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Second Chance Reviews
Author: David Whyld
Date: 2005

Reviewed by Carolyn Magruder

Second Chance begins right before the main character's death. In the moment of death, the character is provided with opportunities to change the past course of events and perhaps save his life. There are multiple endings and many ways that the game's course can evolve. 

The writing is good, with a strong sense of setting and character attached to each perspective, though I did find the "examine me" responses to be fairly uninspired. Aside from the "hint" command giving me a false rhetorical question, I didn't encounter any bugs in my three or four runs through the game. 

Beware of the clues system (clues as opposed to hints -- they are two different commands), which will potentially give you more information than you want to know by their mere headers. 

For some reason, I don't seem to be able to think of this game except in terms of other games. The premise reminded me of Tapestry, the tone reminded me of Photopia, and the actual game-play reminded me of Varicella (which is to say... play, play, play, splat; play, play, play, splat; play, play, play, splat... but I digress.) Arguably, someone coming freshly to the scene might enjoy it more than the above-mentioned games, but it was difficult for me not to perceive it as derivative. 

This game stands as a fairly good argument against those who suggest that no serious work has been written in ADRIFT. In the end, though, despite the quality of writing and the polished state of the game's code, I just didn't enjoy playing it. This game didn't grip me or make me want to see what happened next. I can only conclude that I was not the intended audience for this game, and hope that others enjoy it more than I did. 

SCORE: 7 of 10 

Reviewed by Dan Shiovtiz

I started off figuring this would be pretty similar to other games by Whyld I've played and haven't cared for. But for whatever reason -- maybe because there's no time limit on the spring comp games and so the game didn't feel so rushed, or maybe because it wasn't trying for wacky humor, or maybe because the plot was more linear and the puzzles were simpler -- I ended up quite liking it. It's one of those "go back in time and change your fate" games where you play through little vignettes for several of the characters involved, and working out how to win each vignette and how they tied together was pretty satisfying. 

I don't think this is going to win over everyone who hasn't cared for Whyld's stuff in the past. The individual pieces aren't really challenging enough to feel puzzly, but the overall game structure tends to force a lot of replays and hence requires some time investment (and, again, the lack of a time limit for the spring comp makes this game viable in a way it wouldn't be in the fall comp). The writing is kind of enh, and the character's dialogue feels slapdash (the old woman's manner of speaking, in particular, wanders all over the social class hierarchy). Oh, and what's up with the anti-climactic ending? When the player gets the best possible solution, say something about it -- don't give them the same summary that everyone else gets. But nevertheless, the game all came together for me and worked pretty well -- I don't have any problems at all recommending Second Chance. 

Reviewed by DIY Games (May 2005)

David Whyld, the author of this game, is the most prolific ADRIFT developer. He has graced us with titles like Back to Life, Unfortunately… Private Eye, and over thirty others. Once again, he doesn’t disappoint and delivers an extremely well written game of dying and reliving crucial moments in one’s life. Sadly, the gameplay here is much more linear than in the author’s other recent games, taking away most of the puzzle solving and leaving us with a relatively simple, albeit superbly written literary work.

Reviewed by PJ

In a post on r.a.i.f. in early 2005, I proposed a set of criteria for reviewing or possibly "grading" interactive fiction. These criteria primarily apply to games that emphasize the "story" aspect of IF as opposed to basic "adventuring." My agenda is to promote development and analysis of interactive stories to see if that helps move IF upward & rightward along the artistic maturity curve. The standards, consequently, are meant to be the "minimum" for what comprises a modern, high quality IF story. I applied these criteria originally to the top 3 IF Comp games: Luminous Horizon, Blue Chairs, and All Things Devours. I am now following that up by applying them to the two games I felt were best in the Spring Comp, David Whyld's Second Chance and Aaron Reed's Whom the Telling Changed. This review covers Second Chance. 

NOTE TO OTHER POSTERS: Feel free to question both my criteria and my conclusions. I'm just doing this to see if the approach has value when applied consistently to multiple games. So fire at will. 

Genre: Slice of Life 

Storyline: The protagonist of the game is Walt, a bit of a loser, not terribly lovable. Crossing the street one bleak day, Walt is run down by a lorry and killed. Or is he? The plot of Second Chance provides exactly that, a chance to start over in life by fixing problems with Walt's family and friends that perhaps he never realized were fixable before. Finding the right set of fixes gives Walt another start in life, though it will take the player a number of replays to find the right solution and avoid the hurtling momentum of Walt's previous fate. 

--Criterion 1: Does the game deconstruct the rooms paradigm so effectively that no map is required to play the game? If not, does the story itself have elements that actually focus the PC on geography, so that a map is necessary to the story itself, not just to the gameplay? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down. 

Second Chance uses basic map directions for movement, but the story is actually divided into a series of scenes that require little or no mapping to navigate. Although the basic directions you choose can be critical in several of the scenes, there is little that bogs you down in the geography. The rooms are merely background to the gameplay and interactions occurring, which is what I prefer to see in this type of game. Thumbs up. 

--Criterion 2: Does the author make game-related choices or plot-advancing consequences inherent in the majority of actions the player takes? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down. 

Essentially, almost everything you do (or don't do) has an impact on the resolution of each scene. The resolution of each scene, of course, then has an impact on the final outcome of the game. While it can be hard to find the "good" ending, I give this game a definite thumbs up here. 

--Criterion 3: Does game play and choices made as a result advance the player to multiple endings, with multiple paths to reach those endings, in ways that are both supported by and supportive of the main story trying to be told? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down. 

There is really only one ending you are trying to reach in this game. You do have many different plot points you must traverse correctly in order to reach that ending. But the major difficulty here was that many of the plot points you could affect or achieve still led to the same "run down in the street" ending. I would have liked to see a wider range of endings: some bad, some good, some unresolved. Thumb sideways on this point. 

--Criterion 4: Is the story itself actually worth telling? Does it have a narrative dynamic that would be worth relating in other media, so that it is not purely a technical exercise? And is that dynamic sustained throughout the course of the game so that the player essentially *knows* the story, even if he/she doesn't fully understand it or all its implications, on the first playthrough? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down. 

I think players would have a wide range of opinion on this issue. Comments from post-Comp reviews found the characters somewhat unlikable. That raises the question: is any IF story going to be acceptable if you can't empathize with at least one of the characters? I personally thought the frame of the game - getting a second chance at life - was a bit hackneyed but well-executed. But I also didn't like the characters too much. So another thumb sideways on this point. 

--Criterion 5: Do commands -- including movement commands -- really support the story, i.e., if you are using compass directions, is the player using a compass to navigate with at the time? If not, do the commands truly enhance the mimetic effect being achieved in the game? Are uncommon commands natural to the story and the responses to incorrect commands helpful? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down. 

Second Chance had few specialized commands. The game didn't really need them, which I think is a plus. Where there were obvious things to try, the author gave appropriate responses. What I liked about the game regarding commands was that basic, simple commands - going southeast instead of southwest - affected the plot outcomes. The order of your actions and timing in life are generally critical. Thumbs up for getting that point, which is a hot button for me, right. 

--Criterion 6: Does the author have sufficient control of the pacing, the narrative, the hints, other authorial mechanisms such as flashbacks, memories, event intrusion, etc., so that the player can't ever really get stuck and therefore fail to finish the game? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down. 

The design of Second Chance necessarily gets you to an ending if you merely play through the scenes. Where the game was a little weak is that the author really means you to play the game multiple times in order to try and find the correct or "good" ending. However, a number of players were apparently turned off by the game ending message, which is a tad uninformative. If the player didn't like the characters or didn't realize how much variation there could be within the game, then the ending message was small incentive to try again. Consequently, despite many strengths here, I will go with a thumb sideways on this point. 

--Criterion 7: Does the author use timing or turn-related events or scene-cuts that give the player the appropriate forward momentum necessary to move from scene to scene and complete the game? If not, is a slow pace and relatively open player "wandering" reflective of the story and how it is being told? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down. 

The game is delivered as a series of mini-scenes where you, as Walt, re-enact events from his life or the lives of his friends/family or others who have an impact on his final moments. Each scene has an ideal resolution, which is not apparent at the beginning, and each scene plays a role in whether you achieve a final, overall "good" ending. Thumbs up. 

--Criterion 8: If puzzles are included, are they natural byproducts of the world model or the interactions of the PC/NPCs? Are the puzzles absolutely necessary to advance the story being told? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down. 

The puzzles in this game are minimal, which goes with the style of the game overall. The real puzzle is how to thread through the story to get the optimal ending. Only in one scene are you required to exercise traditional puzzle-solving type skills, and the answers to that are well-clued. Overall, a thumbs up as the meta-puzzle of the game - which is the real point of the exercise - does not get bogged down in esoteric or anachronistic puzzle-solving. 

--Criterion 9: Does the game take risks in switching viewpoints (varying the PC view between one or more of the game characters), using different voice at different times (applying 1st, 2nd, 3rd and/or stream of consciousness, perhaps all in one game), and/or breaking with any other standard PC/NPC conventions (look, inventory, x me, etc.)? Are those risks successful in the context of the game? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down. 

The game uses an interesting mix of viewpoints. It is written in the first person, from Walt's viewpoint. When he gets his second chance, however, he spends considerable time inhabiting the lives of those around him, again in the first person. This gives a good sense of the confusion that Walt is going through as he stumbles around trying to make the most of this second chance he's been offered. Definite thumbs up. 

--Criterion 10: Is it well-written, well-told, well-edited, well-tested? If yes, thumbs up. If no, thumbs down. 

The game has no obvious bugs and is well-implemented. My critique of the writing is that perhaps this author is simply too facile a writer to wring out all the possible pathos, depths, and humor of a story like this. The author, as his incredible game output suggests, has apparently never met a story he was afraid to write. While most of us would endlessly agonize over the plot lines, their associations, and the outcomes for each character in this story, the author here simply knocks out the plot pieces, pins it together with his usual adeptness with ADRIFT, tests it and send it off to the next comp. 

In this case, this fearlessness has produced a game that overall is fairly admirable. Admirable, however, is not necessarily the same as 100% likeable. In the end, the sheer fecklessness of most of his characters weighs down the clever game design and the good, clear prose style. With even slightly better characterization, I feel this game would have done much better than it did in Spring Thing and could reasonably have been high up in the most recent IF Comps as well. But with the characters being so unlikable, if not downright unlovable, the best I can give for this criterion is a thumb sideways. 

--Extra Credit: Does the game break new ground in the story being told, new genres, new plots, new structures, etc.? Does it avoid complete clichés (amnesia, underground empires, etc.)? If yes, extra credit. If no, then no extra credit. 

Well, the double secret probationary status of ADRIFT would normally have me deduct at least 5 full thumbs here rather than awarding extra credit. But, breaking with that tradition, I think that David has proven with this and several of his other games that ADRIFT can stand with the Big Three as a serious platform for serious IF. That alone is worth something, and given the many other strengths of the game as a strong example of story-driven IF, I will give it an extra credit of ½ thumb. 

Total Score: 
Thumbs Up: 6 out of 10 
Thumbs Sideways: 4 out of 10 
Thumbs Down: 0 out of 10 
Extra Credit: ½ thumb. 

Net Score 8.5 thumbs up out of 10. 

Final Comments: While David Whyld has made something of a career out of semi-humorous games written on the ADRIFT platform, I think Second Chance shows that he can do more than novelty items. I would like to see a follow-up to this game in a similar style where even more attention is paid to the characters and the range of choices they face. I thought this game should have won the Spring Thing this year, with Whom the Telling Changed a close second. Despite the actual outcome, David has a game to be proud of and an approach to build on that bodes well for his chances (and that of ADRIFT games) in future comps. 

Reviews should be considered copyrighted by their respective authors.


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