IF Comp ’10: The Warbler’s Nest

What! There’s only a week left until the Comp is over? How did that happen?

How time flies when you’re dealing with a screaming newborn. Speaking of…

The Warbler’s Nest by Jason McIntosh 

Blurb: Surely the reed bank counts as a wild place. While it gives you so much, you’ve never tended it, not really, not like you do with your garden. It’s something like the forest, then, but much safer to search without attracting attention. So here you are.

Expectations: I could really use a nature setting right about now. The drudgery of urban life is taking its toil. And with the baby there hasn’t been a chance to escape up into the mountains. I hope this game provides something of an escape. I haven’t played Jason McIntosh’s previous game, so I’ve got no preconceptions. It is nice to see a guy return to IF after so many years. Kudos to that.

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.

This was interesting, if a little rough around the edges. It felt… loose in a way. With a little more tightening it would have left a better impression. It was good, but it felt amateurish in a way I really can’t define. Things like the implementation of the garden (a sticking point for many people, including me) are part of it, but I think it has more to do with the vagueness that permeates the game.

I liked what McIntosh was attempting. He attempts to create a feeling of unease and ill-defined horror. And sometimes it worked. Passages like

The doorway to your cottage is to the east. You could also walk around the cottage, to the northeast or the southeast, towards the little clearing you know is there.

Something is wrong.

and

You take a few steps around the side of the cottage, but stop short when a soft sound breaks the heavy silence. A scrabbling, snuffling sort of sound, coming from behind the cottage.

It sounds like something alive.

are effective. After all, nothing is scarier. But at other times, Warbler’s Nest bordered on Narm.  Being told what exactly was wrong lessened the impact. I thought it was silly that the wrongness was the cottage was silent . Aren’t cottages normally silent? Yes, after the reveal it made sense, but at the time it compromised the mood.

There is a lot to admire here. I like how details were gradually revealed, and how the game was about something different at the end than it was at the start. Warbler’s Nest tells the type of story we don’t usually see in IF, a welcome diversion.

However, the ending, and central conflict, were too weak; the solution too pat. I’m dealing with a crying baby in my everyday life and I didn’t feel like the ending realistically represented the situation. Not for a lack of effort on McIntosh’s part, but I wasn’t sold. I would have liked if the cenral the choice more balanced, with more conviction to the bad ending . Once I saw the baby I knew, as a player, that it wasn’t a changeling. There was no mystery anymore. The abruptness of the endings didn’t  make the choice more meaningful either.

I like what The Warbler’s Nest attempted, but it didn’t quite succeed. Like I said, it needed tightening up. With more stylistic control it could have been a winner. As it stands, it’s interesting, but not essential.

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