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The Puzzle Box Reviews
Author: Richard Otter
Date: 2007

Reviewed by Emily Short

This one is comparatively weak. The premise is that we are locked into a haunted room at the top of a house, and we must solve puzzles from a puzzle box in order to regain our freedom. This is supposedly a harrowing and terrifying experience, and towards the end of the game a “presence” manifests itself, but the framing story doesn’t intrude in any important way on the player’s interaction.

That interaction is mostly about scouring a large oil painting for signs and symbols that might be interpretable as the key to the code box before us. There are different kinds of combinations — sometimes there’s a shape sequence, sometimes a color sequence, sometimes, to really shake things up, a sequence of numbers. But essentially, this game consists of examining lots of things, over and over; finding one key sequence of symbols; and then laboriously entering that information via dials or switches.

When I say “over and over”, that’s because the oil painting changes; so the first time we examine everything, we don’t find the clues to later puzzles. We have to re-examine all the items when we move on to puzzle two, and again on puzzle three, and then… you get the idea. I suppose one could argue that this is a clever way to keep the player from getting confused by seeing too many different combinations at once. I say: no, it’s just boring.

Another frustration: as I said, most of the game is about setting a sequence of dials or switches or the like to display a combination of some kind. But if you set an incorrect combination and press the big red button (which basically means ‘try this one out’), then (as far as I can tell) you have to turn all the dials again before the game will acknowledge that you’ve keyed in a correct new answer. That’s true even if there are some elements in the incorrect answer that were right. So if, for instance, I tried 1 8 7, got it wrong, and then guessed 2 8 5, the game would still treat my answer as incorrect if I didn’t rotate the second dial between tries. That caught me twice.

For additional aggravation, the game has certain standard ADRIFT glitches: X TREE *tells* you it’s being translated as [x trees], but it actually produces a different response from X TREES. And then there’s one serious bug: on the last puzzle of the sequence, if you try to examine the painting, it responds that you “see nothing special”. I took that to mean that we had moved beyond the painting and that I should seek the relevant number combination elsewhere in the room; but no. That information was still concealed within the painting. I just wasn’t allowed to see the overview description of what was in the painting any more. I guess it’s dimly possible that the author intended this as a clever memory test (”Okay now! Let’s see how well you remember what all the objects are that you’ve been obsessively re-examining for the last hundred and fifty turns!”), but the game’s responses don’t really hint at that, and there’s no explanation in the story for why things should work that way.

So: no story, no atmosphere, not a lot of challenge to the puzzles, lots of repetitive/dull interaction, and the implementation seemed to be somewhat broken too. And there are typos. Hrm.

I’m reminded of a criticism a friend once received in a writing workshop: “The best thing about your story was that it was short.”

The critic meant that less nastily than it sounded, and so do I. I did complete the game, partly because it was brief and easy. And the *next* to last puzzle does involve a clever twist on the player’s expectations. But fundamentally I find the type of puzzle — examine every object thoroughly, recognize sequence, enter sequence, repeat — dull and unpuzzle-like.

Reviewed by

I played Rotter's game first, because he is a fellow Drifter and is therefore most deserving of my attention.

Actually, I was a little surprised to see another ADRIFT entry in the comp as no-one (other than my attention-seeking self) had declared intent on the forum.  I recalled the title from Rotter's WIP signature but that was the only hype surrounding this game.  The above factors made me wonder if entry was a last minute decision, and this theory was supported by the fact that the game appears to have no beta-testers listed.

What I liked:  

The backstory of this game promised so much - it really made me want to play the game to completion.  I wanted to find out what was going on in the house.

The central premise of a box that was unlocked by the solving of multiple puzzles was super-neato, as was the ever-changing painting that supplied the clues.

What I didn't like:  

The ending was disappointing after the promise of the original premise.  Because I was hooked by the story I wanted, nay - demanded, more than the final shallow reveal at the end.

Some of the puzzles seemed a little random and even counter-intuitive.  The clock tower puzzle had me stumped until I looked at the walkthrough and saw that it wasn't enough to set the clock to the same time that I was seeing.  I didn't pick this up at all - maybe it was referred to in the game and I missed it.  And the less said about the 'examine ceiling' puzzle the better.  That one totally blind-sided me.

I also didn't like the fact that I spent a lot of time just typing 'g' to repeat my previous action.

Final comment:

I played this one to completion because I thought it had a great hook.  If it wasn't beta-tested then it should have been, and a more rewarding ending would do wonders for this game.


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