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[A review of Wade Clarke's interactive fiction title, Leadlight. Leadlight was a contestant in the 2010 Interactive Fiction competition, and combines old and new elements to create a genuinely compelling experience.]
Crossposted from TK-Nation. TK-Nation's a South-East Asian gaming site that plays home to news about quality underdogs from the gaming world, indie cosplay and video game collectibles.
Note: Leadlight is developed for the Apple II (retro geek props there), but the website includes downloadable emulators and a browser-based plugin for the less fruit-endowed.
Despite my long history with MUSHes and other text-based genres (does Nethack count if I don't use tiles?) I'm not really a big fan of interactive fiction. It's not a fault of the genre per se; rather, too many developers take the format and use it to slap together an unimaginative text version of a hidden object game.
To me, Wade Clarke's Leadlight is an example of interactive fiction done right. Although still full of occasionally frustrating traps and puzzles, Leadlight leverages the unique advantage of text to craft pictures in your head far more evocative than modern graphics could ever be, and all for the sake of creeping the hell out of its players.
Leadlight casts players as antisocial Belinda Nettle, an aspiring 15-year old ballerina studying at an all-girls boarding school. She falls asleep in the library one evening, and wakes up to find A) that everything has mysteriously gone to hell and B) the corpse of her classmate sitting in front of her. For fear of spoiling anyone I won't give anything else away, but the story features lots of creepy surprises reminiscent of a good horror flick.
This quality writing allows Leadlight to surpass its occasional frustrations. There are lots of traps waiting to instagib poor Belinda, but they're gruesome fun to read and always come with the option to rewind and try again. If you're ever stuck, the handy (and clever!) hint sheet
quickly sets you on the right track.
Permadeath only comes if you're slain via combat, which consists of Belinda trading (but usually avoiding) blows with her foe until one of them falls. Although the RNG aspect of it can be occasionally discouraging, encounters are unique, non-random, and fun to read and I found that discovering items to bolster Belinda with was oddly compelling.
The best way for me to describe Leadlight is to call it Silent Hill done in text, and quite frankly I never expected to find the game so enjoyable. If you're not a fan of interactive fiction, I highly recommend Leadlight as a way to get your toes wet (in rivers of blood).
Play Leadlight w/AppleIIGo: http://www.leadlightgame.com/pla2/pla2.html
Official Leadlight game website: http://www.leadlightgame.com/