One Eye Open: More teeth than a dental landfill.

We’re continuing with the scary games.  It stopped raining awhile ago, but now I am home alone in the middle of the night, so there’s that.  Let’s get on with One Eye Open, a glulx game by Colin Sandel and Carolyn VanEseltine.  I’ve heard some rumblings about this game, but I’m trying to put them out of my mind for the review.

Since I have no other rss buffer text, let’s turn to another excerpt from my unpublished novel “Deltoidclese: Laser Barbarian in Space“.  May god help us all.

–       “The Dame wears red,” grunted Deltoidclese, mentally to himself in his mind, as he fondled his laser-sword under the space-desk in his space-office. “Lots of red.  And a big pointy red hat with a white felt ball on top.  And she has a beard, although Deltoidclese has nothing but sympathy for glandular disorders.”
–       All of a sudden the self-same Dame, sitting across the space-desk from our hero, erupted: “You’ve got to help me, Deltoidclese!  Space hoodlums have stolen my sleigh!”  And then big ol’ tears began to roll down the Dame’s face and off her beard, pooling on her huge jelly-bowl-like belly.
–       “This close to the holidays?!?” Deltoidclese thundered, “By Space-Crom!  This. Will. Not!  STAND!”  And then he stood.
–       “You’ll take the case?? How can I ever thank you enough?” expulsed the Dame joyously.
–       “With your tongues,” replied the muscly brick-shit-house of a space-barbarian.  “Both of them.”

I’ve already squicked myself out and I haven’t even started the horror game!  That’s great!

Part One: The Playthrough

Please be advised that One Eye Open is a horror game. It contains mature content (including blood, gore, human injury and death, mild language, tobacco reference, violence, and violent references.)
With any luck, all of these things will happen at the same time, in the same one-turn scene.  Can you imagine how sweet that would be?  “Bartholomew Hutz wades through the ankle-deep stew of displaced human livers, slicing businessmen in half with his blood-soaked lawn edger.  His only thought: ‘Man, this Marlboro is fucking delicious.  I, Bartholomew Hutz, am in flavor country.’ Puuufffffff.”  Totally sweet, dude.

This psychic bit with the cards? Really cool gimmick.  Kudos to the author for this one.  Moving on to some kind of remote viewing/psychometry sort of thing… ah, here comes the horror train.

> x pages
Only a few pages from a diary are clutched in the student’s hand, origami viscera torn forcibly from a literary corpse that the photo no longer features.
“origami viscera”?  “literary corpse”?  You’re straining, prose.

A broad ivory spike protrudes from the floor and pierces the ceiling, transfixing the corpse of a slender, dark-haired woman on the way.
Oh, huh.  When the paper I picked up said “psychic spike”, I thought it meant something intangible, like on a graph.  Not like… an actual spike.  Piercing an asian-american 1970s nurse in whatever my room looked like back then.

This is a nicely drawn floor map.  Do I want to go check out the biohazard symbol, or the bloodstain?  Bloodstain it is!

Careful examination convinces you that the hallway has grown a mouthful of fangs.
Ah, an acute case of hallway dentata.  I’ve seen this before in an elementary school in Des Moines.  Just gotta get a 10-foot-tall dentist armed with one of those things the fire fighters use to extract people from cars, and he’ll clear it right up.  In the meantime, let’s turn around.

On the other side of the room, a bloodied corpse seems to be partially buried in the toilet, folded in half.
Tom’s attention-seeking behavior has reached an all-time and fatal low.

Seriously though, the horror-type of this game is reaching Savini levels of schlock rather rapidly.  That’s sort of cool and funny, but it’s a little over the top to the point of funny.  May just be me, though.  In the meantime, time to feed a corpse to a carnivorous laundry chute.  Another IF first this comp.

> put corpse in chute
If you put the gutted corpse in there, it’s a good bet you’ll never see it again. Are you sure you want to do this? (y/n) >
No, I’d really like to take it home and plant it and grow a corpse tree.  YES, I’d like to do this!!

> take sheets
Should you really find yourself in need of a large mass of formless textile, surely you can find some that doesn’t smell like zombie manure.
Come on, game.  I’m trying really hard to take you seriously as a work of horror, and you’re cracking jokes.

Also, shouldn’t the protag be shitting themselves about now?  They’re handling this awfully well.  I guess the author’s trying to let us (the players) be the pants shittees if we like, standard empty protag thing.. but then it goes and says shit like this:
It’s a metal box containing a pristine, solid steel fire axe. The glass on the front shows the words, “In case of emergency, break glass.”  With what, a fire axe?
And I laugh.  The occasional gallows humor wouldn’t go amiss if the horror was more subtle, or the protag was freaking out a bit.  Maybe some desperate scrambling for the fire axe would have fit better?

If everything checks out, it should be about a week before he’s introduced to the symbiont.
There we go.  Plot-meat arriving.  A little late, but not too late.

And I’ve been pushed into some kind of vision of the future, into the shoes of some poor doomed bastard.  Yup, he’s definitely doomed.  Sorry, doomed-guy.  I’d disable the fan that kills you in the future, but it hasn’t been installed yet.  Wandering around, and I’ve been pushed into another doomed future-bastard’s head:
Tobias Ensfield. I am Dr. Tobias Ensfield.

Gotcha.  Tobias Ensfield.  You’re Tobias Ensfield.

The image of Camille deVries flashes through your mind – her empty eyesocket staring blindly at you, her smashed skull half-fused with the mirror, her stricken body dangling from that point of contact.
Dr. Tobias Ensfield had never been so aroused in his life.  I’m having trouble remembering who all the future-people are.

Fuck, every time I go into a future-trance, my body falls to the floor and bangs itself up on something.  Maybe I can find one of those sumo-baby suits they use in rape prevention classes and wear it before my next future-trip. Back to the biohazard room with the keycard (did they have keycards in the 70’s?), and I come across a hazard suit full of man-slushee. That’s great.  Time to haul Poor Whatshisname here down to the laundry so the mutant washer can sluice him out of the suit (another IF first!).

Up to the fourth floor to poke around… Oop, another future scene where I can do nothing but await my grisly second-hand fate.

Dr E’s assistant. He works for Corona, so I work for Corona. Med school failure, okay chess player, okay cook, lousy son. I like plants, but I’m a bad gardener. I like music, but I don’t know how to dance. I want the world, but I’ve given up on finding it….
Oh come on, Rayjay!  Pull it together, have some confidence in yourself, and I’m sure your life will turn right aroun… out wait, yeah, you’re about to die hideously.

Okay, this is horseshit though: When I try to leave the room, I frikkin TELEPORT back into the room where I’m about to die.  The first two future scenes (willingly trapped in the boiler room, stuck in an elevator) were elegantly done, the one in the cafeteria (steam pipe bursting in front of the door) I could take, but man… the first rule of Avoiding Locational Fiat is “No invisible walls nor teleportation to keep someone in place”.  Just makes me click through this with “wait” without reading anything.

That annoyance aside, I’m getting into the backstory pretty heavily.  This game may not be scaring me, but it’s certainly working as a mystery.

Good lord, the second floor looks like the lovechild of Bosch and the villain from Anchorhead.  I’m starting to get squicked out by the accumulated mass of gross descriptions, which individually are just funny.

Each of these disgusting beasts is a special snowflake, with a unique number of human features plastered haphazardly on its body, which resembles little as much as a giant condom filled with gravy.
This may be the single most disgusting description for ANYTHING I have ever encountered.  Unique snowflake-condoms filled with gravy.  Precious.  Regretting my choice of mushroom soup as a snack right now.

Your attention strays toward the newspaper clipping, the gray filing cabinet, the tiled floor, the typewriter key, and the steel key.
Don’t forget the Wells Fargo branch location, the moose head, the unopened pilsner, and the half-eaten summer squash.  Purple monkey dishwasher.  Seriously, I have no idea what to do to trigger a vision.  Oh, touch the *floor*.  Hey, I actually get to do something in this one!  Read and send an email!

> n
You walk briskly toward the exit, only to slam painfully into an unseen obstacle. Stunned, you reach forward and touch a steel-hard, perfectly transparent barrier blocking you from the door.
Really?  I mean, REALLY?

Back out of my vision of the future to my vision of the past as… damn, this is confusing.  Still having trouble keeping all the dead people straight from the eventual dead people.  Would pay money for a “think about” command.

> x files
Which do you mean, the black filing cabinet or the gray filing cabinet?
> look up remote viewing in files
Which do you mean, the black filing cabinet or the gray filing cabinet?
Okay, THIS message should most certainly NOT be happening.
> gray
The organization system of the gray filing cabinet is mysterious at best. You skim quickly through, but you cannot find a clipping about remote viewing.
But the damn description just gave that as an example of what to look for in the files!
> x desk
Which do you mean, the mahogany desk or the metal desk?
This room is disambiguation hell.

It is at this unhappy point, continuously disambiguating filing cabinets and desks, that I have hit the 2-hour mark accounting for time spent writing commentary.  I’m going to mark what I feel like the game’s current score is (for later judging) but keep playing, because I am curious.

Wandering around, find a lot more papers, props to the author for the Portal reference on the fourth floor… and I still can’t get anything but the crap endings, so far.  I have a glimmer of the plot, but I have no idea how to open the safe, nor what to do with the chemistry equipment in the Biohazard room.  Think we’re done for now, although I’ll probably be coming back and poking around in this some more.

Part Two: The Rundown

The playthrough probably makes it look like I really disliked the game and had an intent to savage.  Only one of those things is true; while there were definitely things I didn’t care for (most of which I pointed out above), I actually really liked the game.  Seems like (poking through a couple of other reviews) a lot of people are comparing it to or mentioning Babel for the flash-forwards, but I’m more reminded of the much-loved Slouching Towards Bedlam.

A thing that has to be said: it’s obvious that a huge amount of work went into this game.  It’s gigantic, it’s polished, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes (so much so that my interpreter slowed down a few times while processing commands)… a whole lot of work.  And it really shows.  Some people will likely kvetch about the game’s length being outside of Comp standards, but I’ll leave that to them.  To me, the Comp is about encouraging people to make games and recognizing those efforts.  If a good long game results, well, it’s better for the IF world.  And this is a good game by many standards.

The horror elements central to the premise felt over-the-top to me, but they were consistent (creeping biological ick).  It didn’t have that problem some games do where they mix Lovecraft with ghosts with demons with whatnot.  And as I said in the walkthrough, I found there was a cumulative effect (paired with the loneliness of the hospital and the realization that someone was also running around with me in there) to be creepy.

What worked much better for me was the slow revelation of backstory through the diary pages and the flashforwards, particularly to Camille’s death.  I never got a totally clear picture of what was going on (the company owner’s exact role in this recurring psychic debacle, what the deal was with the parasite/symbiotes, etc.), but I got enough to be interested in finding out more.  One thing that detracted from this somewhat were the sheer number of npcs: there were what, 12 of them or so mentioned in the diary fragments?  That’s a lot to keep track of.

The pacing of the lock and keys felt good, although tension was notably absent except for a few scenes (doomed bastard in the boiler room, that moment after you push the end-game button).  Not too many moments of desperate scrambling, which fit the mystery elements just fine.  But a few more would have been welcome.

Also, I found the flash-forwards to be a cool concept but flawed execution.  They were meant, I’m guessing, to both provide more story and also give the protag a reason to keep poking around in 1978, but they felt curiously detached.  I didn’t really end up caring about the people at all (no good reason to, although I did try to phone my daughter with this guy in the boiler room), so the whole “You can stop this!” motif carried precious little weight.  And the artificialness of RayJay and Camille’s room-boundaries really annoyed me in comparison with the first two.  Maybe if there was a bit more interactivity there, if there was something I could have done to *try* and save them (Camille excepted) I would have felt closer to them.  As it was, I felt compelled to just sit there and type “z” repeatedly, and that’s no good.

The lack of a walkthrough for better endings than the “You lose, and you don’t get any plot resolution” moments is kind of harsh.  Eventually that will doubtlessly be fixed by third parties, but at the moment it’s harsh.

Technically the game was impressive, given it’s size.  There were a handful of broken moments (filing cabinet) and the two rooms with a pair of desks each was one of those tolerable annoyances, but again, given the size of the thing… impressive.

So yeah.  Good game, overall.  Was very ambitious, and while it maybe fell short of the goal, said goal was far enough out there that it ended up being “merely” really good.  One of my favorites so far this comp.

EDIT: Wait, son of a bitch, how did the sloppy joe guy come into contact with the flesh eating symbiote stuff if he was in a biohazard suit?  Was he just an idiot?


One Response to “One Eye Open: More teeth than a dental landfill.”

  1. Wait, son of a bitch, how did the sloppy joe guy come into contact with the flesh eating symbiote stuff if he was in a biohazard suit? Was he just an idiot?

    Left his fly open. Why are there flies on biohazard suits? It was the 70s.

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