Heated by Timothy Peers
Blurb: Get to work early, don’t get too angry and get your raise. You’ve been a slacker for long enough, and this is your one opportunity to really wow the boss!
Expectations: Low. I already spend forty hours a week trying to goad my boss into a raise. Repeating the experience via text adventure is the last way I want to spend my Sunday morning. The blurb gives the impression that this is the author’s first game. One of those “describe your apartment” learning exercises, but with a pinch of “get to work on time” for flavor. An inauspicious start to the Competition? We shall see.
A word about spoilers: I’m of the opinion that to properly review a game there needs to be an open discourse. You can’t get to the heart of a game if you limit yourself to only talking about certain parts of it. Spoilers, I got ’em! I can and will gleefully spoil all aspects of the game: from plot points to puzzle solutions to endings; I won’t hold back. Of course, I won’t do so needlessly. I’m not going to spoil a big twist just ’cause. But if it’s pertinent to my review I won’t kowtow away from it. You have been warned.
I was right. This is the author’s first game, and initially it lived up to my every expectation. The PC wakes up in bed, naked, to the buzz of an alarm clock. Great, I thought, first I’ll have to puzzle out how to turn off the clock, then it’s the minutiae of getting dressed… one command at a time. And while I was correct in these assumptions (at least superficially), Heated is a lot more interesting than would seem at first glance.
The premise is that today is your yearly review and if you impress the boss enough you might just get the raise that will free you from your entry-level squalor. You’ve got about an hour to get to work, but the earlier you are the better the impression. Normally, time based puzzles are a big drag, but here it works nicely. The time limit is the perfect length; long enough that you have time to explore and understand your tasks, but short enough that there’s still a sense of urgency. Peers, thankfully, doesn’t count examining or looking actions as taking any time, so I never felt like I was wasting turns just getting my bearings. This year’s entry Gigantomania does the same thing and it goes a long way to making timed sequences bearable. Along with the time, Heated also tracks how angry you are. As little things goes wrong (and, of course, every little thing does) the PC get’s a little more angry. Get too frustrated and any hope of getting to work on time become a lost cause. I felt the game worked best when the two systems met. For example, you can UNDO a turn (something not usually allowed when a time limit is involved), but doing so causes the game to print:
It’s frustrating when you can’t get things right the first time.
and you get a bit angrier. You’re mitigating your time cost but not without a penalty. That’s neat. It would be really cool if doing to opposite also worked: rest a few minutes and spend some time to calm down some and lower your anger rating. It might be that this possible, but I never encountered it.
It’s disappointing that Heated doesn’t do more with these mechanics. I was hoping for a section in the office where anger changed the outcome of social situations. But instead the game ends somewhat abruptly when you reach the workplace. And while anger does affect the ending I was left feeling that more could have been done with the idea.
The shortness of the game is mitigated by the large number of outcomes. The game can be ended prematurely in several ways, either by wasting time or by getting too pissed off to continue. And the real ending has several variations depending on how well you played. I played through the game from start to finish about five times in order to see everything. One time through is a little too short, but with the replays Heated is just right for the Comp.
Moving from mechanics and on to the craft. Clunky sentences mar what would otherwise be sharp writing:
What other people like to call lazy, you like to consider meditative; it shows in how sparsely decorated your room is. The walls are bare, outside of a shoddy closet built into one of them. Your garage-sale nightstand sits next to your equally impressive bed, bringing the entire motif of the room somewhere into the realm of “bachelor-crap-hole.”
Passages like this are common. The choice of words is just off enough to be annoying. It’s especially frustrating because every so often Heated knocks it out of the park.
You, as you’ve always done, use one hand to hold your clothes up in the air and the other to slash your iron wildly at them. Much to the surprise of everyone who have ever witnessed your efforts, it works.
I was just thinking that the PC didn’t have anything to iron the clothes on and that the game would simply gloss over it. The above passage caused quite the hardy guffaw and really endeared the game to me. It’s a shame they’re aren’t more like it. The PC and his house are well described and unique; a big step beyond the “This is your apartment. You are in your room.” that I was expecting. But the sloppy writing does a lot of damage and makes Heated appear more amateurish than it is. I wish I could be more lenient. It’s not like a clunky sentence I’ve never wrote down. But Heated would have really shined if the writing had been give just a little more polish.
One last point on the writing. Heated offers both hints and the outright solution in its help menu. The hints are really good. They’re worded in just a way to push you in the right direction while clueing you into the necessary verbs. Very impressive. In fact, the game was well clued the whole way through. So well that the puzzles end up a little on the easy side. I never came close to getting stuck or close to running out of time. However, getting all the endings and variations was much more challenging. Careful manipulation of both time and anger was necessary and it was fun finding out the different ways it was possible to do so. I only discovered one situation where it seemed that Peers didn’t account for (waiting for a significant time while outside and with no shoes on).
Overall, I ended up liking Heated a fair bit. It’s well implemented and more interesting than its dull premise lets on. If only more attention had been paid to the writing. I don’t like to rate the games until I’ve played them all (I prefer to rate the games against each other; not against some scale in my head), but I imagine this one will end up with a 6 or a 7. It’s good, but significant flawed. Though, it’s impressive for a first game. I hope Timothy Peers sticks with writing IF. I’d like to see what he’s capable of with a little more ambition and a bit of spit-shine.