IFComp 2013: Ollie Ollie Oxen Free, by Caroline VanEseltine

I’ll get through as much of the Nineteenth Annual Interactive Fiction Competition as I can. My criteria for numeric grades, unchanged in many years, are here. As always, if you’re a judge, don’t read on unless you have already played and reviewed the game yourself, and if you’re averse to spoilers, you won’t want to read this even if you aren’t judging.

Blurb: “War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other’s children.” —Jimmy Carter

Hmm, Carolyn VanEseltine. Didn’t she write something a few years back? Oh, yes, One Eye Open. I do hope this is less horrific.

OK, in the intro I am gassed during an aerial attack on a school. I guess my hope for less horror was optimistic.

Although, in the actual gameplay it’s pretty lighthearted (and somewhat humorous at points). The tone feels a bit weird—everyone’s way too calm, it seems—but the play is pretty organic and most of the puzzles are sensible (there was one alternative solution I tried that didn’t work, but there was, I guess, a reason for that). The protagonist’s limitations are irksome, but, again, there’s a point. In retrospect all these broken bits which were justified in the end should’ve clued me in to the Big Twist (well, that and the fact that it’s hardly the first time this particular twist has been used), but I got sufficiently caught up in the game that it didn’t. I might’ve liked a way to get the whole raft of children to follow me around, particularly when they were carrying things. I think they were supposed to routinely stow things in their backpacks, but sometimes they didn’t.

Academically, the frame around the story confuses me. Particularly it takes place in an alternate present-day America where aerial assaults are just a thing that happens?

Anyways, the implementation depth is excellent, and the game is strong, and I didn’t bump into any serious broken bits, so I do approve.

Rating: 8


About Jake
I'm a mathematics professor at the University of Louisville, and a geek.

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