Backloggery

Backloggery.com

2012-11-09

Adrift Review




Title: Adrift
Release date: 2011-12-25
Developer: Tall Tales Productions
Publisher: Tall Tales Productions

At the moment I’m still squeezing the lifeblood from “Baldur’s Gate”, which I can’t seem to finish, so I decided to play a short VN I would be able to review on my blog in the meantime. And what would be a better choice than a futuristic sci-fi story set in an underwater amusement... er, the wrong game; I meant in an underwater city, where some terrible things have been happening recently.

“Adrift” is exactly such a game created by “Tall Tales Productions”, a name that hides under its label Taleweaver a.k.a. Götz T. Heinrich – one of the best known names in OELVN scene. He is recognized as a man that created “Daemonophilia”, “The Dreaming” and written the script for “Zenith Chronicles”, though I best remember him as the author of “Metropolitan Blues”, which was one of the first OELVNs created on Ren’Py. Taleweaver is an accomplished writer with the ability to create strong stories and elaborate paths that require some out of the box thinking to reach all the endings of his VNs. For example, in order to get the true ending of “The Dreaming” you were required to sacrifice an unbred black goat under a blue moon on Friday the 13th while chanting the ascending node:

Y’AI ’NG’NGAH,
YOG-SOTHOTH
H’EE—L’GEB
F’AI THRODOG
UAAAH :-D

Well, that is not exactly true, but “Adrift” also doesn’t shy from counterintuitive decisions, which I learned the hard way, as when I sat to play the game for the first time, I kept getting the same two bad ends for 3 hours straight. >:-)
Sachiko? You know how to read?
"Adrift" immediately impressed me with an unusual premise and structure. Outwardly, VN appears to follow the same staple tropes as many others. There are four girls to interact with and the game is divided into three chapters. The first one is basically a common route, the second one puts you on a certain girl’s path and the third one is a conclusion. Well, let me introduce the girls; you can choose between a luddite socialist revolutionary, a mad scientist, a cloudcuckoolander that speaks to whales and a megalomaniac extortionist. Not exactly your usual girlfriend tropes and the most unusual thing is that none of them meet the protagonist during the course of the game until the very end!

Yes, you read that right. The premise of the game is that the city where the action takes place is completely self servicing with some advanced AIs in control of it. If you wonder, who watches the watchers… it’s you. In order to introduce human factor into AI decision making, Supervisor, a clone submerged in oxygenized gel (a la “Minority Report”), receives and processes the data streams. The plot starts with a bang as Supervisor is suddenly and violently cut off from his information network. While it is not a critical issue (the city won’t be flooded or something like that), all the decision making stops in the city of Bluetide and it hangs in limbo. As Supervisor (i.e. you) cannot move outside of his environmental tank, he has to employ robots to contact one of the four girls and ask for her help.

Upon starting a game I was immediately astonished, that it has a fully voiced intro video and the voice acting is great courtesy of sake-bento (another widely recognized name in OELVN community) who introduces herself as AIRE, one of the main AIs. However, while AIRE was supposed to talk about pleasant stay at Bluetide, all I heard was: “L-l-look at you, hacker. A p-p-pathetic creature of meat and bone, panting and sweating as you r-run through my corridors-s. H-h-how can you challenge a perfect, immortal machine?” Must be some hearing problem of mine… :-D

Despite being more or less a disembodied voice, projected through the speakers, Supervisor is a great character – a powerful being stuck in a predicament that left him with no power at all. It’s interesting to control his decisions and see that he can be just as humanly fallible as any one of us.

Moreover, the robots that Supervisor employs (or at least two of them) have their own personalities too. ECU has a character of a “hyperactive poodle” and will express unusual joy at being given orders to work and repair something. Hell, he might even try to “repair” other humans if you don’t restrain it (with the exception of Erika to whom it apparently has almost romantic feelings). The most interesting robot, however, is DRU, who has a personality of a philosopher and will constantly spew forward almost Sartrian existential lines. Oh, and let's not forget the Life Support System that is an absolute lark. Its psychiatric programming is priceless and I expected any time for it to start asking our protagonist about his mother. :-)
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
But let’s not dilly-dally and introduce the girls and let me tell you, that even though both Supervisor and the girls are greatly changed by their association and collaboration, there is no romance within this game, which is really refreshing.

So, without further ado – Minako. Minako is a hotheaded socialist revolutionary that strives to liberate the people of Bluetide from what she considers an evil dictatorship of machines; all she’s missing is a Che Guevara T-shirt. Minako really hates machines and is wont to attack them on sight. Despite being slightly crazy, she is probably my favourite character of the bunch with great character depth behind her.

Erika is a resident mad genius, who is reviled by almost everyone and called a derogatory moniker “spark”. I really liked her own route, which shows that despite being treated almost like machine by everyone, she is a very human character with her own joys and sorrows. Not to mention, that she is probably the sanest person in the bunch. It’s really a shame that during the other girls’ routes she acts like a bitch and tries to put sticks into your wheels.

Sachiko wants power. That is her defining characteristic. She is wont to blackmail, extort and bribe her way through any obstacle in her way for more power and failing that to eliminate the obstacle. She is your resident anti-villain that is likely to stab you in the back if you don’t manage to get her trust. I didn’t like her very much, but must applaud the writer for managing to inject sympathetic traits into her.
P.S. I really cannot understand why she did what she did in Ending 5, even taking the final ending into account. That appears to contradict all of her behaviour up until that point.

Hinami is… strange. She spends her days talking to seaweed and listening to fish. She is also really adorable, just gushing optimism and good-naturedness. The author calls ECU a "hyperactive poodle" in the guide, but that description is most apt when talking about Hinami. She is probably my second favourite character, which is strange because I didn't like her until I actually entered her route.
Valve copyright infringement notice in 3... 2... 1...
The most impressive thing is that “Adrift” is what VNDB calls a “multiple route mystery”. Every ending reveals just a little bit of overreaching truth, but in order to see the whole picture you have to finish the game 100% and get the final 16th ending that explains it. And let me tell you, that I didn't see the twist coming. I am well aware about the hurdles that need to be overcome to keep a consistent plot betwixt various routes and not create contradictions among even smallest details. It's impressive that I didn't notice any inconsistencies that appear even in many commercial novels. The only thing that disturbed me was the above mentioned WTF factor in Ending 5.
P.S. I wonder if I encountered an oversight. If timestamp is supposed to represent the year and the present year in the game is supposed to be 2427, then how can Minako's birth date be 2383? She doesn't look that old.

Sooth be told, I was probably too harsh saying that choices in this VN were counterintuitive, because as I got the hang of the internal logic, I quickly managed to find all the endings. Plus Taleweaver actually published a hintbook for those who are stuck and I used it to good extent, even if it isn’t very conclusive. What ticks me off though is the misleading advertisement: this game has more than fifteen endings. There are 16 of them, so why not just flat out state it? And it’s not the first and only VN to throw around such statements and declare a number of endings that is one less than the real count. I know that I’m a nitpicker, but I really pay attention to such minor instances.
P.S. I created my own more detailed almost-walkthrough for this game and you are welcome to use it if you can't reach one ending or another with just the guide:
» Click to show Spoiler - click again to hide... «

From the technical side I don’t have many complaints about the game. The graphics are adequate, if somewhat simplistic and the music is not memorable at all and easily forgotten. I really appreciated the inclusion of some light gameplay in the first chapter, but I believe that it took way too many mouse clicks to initiate commands. Moreover, you couldn't exit the map screen without moving one of your robotic units (or at least I didn't find any way). Natheless, I really liked the innovative aspect of being senseless (literally) and blind during the first act and relying on the robot senses that are far from satisfactory.
There are only seven areas in a multimillion-strong city... right.
My biggest gripe comes from the fact that this visual novel never manages to represent the vast size of Bluetide. Millions and millions of people live within, but we visit only a handful of areas (that frankly look quite small and cramped) and meet only four persons. What are the chances that only four people and all females would be locked outside during the curfew (considering that curfew is not enforced) and that they would all know each other? Don’t answer, it’s not very likely. In my opinion, the situation could have been easily fixed, if Götz lampshaded the improbability of such an event in some way. Ending No. 16 might have addressed this issue to an extent, but I cannot say that I'm totally satisfied.

The other negative observation comes from studying our protagonist. I never quite believed that in real world circumstances he could pursue such natural sounding conversations with the residents of Bluetide if he has never spoken or directly interacted with humans before in his life. That is just not realistic. We are clearly demonstrated, that only the knowledge needed for the execution of his duties as the Supervisor is implanted inside his memories. As conversing with humans is apparently not within his duties, his should not be able to do it so effortlessly. And one extremely minor thing, but I don’t believe that Supervisor should have had black hair. As he had been submerged in the gel for his whole life, his hair shouldn’t have any pigment, just like babies are born with pigmentless vellus.
Seriously?! I wonder if "Vilnius" means the same in Taleweaver's dictionary as it does in mine.
In the end, "Adrift" is a very solid sci-fi visual novel that dares to do some things differently (at no risk, considering it's completely free) and provides quite a long and satisfying experience for our entertainment. Actually, talking about experience: in the developer's commentary Taleweaver claims that the main inspiration for the game was an IF "Suspended", but during my playthrough session I was constantly thinking about "eXperience 112" or "The Experiment" as it's known in backwater boondocks.

Links of Interest

Visual Novel Database
Official site for "Adrift" or a direct link on Download.com
Lemma Soft Fora thread
IndieDB page
Taleweaver's guide or the direct link 

Final Verdict: 82%

2 comments:

  1. thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  2. One of the best OELVN :)
    Agree with most of your review

    ReplyDelete