choose the answer for various conversation. Not very interactive. The story is quite good, but I think the author shouldn't have used supernatural phenomena as a plot element. I was able to reach the bad ending (seems there are no way to die in the game). I thought I did rather well, and the ending didn't make much sense to me. Why after several scenes where she proclaims that she hates that guy she chooses him over me? That's not fucking fair. Oh, did I mention this game uses the f-word far too often? Well, it does. I played the game only one time so I didn't got all mysteries uncovered (wtf has happened in the attic?). Maybe I missed something really interesting as well. But when all you have to do is pressing space and 1,2,3 keys it really pains me to start the game anew. A bit more interaction would've made this one far more attractive. 6 points.

Note that so far all the games I played are fairly decent, if not good. I'm looking forward to some bad ones. Or short ones. Because really, spending 2 hours per game is a bit too much.

 


Reviewed by Jake Wildstrom 

The writing's OK, but the storycraft seriously needs work. Starting with the essential interactive elements: they are at best hypertext and at worst completely absent. At no point is there any real option as to which action to take, but merely conversation-tree traversals. This might not be so bad if it didn't drag so. Even if they weren't hideous cliches, we'd only need so many scenes of the gold-digger going on about how she hates her husband or the conscientious police inspector nosing ever closer to the truth. If this were a more tightened-up story, with more real interactivity, it could be worthwhile: the narrative voice is well-established and competently executed, so it's just everything else that needs work here.

Rating: 6


Reviewed by Rob Menke 

Technical: 9 
Puzzles: 4 
Story: 9 

OK, from the attached documentation the game looks like an IF version of Memento, in that the game has a reversed timeline. The player character is definitely an antihero, so it will be interesting to see how the author develops that plot point as well.

Oh joy, the adrift font problem once again rears its ugly head…

Huh, practically all of the major plotline forks occur during conversation, making the game one large choose-your-own-adventure.

All right, the conversation forks set up the game proper. Still, it felt like I was setting up a game of Clue: the bodyguard… in the study… with poison.

This plotline introduced magic…

Bah, I spent fifteen minutes looking in the boxes when the game really wanted me to get the boxes.

Language is getting a bit graphic; the tone has changed since the beginning of the game. It’s too noticeable to be purposeful.

Interesting ending, but not completely unexpected. (Bizarrely enough, there was a Twilight Zone with exactly the same premise on last night.) However, my death doesn’t end the game, but rather puts me in a void. I don’t think there’s any return from this point; so not ending the game here is a cheap (and annoying) gimmick.

Hm, one of the game paths (Burglary, Poison, Page Boy) locks the game when Gamble asks if I can protect his wife.

I found the “ideal” ending, where I don’t die. Not sure which choices this time sealed my fate; I actually was playing for silly answers. Interesting concept, but too many of the decision points were red herrings in that all choices resulted in the same outcome. Still, the story was well-structured and the implementation novel; pity there weren’t any challenging puzzles in the game to solve. A mini-game in the middle of the story might have broken up the CYOA nature of the game.


Reviewed by Sidney Merk 

David Whyld’s Mortality is a choose-your-own-adventure story. At first glance, that might not seem to be the case. However, interaction is very minimal. Decision points pause the narrative and seem to allow for adjustments to the eventual ending. It works a little better than traditional CYOA, primarily because the game can track and remember these decisions. This allows the plot to branch in minor ways, converge again, and ultimately contribute to differences later in the game. It’s a step above CYOA in that regard (and it’s written in Adrift), but it’s clear that Mortality is meant to flow forward without the plot-stopping obstacle of puzzles. Sometimes, IF-like actions are required, but much of the time it’s just a matter of hitting a key to see the next page, or picking a choice from the dialogue menu.

The text made me cringe a little – not because it’s badly written (it isn’t), but because I wasn’t at home while playing and the dialogue gets kind of raunchy in spots. Although it’s not very interactive, the dialogue and characters were surprisingly convincing. I found the story very interesting – engaging and engrossing – and the writing was excellent.

I wasn’t a big fan of David’s entry in last year’s competition (although I see that I remarked on his enjoyable style, in my review). I don’t know if David’s writing just improved remarkably in the past twelve months, or if Mortality had the kind of proofreading that A Day in the Life of a Super Hero lacked. With such an emphasis on the story, this is really the key to helping a game such as this succeed or fail. I noted a very small number of minor issues with the writing, but that’s in the transcript and needs no further mention here.

Steven Rogers (my uncle’s name, oddly enough, and with a background similar to this one) and Stephanie Gamble have plotted to kill Wilfred Gamble, an elderly, harsh millionaire. The deed is done. The story jumps around like a kangaroo on hot asphalt, but it’s always clear what’s going on in the scene and at what point it happened. It even seems to follow a pattern, where the events following Wilfred’s funeral move forward, with each intruding scene set at some key point in the past. The game lacks room titles and a status line, which is never an issue. In fact, it probably helped.

Mortality has a few sticking points, but not many. In my ending, for instance, the game didn’t actually end. Also, it was clear what needed to be done in the scene with Stephanie in the club, but my variations on the required action weren’t recognized by the game. I thought David had inexplicably missed what was a pretty obvious cue, but looking at the walkthrough later showed me that it was just a tricky bit with the right command. At one point very late in the game, the “x me” response didn’t take into consideration a pretty important change in circumstances. Sometimes, referring to “woman” would make references to a “nude woman” – and references to “Stephanie” replied with “the Stephanie's sculpture.” Opening the trapdoor in the ceiling was a mini-puzzle, where I expected a simple “open trapdoor” to suffice (in the context of the rest of the game, anyway). At the tavern, “drink” tells me I can’t drink the cold beer, but “drink beer” works. Sometimes, it’s not possible to see all the detail David has put into Mortality, because the game moves ahead of its own volition after a few turns.

My biggest complaint is that the story does branch. An odd complaint? Probably. But at the end, I hadn’t realized that any of the decisions I made were affecting anything other than immediate variations to the story. Only afterwards, when looking at the walkthrough, was it clear that I missed some opportunities to positively affect the outcome. I haven’t seen it all, but it seems that the more you do to keep Stephanie on your side, the better chance you’ll have in the final confrontation. It was easy for me to get everything out of Space Horror I earlier in the competition, because I could use multiple browser windows at key points and the browser’s inherent “undo” ability. With Mortality, it’s not so easy, simply because of the different type of presentation.

The walkthrough is a transcript, so it’s possible to get the full effect of a good ending without playing it through again. This is described as one of two good endings, so it stands to reason the decision points are even more important than they seem. With the minimal interaction, though, reading a transcript that sticks to what’s important is just as good as playing it yourself. This is why I skewed down half a point from a 9.0 base score – I like a little more interaction. It’s a good story with very good writing and no major problems. It worked well for me, and a final score of 8.5 seems aptly earned.


Reviewed by James Hall 

Now this is more like it. Although there isn't as much freedom in this as there is in other IF games (you are limited to multiple choice decision making for most of the game), this one is rather good. You've been employed by an old millionaire to guard his wife, which eventually leads you into a sinister plot to kill him off. Throughout, the game has a nice atmosphere and is well written. Nice ending(s) too. 

7/10


Reviewed by Michael Martin 

This had, in a sense, much the same problem that Mix Tape did; it's mostly story, and the characters are all basically loathesome. In Mortality, this is kind of the point; it's trying to be dark and gritty, and it mostly succeeds. There are a number of places where the tone wobbles, but it's never quite fatal. It could use a few run-throughs by people more familiar with gritty and/or occult style writing, though. 

It's quite a bit more interactive than Mix Tape -- however, most of this interaction is of a CYOA form; your choices end up modifying a tally that determines the nature of the ending. This is kind of neat, but in terms of "game", it's really all there is, so it ends up feeling a bit slight. 

Score: 5 


Reviewed by James Mitchelhill

The first question that needs to be asked is why the author feels the need to tell us all about the plot of the game in the PDF file he includes. I'd far prefer to judge a game on its own merits. If there are multiple endings, feel free to tell me about them after I've played through the game once. The fact that the PC is anti-hero should be discovered through the game, not because of a note the author writes about the game. 

And that's the problem. A character doesn't have to be nice to be interesting. I don't have to sympathise with someone to empathise with them. In this game, though, the characters are neither sympathetic nor interesting. They proceed through the game like cardboard cut-outs. And, because the game is puzzleless there's really no point to reading the text. In fact, interactivity is so limited in the game that it's almost like one huge CYOA with sparse choices throughout long text. 

A near static story like this can be interesting, but as others have noted, it's often like being strapped down in a chair and the author screaming the plot into your face. And this is worse if the game is boring. And there's nothing interesting going on here. The author does his best, telling scenes out of time and switching from one genre to another, but in the end I never cared about anyone involved and couldn't give a damn about whether they lived or died. 

I'm sure the author thinks he's being clever and edgy. Every writer probably goes through a phase when they have to experiment with these kinds of plots. Unfortunately, Mortality must be consigned to the million words of crap every author writes before they get to the good stuff. The writing is not particularly polished, ither. I spotted a couple of spelling errors and the author needs to memorise the maxim "show, don't tell" (not that it's a hard or fast rule, but knowing when to break it is important). A little more subtlety would be nice, too. 

Two points for trying something experimental. One point deducted for failing. One point for decent implementation. One point for the sheer effort put into writing that amount of deathless prose and a final point just because being so harsh makes me feel a little guilty. 

4/10 



Reviewed by The Dominant Species TDS (Reviews Exchange 7)

Mortality is the story of a man called Steven James Rogers and the events that follow his taking a job working for ageing multi-millionaire, Wilfred Gamble. The job involves acting as the personal bodyguard of Gamble's younger (by sixty-one years) wife, Stephanie Gamble, and the events that unfold when the two of them decide that life without Wilfred would be a nice thing.

This writing in the game is good for the most part, but it gets a little over the top at times. There aren't any real puzzles in the game to solve, you can only navigate through the CYOA menus and occasionally move around. This hybrid of CYOA and IF makes the game seem even more limited than both, due to the inability to clearly see the choices you have. This isn't helped by the restricting responses you get when trying to do anything other than what the author intends:

> n
I step into the study where I first met Wilfred Gamble all those many months ago. It seems a smaller room than I remembered, more compact, as if the death of its former occupant has taken the very life from it.

Experiencing a chill, I quickly leave the study and return to the dining room.
> w
I step away from the dining room for a second, only to find myself in a small, almost empty room set aside for cleaning implements. Why did I come in here?

I return to the dining room before my presence is missed.

> se
I leave the dining room and step out onto a balcony overlooking the gardens. After a few moments, I sense Stephanie join me...

The characters were unrealistic. Every time people talk you don't get a quotable or amusing quip. They shouldn't be so realistic they are boring, but slightly more human than what they are portrayed as in the game.

After a while the game fails to hold your interest with the mountains of text you trudge through, and by the end of the game you'll feel cheated when you come to the bad ending. That was realized that the whole affair was ridiculous. I really felt cheated at the end. I got a crap ending after sitting and reading all that story unfold. Just because the ending is supposed to be bad doesn't mean you should let your player feel like total crap after playing it. After getting the bad ending I had no incentive to play because: one, the game is restrictive beyond belief; and two, I don't like any of the characters.

Despite all this, I only found one small grammatical error. Thus, I give the game a five (average/decent/playable/middle of the road).

5/10


Reviewed by Valentine Kopteltsev (BAF's)

After taking a job of a bodyguard for the beautiful wife of the old millionaire Gamble, you fall in love with her; together, you work out a plan of killing her husband and your employer - but whose plan is it, after all?..

A plot-oriented game without any puzzles, but with mystic elements. Unfortunately, I couldn't reach an optimal ending - neither the first time, as I played it on my own, nor for the second one, as I resorted to the enclosed walkthrough. Maybe I've just chosen the wrong option somewhere, but, to be honest, I've just hadn't the patience to check it. Anyway, the critical decision points seem to be hidden very carefully; those of them that should have affected the outcome of the game, for some reason have not.

Rating: ****


Reviewed by James Mitchelhi for IFReviews.org

The first question that needs to be asked is why the author feels the need to tell us all about the plot of the game in the PDF file he includes. I'd far prefer to judge a game on its own merits. If there are multiple endings, feel free to tell me about them after I've played through the game once. The fact that the PC is an antihero should be discovered through the game, not because of a note the author writes about the game.

And that's the problem. A character doesn't have to be nice to be interesting. I don't have to sympathise with someone to empathise with them. In this game, though, the characters are neither sympathetic nor interesting. They proceed through the game like cardboard cut-outs. And, because the game is puzzleless there's really no point to reading the text. In fact, interactivity is so limited in the game that it's almost like one huge CYOA with sparse choices throughout long text.

A near static story like this can be interesting, but as others have noted, it's often like being strapped down in a chair and the author screaming the plot into your face. And this is worse if the game is boring. And there's nothing interesting going on here. The author does his best, telling scenes out of time and switching from one genre to another, but in the end I never cared about anyone involved and couldn't give a damn about whether they lived or died.

I'm sure the author thinks he's being clever and edgy. Every writer probably goes through a phase when they have to experiment with these kinds of plots. Unfortunately, Mortality must be consigned to the million words of crap every author writes before they get to the good stuff. The writing is not particularly polished, either. I spotted a couple of spelling errors and the author needs to memorise the maxim "show, don't tell" (not that it's a hard or fast rule, but knowing when to break it is important). A little more subtlety would be nice, too.


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