Sunday, September 30, 2012

Game Review: Choice of the Star Captain


A few days ago, based on some advertising on ENWorld, I picked up Choice of the Star Captain for the Kindle Fire ($2.99). Well, okay, first I played the first three chapters for free on the Choice Of Games website. I enjoyed that enough, with its combination of Paranoia-like humor in the character of Lloyd - your ship's AI, who really kind of hates you - and actually-paranoid suggestions offered in the choices along the way, that I picked it up.

So, the basics. Choice of the Star Captain is a choose-your-own-adventure game with ability scores and ship stats, as well as a cash total that acts as a score-keeping mechanic. The determination of character name, ship name, and ability scores comes about through declarations that the game invites you to make about your character. In the playthrough I just finished, for example, I had very good Engineering and very poor Bravado, and everything else was somewhere in between. It's not entirely obvious to me where in the game my Bravado stat might have been tested, but a number of Engineering tests are rather more obvious. Completing missions in the course of the story also allows you to upgrade your ship; it's even less obvious how these upgrades change your game experience, but I don't think I was ever penalized for failure.

Along the way, the game asks the player to make a series of choices: some of them whimsical, but mostly quite serious, contrasting with the characters and setting, which range from semi-serious to quite silly. (Your AI, after all, is named Lloyd.) I didn't find this contrast off-putting, though. In much the same vein as, say, Erfworld (among my favorite webcomics), a silly setting with a serious plot somehow works, convincing me as a reader to take it seriously while remembering to smile. (But I'm told that my sense of humor is calibrated differently from other humans.) There's even a TV Trope for this, but there are rules about linking to TV Tropes.

The game goes by pretty quickly; I believe Kainenchen played to completion in a single sitting. There are a number of choice points that I really want to go back and see, though - replay is definitely a thing here, as with any choose-your-own-adventure.

I don't want to give anything away about the plot - the specific outcomes aren't all that surprising, but the ride along the way and several details of the setting are quite interesting, so I didn't object. I appreciate the ways in which the game doesn't hesitate to throw out additional detail about its setting, without getting too deeply into it. The game also does a good job of phrasing the choices to make several conflicting options all sound rather reasonable, up into the later chapters. By that point, well, alea iacta est for the protagonist, and it's more a matter of playing out those decisions to their logical end.

Since I had played the first three chapters before I bought the game, I zipped back through those with only one or two different choices. Chapters 4-9 left the whole story maybe one mission shorter than I would have liked, but I don't mean that as a serious criticism - say, rather, that I was enjoying the characters and wanted to see them keep developing. Once the story nears its endgame, the pace goes from smooth-and-quick to breakneck, with a few excellent reveals along the way. I particularly appreciate the story's mood and tension. The game's colorful characters range from eccentric to psychopathic, and the characterizations can make a hard right turn with a single reveal. The tension builds with each mission, as the game establishes from the very beginning that nothing is reliable or quite what it seems, even in your own ship. The ways in which the rug is continually pulled out from under you are handled with care, though - I never felt cheated. Instead I felt like I could more easily identify with the protagonist's uncertainty and confusion.

Now that I've played a Choice Of Games game, I'm strongly tempted to create one of my own - I don't know, but I'm guessing that the scripting mechanics are kept pretty approachable.

Final approval rating: Four smiley faces!

My final scores were $11134 and 108/100. If you complete a playthrough of Choice of the Star Captain, by all means leave a comment with your score.
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