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Call of the Shaman Reviews
Author: Larry Horsfield
Date: 2019

Reviewed by Mathbrush

I've seen the Alaric Blackmoon series suggested to me on IFDB for years, but never tried one of the games.

There are six or more in the series, and they involve a valiant warrior in Europe in the times of swords and armor.

In this game, you travel to America to encounter a Native American shaman.

I'd love to talk more about the game, but I encountered a game-destroying bug. A thief comes into town, and you chase him out. When I killed him, he kept appearing anyway, and so I was periodically kicked out of town and could not reach the trading post.

I'd love to update my review if this bug were fixed!

Reviewed by Thomas Mack

Although itís the sixth in a series that goes back to 1990, this game is the first of the prolific authorís that Iíve played. Itís a solid work that has an original setting and gameplay that feels like an actual adventure, rather than slogging through a series of unrelated puzzles.

Gameplay: Playing the game does feel like being on an adventure, including wandering around the setting and securing supplies. The Adrift interface is a bit clunky (no small part of which is simply my unfamiliarity with it), but otherwise the gameplay is smooth. The main difficulty I had with it is that even with the walkthrough, itís often difficult to figure out what I should be doing or how to advance the plot. 5/10.

Mechanics: Maybe it was my unfamiliarity with the series, but I found it difficult to know what to do next. There are several guess-the-verb situations (e.g., early in the game, the player must follow the thief by explicitly typing FOLLOW THIEF; trying to do so by choosing an explicit direction fails), and it was unclear in some situations exactly how to proceed despite knowing what to do (e.g., the exact commands needed to interact with the thiefís shelter). The puzzles werenít so much about manipulating set-piece constructions with inventory items, but rather just about figuring out what to do next. Itís a nice change, and it fits the open adventure style of the game. 5/10.

Presentation: The setting of the game is a historical-fantasy version of North America, in which the protagonist both encounters a pastor with a Dutch accent and wears a ring given to him ďby the dwarf Grom on the battlements of Domreil Castle.Ē Itís a novel and interesting one, but I found it a bit confusing, not having played any of the previous games in the series. I encountered a few typos (e.g., ďI donít understand what you want to do with The [sic] trader.Ē), and the capitalization of directions in room descriptions is odd, but neither issue significantly detracts from the work. 6/10.

You might be interested in this game if: Youíve played any of the authorís many other games.

Score: 5

Reviewed by Alex/Comfort Castle

Played 2nd October
Windows executable version played
1hr 45mins played, only about halfway through game

Note that I havenít finished this game Ė Iíve spared 15 minutes of the 2-hour judging period with the hope of coming back and giving it another shot if I have time at the end of the comp, but I probably wonít reach the ending.
The Call of the Shaman is a sizable historical-fantasy ADRIFT game, part of Horsfieldís Alaric Blackmoon series. Alaricís bride has been poisoned, and Alaric (the player character) has travelled to ďNorth AmericanusĒ to find the Cherokee shaman who can produce an antidote.

This is my first ADRIFT game, so many of the things I pick on here may be inherent to the ADRIFT engine. I think the presentation gets off to a bad start, with different colours for each paragraph on the splash screen looking ugly. However, the coloured text becomes a virtue Ė when you use the recommended default cyan text, the orange text that indicates changes to the game stateís stands out. If youíre using ADRIFTís incredibly convenient map pane to fast-travel, this helps a lot, so you can see why your characterís suddenly gone back to the forest instead of where you wanted him to go. (Full disclosure: I drafted most of the review on 2nd October, but Iím writing this paragraph on the 7th after playing another ADRIFT game (Treasure Hunt in the Amazon). This paragraph was originally a mean little rant about how much I disliked the default ADRIFT presentation, but Iím warming to it now, and it would be unfair to hold it against Call of the Shaman anyway.)

I canít vouch for the story because Iím only halfway through with no prospect of seeing the end within the judging period (more on that soon), but it doesnít excite me so much. Alaric Blackmoonís new wife has been poisoned by the villain of a previous game(?), and Alaric is on a quest to find an antidote in very early colonial America (the Dutch presence suggests an analogue of early New Amsterdam being settled). Much of my time was spent wandering around this early settlement trading and solving little quests, including dispatching a thief. It feels very bog-standard for a fantasy, but maybe if I had played the previous five episodes of the Alaric Blackmoon series, Iíd be more engaged.

Iím afraid I disliked actually playing this. Puzzles seem to have one specific command to solve them, leading to bad guess-the-verb issues for me. From what Iíve heard, this might be to do with the ADRIFT engineís structure rather than Horsfield, and the author does sometimes provide the correct command if the player is on the right track Ė I wish he did it more often. (Thereís an instance where SEARCH gives no feedback but LOOK UNDER is correct, for example Ė I might just be sour that I missed it, but I think those commands should overlap.). Also, some of these commands are too blunt, I suppose? The kind of thing where you solve a puzzle by typing ďSOLVE PUZZLEĒ. For example, you chase a thief by typing ďFOLLOW THIEF.Ē It is established that he is running northwest, but typing ďNWĒ to follow the thief actually loses him. I canít figure out why.

This actually leads to a game-breaking bug. If you lose the thief the first time, he reappears the next time youíre outside a shop in the settlement, and you automatically go to his hideout. But this event is never disabled Ė the thief always redirects you to his hideout, even if youíve killed him. So you canít buy the supplies you need to progress with the money you get from the thief. This is a big bug, and it really ought to have been caught in playtesting Ė as it is, troubleshooting this took up a big chunk of my judging period.

I had to give up when trying to leave for the Cherokee nation, only to be told I need water supplies. Thereís a well in the town, but I canít find what I need to fill up with water. Because of my bad puzzle experiences so far, I donít know whether I need to search for a bottle or container, or whether I just need to find the right way to say ďGET WATER.Ē The solution isnít in the hints, and I wanted to move on to other games at this point.

(Update 10th October: As Larry Horsfield kindly points out in the comments, the solution actually is in the hints, referring to an action I assumed Iíve tried and didnít bother to check. This is entirely my fault Ė apologies to Horsfield for the error! I hope to come back to this game later in the judging period, and will update this review again accordingly.)

If I figure it out, I may come back to Call of the Shaman after Iíve seen the other comp entries and use the 15 minutes I have left on the clock. Iím curious to see how Horsfield writes the Cherokee nation. (Did the Cherokee nation and the Dutch settlers get on, or even meet? I donít know my American history, but I instinctively feel like thatís not how colonialism in America usually went.)

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