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Six Silver Bullets
Author: William Dooling
Reviewed by Christopher Huang
We wake up in a hotel room knowing only that we are the Silver Agent. We
remember nothing else. Here is our weapon, a silver gun with six silver bullets.
And here's a yellow note from the Yellow Agent telling us what our mission is.
The mission consists of four parts, each changing randomly from game to game;
there's some suggestion that there's some weird Twilight Zone-ish force at work,
and that each time we "restart" the game, it's actually the same character being
resurrected to try the whole thing all over again with a bunch of things
switched around. Nothing is quite what it seems, and the use of knowledge
gleaned from previous playthroughs actually feels somehow justified.
It's a phenomenally neat concept.
There are a couple of flaws in the implementation, though. For one thing, the parser's rather picky, especially when in conversation with someone else. I noted a couple of times where "Ask about [something]" wasn't understood, but "Ask about the [something]" was. It's as if the author wrote up several of the key verb-noun actions as ... incantations, if you will. The game doesn't understand these particular actions as verbs coupled with nouns, but as strings of letters, and you better get them all right. And then, after offering a bunch of possible conversation topics, half of them seem to be unimplemented. On one occasion, I found myself in a conversation with no way of getting out -- and the game insists that you leave an "encounter" properly before doing anything else. It got a bit frustrating.
Still, the writing was interesting. As a secret agent, our view of the world looks like a series of quickly jotted notes: nouns of interest, listed objectively. It's pretty effective. And the various agents all seem to have their own stories and connections to us, and their own personalities as well. Except perhaps the Blue Agent, who I suspect is only our own paranoia being projected onto the local police force.
I imagine this breakfast as kind of like a Western omelette that's gotten unfortunately stuck to the pan. The ingredients are good and it's still delicious, but the execution's gone a bit wrong and you'll have to proceed carefully. The accompanying tea is on the tepid side: stir vigorously or the sugar will all end up at the bottom of the cup.
Escape the nameless city in a thrilling spy story
+ Ambitious scope, elaborate background
+ Distinct characters, lots of interaction
+ Mysteries within mysteries, multilayered story
+ There is a greater secret which is worth unravelling
+ Multiple endings with very different outcomes
- The blurb slightly undersells the game
- Stingy parser
= Warning Spoiler! : Just like playing an interactive Philip K. Dick novel… and one of the better ones to boot!
One of the most exciting things about unravelling
a mystery is piecing your clues together and trying to make sense of it all.
Just think of the fun you can have while coming up with your own interpretation
of what is going on or your very own version of the truth. You do not have to be
right, on the contrary coming up with a theory which turns out to be wrong can
be even more entertaining because it only makes the mystery deeper. And the
deeper it gets the more curious and therefore involved you get.
Reviewed by Sam Kabo Ashwell
Six Silver Bullets is a parser-based spy game. It’s weird and uncomfortable.
It’s an odd duck, difficult to assess. I expect to get at least one game a year
completely wrong, and this seems a strong candidate for that.
You know nothing about yourself. If you had memories, they are gone.
So part of the reason why amnesia tends to suck as a device is that it’s often paired with a story that takes a very long time to get going, because the author doesn’t really know what’s going on and therefore doesn’t know how to get to it. This is not the case here: it is impressed on you that you have to start doing shit immediately. There’s limited time. There’s someone knocking at your door right this minute and they might be here to kill you.
This is the rare amnesia game in which it actually feels as though something really bad has happened to your brain. The world… doesn’t lack detail, and indeed it often seems to be going for a lurid Lynchian aesthetic, but it’s described in a cut-down way that gives the impression of tunnel vision. There’s a sense of foreboding and paranoia; your mistrust is often justified, and there’s an overwhelming sense of doom. You constantly need to know things that you don’t know. You are often forbidden to do things because of psychological conditioning.
In the meantime there’s a bunch of spy-vs-spy shit in which you have to guess at who to trust (almost nobody) and who’s going to try to kill you (almost everyone). It verges quite a lot into cliche – more than once I was put in mind of the conspiracy-theory sequence in Psychonauts – in ways that aim to transcend cliche and go right on into epic. The setting is The City; key players include the Enemies of Freedom, the Organisation, the Resistance. Every Agent is identified by a colour codename, and naming them is implied to have power. I found, I think, one real name.
There’s a lot of violence, and it’s pretty brutal, but it feels risky, high-cost: those six bullets make me think of violence as a limited resource, one I wasn’t happy about spending at random. And there’s a lot of randomness in the game. Apart from the inerrant six bullets, combat and sneaking are subject to random chance. Your Mission objectives are different each time, although they form a pattern: kill two random agents, protect another, and perform one further task. At least once I had already killed the agent I was meant to protect before I read the mission briefing. Doing the Mission may not be the correct thing at all. You are expected to replay, a lot. Like if Varicella‘s puzzles were randomised. It’s strongly implied that this recurrence is part of the plot. It is not a game that anybody is likely to make much headway on in two hours.
Houses cluster close, the rain drives them together. Beats against bay windows and peaked roofs. A village was here, before the city took it. Many houses: a victorian, a brownstone, a colonial. Water washes through gutters. No one is out in this. Why are you?
The clipped-down writing lets it pack in quite a lot of detail, and this works well in context. You don’t feel slowed down by the text, and the images it summons up are often striking.
It does quite a lot of things that I’d usually consider bad design. The map layout is unintuitive. Randomness is deployed in ways that are intentionally unfair; sometimes this is made clear, sometimes not. (Your gender is randomised, and this has effects, but this is not immediately obvious.) UNDO is disabled, except immediately after death. Moving to a place often doesn’t automatically LOOK. Exits are often unlisted or described ambiguously. Time matters, a lot, but there’s no easy way to check it. The implementation is decidedly rough in places, in that way that Adrift pieces are often rough – you can go INSIDE and OUTSIDE but not IN or OUT, and referring to “it” in commands often gets the wrong thing. The opening instructions say (Type HELP or CREDITS at any time), but CREDITS doesn’t work; sometimes commands offered to you don’t work, either, particularly in conversation. It all adds up to feeling like a lot of effort to play, and some of this is absolutely intentional, and some of it almost certainly isn’t.
A potent and strange experience. One of the more striking pieces of the Comp, though I’m not precisely sure how to score it.
Reviewed by McT
This is an unusual game. We are a spy – the Silver agent. We wake up in a
hotel room with no memory, but we quickly are given a mission to undertake. Then
there is a knock on the door.
It becomes apparent very quickly that we can’t complete this game in a single play through. Time is limited. Death is frequent and immediate. Choices are random – we don’t know what the result of our actions is going to be. It’s audacious. After 2 hours, I still have not reached a ‘winning’ ending.
I’m not sure exactly how to classify this game. I’m not seeing many puzzles, as such. In effect, the whole game is a dynamic puzzle system of exploration and choices. With randomization. We wander around a large city map, occasionally meeting agents – we get to ask them about things we have no idea of – the cyclotron, the bomb. We have a mission which varies from play through to play through. Gradually, after several plays, things start to slot into place. Our choices become more considered as we decide which side we’re going to take.
The text is written in short, sharp, breathless bursts. it’s effective in introducing an immediacy to the game play. There is also a genuine feeling of paranoia and danger. It is also deliberately unfair. Things which kill me and/or advance the game seem to be randomized. Searching. Death. All the choices I have when I meet another agent. It’s tempting to kill everyone, but I only have six bullets.
The game does have a few implementation problems to be honest. The text could do with another once-over – there are some grating grammatical problems here. The commands you type need to be absolutely precise and include ‘the’ (I never type ‘the’ in IF!). A couple of issues with game logic. For example I was hiding from someone and they picked up and examined an object I was holding. Some sensible actions are not implemented. ‘Wear the cloak’ – “you simply cannot do that”. Am I already wearing it? And….aargh….exits are often not mentioned in room descriptions! On moving around the map, sometimes room descriptions are not given till I look. Error messages are not at all helpful. The credits command doesn’t work.
Occasionally, commands just don’t work at all: “You could SEARCH the restaurant.” >search “If only you could.”
Despite the problems, there is something….I don’t know…compelling and addictive about this game. I can’t put my finger on it. But it just…works as a game. 7/10.
I had the ADRIFT 5.0 runner set up already, so why not try another ADRIFT game?
So this one's definitely got a concept. It's a cloak-and-dagger spy game. You are SILVER AGENT. Wiped memories, a gun. Six bullets. And a CITY of color-coded spies out there. Some of 'em might be willing to help, many more are out to kill you. And there's a shadowy ORGANIZATION in the background...
What you're actually doing is moving around locales in the city. The Skyscraper, The Bar, The Alley, The Nightclub. Not a lot of descriptions in all of them, but there are some seemingly random encounters as you explore. And you can choose various actions to take. Do you TRUST the GREEN AGENT, THREATEN them, KILL them? SNEAK past the guard, or BRIBE them? INFILTRATE, or IGNORE The Mansion? This ends up feeling almost choice-based, in a way, because all the actions at each place is listed for you. Some minor issues with not knowing whether I was inside or outside of buildings, or some commands not being understood even following exact syntax. The ADRIFT auto-map helps a lot (I had to turn it on under Window). There are places to hide, and you'll find some agents and locations will be able to give you more information, about who to trust maybe, or what secrets some locations might offer. So there are a lot of cool ideas here.
Conceptually then, it feels like it should be a limited information game, where you use deductive reasoning based off of incomplete data as you move around the city. In practice, it can feel a bit random, because the info isn't sequentially given to you. You might not have found any info on an agent you're facing down, so you'll be told that they're a good fighter, that they seem to be looking for someone, but you're just rolling the dice a bit beyond that, sometimes literally, because KILLing them or SNEAKing past have percentage chances to fail. If you do find someone willing to talk to you, a lot of the questions don't seem to be based on stuff you already know, so you're a lot of the time choosing from a bunch of questions on places and agents you haven't even encountered yet, which also sort of doesn't jibe with the whole notion of this being about info-gathering. Any encounter that goes awry can end with your death, or their's. Some stuff is randomized, but the map, and what each location offers, seems to be set, and it seems like some of the agents are stationed at specific spots as well, and that knowledge definitely helps a lot on subsequent playthroughs. I never did get to the point where I felt like I could enact much of a strategy for most encounters, though (and knowing some useful places to visit first doesn't feel necessarily strategic). It seems like it'd be difficult to finish without at least playing through a couple times to get a layout of the city and the story, at which point both the amnesia angle and the do-or-die one I feel would get diluted?
The prose definitely goes full-bore noir, and it hits it well overall, although sometimes there's an overloading of the terse sentence fragments, and the rhythm gets a bit off as a result. There was one line like "this is a nightmare" which most stood out as not fitting in with the curt, clipped delivery of the rest of the text. But when people start talking, it feels conspiratorial, it feels like there's just a glimpse of a web being untangled in front of you, and that does sell a lot of this concept to me.
Overall, then? Tone works: it feels like a shadowy, oppressive city. Paranoia sets in. You second guess. The pieces of info you do get, really do feel like meaningful pieces of a larger puzzle, the only issue being the puzzle itself is maybe a bit too large, especially when so many of the pieces you flip over are landmines (ah, metaphor breaking down, but you get the idea...). I dunno, there are gameplay choices here that seem really at odds with each other, but the pieces of lore are actually pretty enticing, and I like quite a bit of what this is going for. If the setting sounds interesting, maybe give this a try at least.
So I wrote most of the above before reading dfabulich's review. The 10,000 Bowls of Oatmeal problem seems mostly aimed at describing same-y, meaningless randomness. The randomness in Six Silver Bullets actually seems very meaningful overall, in a way that severely impacts your run-through, while still not being something the player can always seem to play around (the mechanical connection). I played through a third time, quickly, just now, and for example, there's an agent right outside the hotel room when you wake up, and it turns out they're random too. First playthrough, I died very quickly to them immediately, did UNDO, then had to shoot them. Nothing on their body. Second playthrough, I avoided them. Last one, they were friendly, so they actually gave me A LOT of background, then an item. Starting off the game, you can get a lot of info immediately, or none, or an immediate game over. So... if the randomness of the results of these encounters were actually a bit more same-y -- more standardised, less all-or-nothing -- I think, maybe, it'd feel more like I was making progress as I played, and less like I was wandering around the city gathering as much as possible for a "serious" future run before my luck (and bullets) ran out? Thinking about this more, I think I was treating this more like a story where I was very much trying to keep alive, and maybe instead this actually should be treated fully as a roguelike/Varicella?
In addition to math and interactive fiction, I also spend a significant fraction of my time playing board games. One particular genre of game in the rotation is the RPG-like adventure game like “Arkham Horror” or “Mansions of Madness”, in which characters traverse a map and have scripted encounters using their stats and whatever items or abilities they’ve found in their previous exploration. “Six Silver Bullets” is a game in that spirit, with the encounters mostly concerning enemy agents the protagonist encounters.
Gameplay: The protagonist is some sort of secret agent or assassin with amensia. As he wanders around game space, he frequently encounters other agents, who may be friendly or hostile. It’s unclear which on first meeting them, though he starts out with a few hints about particular agents. Although the game is ostensibly parser-based, there are a few explicit options given at each encounter. Because of its randomness, size, and amensiac plot, the game can be a bit confusing. There’s an undo feature to reduce frustration at the randomness of encounters, but it’s often unclear how to proceed in the game. 5/10.
Mechanics: Although there are others in the game, its core is the set of encounters with other agents. Those events are randomized, though the player is often given indications about how difficult the rolls will be for the various outcome. The gameplay feels a bit opaque as a result, especially with the difficulties in figuring what the player should be doing in the game. One particularly interesting mechanic is the set of titular bullets, each of which lands an automatic kill against an agent when used. 4/10.
Presentation: The terse, clipped style of the game suits its protagonist, even if it’s a bit overdone. The agents’ descriptions appear to be randomized, but that doesn’t detract from the game. Fundamentally, it feels like a board game, with randomly generated missions, randomized outcomes for encounters, and some basic state for the world. It’s a novel style of play I haven’t seen much in interactive fiction. (It’s particularly compelling to me because of the main drawbacks of games like “Arkham Horror” is its long play time, which a single-player computerized version neatly avoids.) 5/10.
You might be interested in this game if: You enjoy games like “Arkham Horror.”
Reviews should be considered copyrighted by their respective authors.
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