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Author: Lamont Sanford
Date: 2013
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What does AIF stand for? Adult Interactive Fiction. If you likely to be offended by games with sexual content, you are advised not
to open these files.


Reviewed by Unknown

Lamont Sanford announced himself on the AIF scene in 2012 with Peril in Pleasantville. It was a hugely ambitious game that failed to reach the heights it aspired to. The writing was generally of poor quality, it was buggy, the genre suddenly (and jarringly) changed to science-fiction halfway through, and it was very obviously 'inspired' by SD3 and Meteor (by which I mean that a number of elements were direct lifts). 

Despite those problems, playing PiP was actually a lot of fun. Although not a great writer, Lamont Sanford does have a good ear for dialogue, which came to the fore in the many 'ask' responses and really helped the characters come alive. There were also several interesting puzzles and Easter eggs to figure out, and in general it had a sense of unselfconscious fun that reminded me of the early days of AIF. Since then LS has released two other games (The Adventures of Super-Schlong and Gasparillo), neither of which made much of an impact. Now he's released a sequel to PiP, the inventively named Return to Pleasantville. So what’s it like?

Simply put, I found it to be a major disappointment. Nearly all of the original's problems are repeated. Despite increased beta testing this time around, minor bugs abound, and the game was so unstable that the undo function had to be disabled. From the very first paragraph the writing is filled with comma splices, misused punctuation, and simple spelling mistakes. The plot switches from 'slice of life' to horror for no obvious reason. And, again, there are elements that are very obviously 'borrowed' from GoblinBoy's games. The fact that RtP is LS's fourth released game makes this all the more disappointing, since by this point he should be showing some signs of progressing as an author.

However, it's not those problems that are not my major criticism of RtP, it’s the absence of all the things that made PiP enjoyable. The well-implemented characters from PiP that I'd grown to like are largely absent, and their replacements are barely implemented at all. All the PC can do is flirt with them and then fuck them. The fucking itself is pretty unexciting, with few of the scenes having anything to make them memorable. That's a problem when at least half-a-dozen of them fit the basic description 'PC and girl he's just met fuck in bar toilets'. The sex scenes are also highly dependent on the use of graphics, with a ratio of one picture per sentence of text. As far as I could tell there were no real puzzles, apart from a maze at the end (and mazes ceased being acceptable in interactive fiction almost twenty years ago). In fact, there's little in the game world that you can interact with at all, even if the absence of both undo and save functionality didn't already discourage experimentation.

RtP is a game of two halves. On day 1 the PC wanders aimlessly around Pleasantville. The town feels like it's shrunk since PiP because so many of the locations are either closed or inaccessible. Unlike the various Easter egg scenes in the first game, which each formed a little mini-story, the vast majority of the random women the PC can interact with exist only to be fucked by the PC. Sure, you can flirt with a girl, arrange a date with her and then flirt with her some more. But there’s no real story or character development so it’s all instantly forgettable. Although LS has obviously taken GoblinBoy as his model, he differs from him in his apparent unwillingness to inject any drama into the PC's life. As a result none of the scenes have any repercussions. Even though he’s got a girlfriend (plus two 'friends with benefits'), the PC can happily screw random stranger after random stranger. When he's finished with them, the girls disappear out of his life, never to be seen or heard from again. It all feels utterly meaningless, and I was glad to get to day 2.

How wrong I was. Day 2 takes the form of a camping trip (where have we heard that before?) and consists of a long non-interactive cut scene, followed by a moment of freedom, followed by another long non-interactive cut scene. As with PiP, the game suddenly and pointlessly changes genres, becoming splatter horror. You might think this would lead to some interesting puzzles as you outsmart the fiends, but no. All you can do is run until they catch you or you find your way out of the maze. Oh, and RtP's only interesting new character gets pointlessly killed off in a cut scene. If you survive, the PC’s girlfriend finally makes an appearance and they decide to be exclusive for no obvious reason (other than the fact something similar happened in SD3), and the game is over.

The most obvious problem with RtP's design is that day 1 and day 2 are so different that they might as well have been separate games. Day 1 is entirely irrelevant to what happens on day 2 (apart from picking who's going camping with you), and vice versa. The most obvious way in which RtP could have been improved would be to ditch one of the days. The question is, which one?

I don't think many people would have complained if a sequel to PiP had been "more of the same" (ie. day 1). However, one of the weaknesses of literal time (ie. one turn equals two minutes in this case) is that it makes the gaps between scenes seem larger and emptier. To compensate, the scenes have to bigger and more memorable, not short and forgettable, which means more work for the author. I also think that day 1 needed some sort of plot to make it more coherent. Even Gamma Girls (the rompiest game I can think of) had more of a plot than the PC being slightly jealous of Emily's new boyfriend (something that is resolved on day 2 in the laziest way imaginable).

The more interesting option would have been to make day 2 a standalone game. With the exception of Chris, all of the characters had been previously introduced in PiP so much of the groundwork has already been done. The smaller cast and gameworld also means that there could be a focus on quality, rather than quantity. Without the distraction of day 1, the horror elements could have been foreshadowed better (ie. at all) and perhaps serve as the pretext for some interesting puzzles.

As it is, trying to crowbar both day 1 and day 2 into the same game stretched the author's resources too thin, and neither was successful. Lamont Sanford should be applauded for his energy and dedication, but unfortunately this game represents a step back for him in terms of story, characterisation and gameplay.
 


 

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