Introcomp: Beyond Division

Beyond Division (Joseph Geipel) is a parser-based science fiction game. Earth has been attacked by aquatic aliens, the Tide; humanity has been driven to the interior of continents. The conclusion is reached that establishing communication represents humanity’s only hope; a project is started into inter-species communication. At the game’s opening, it has failed to establish communication with the Tide, but it has broken through to communicating with telepathic wolves (shades of The Game of Rat and Dragon here). You alternately play one such captured wolf, and a geneticist newly assigned to the project.

Oddly wrapped around this is a frame-story where all this is a story being told to you by your Latin study partner, who provides an overexcited-sounding author’s commentary through footnotes. From what I can make out, the frame and internal stories have no obvious need for one another at all. If anything, the frame sounds a little bit like an excuse – ‘if this seems corny, it isn’t my story, it’s a story being told by one of my characters.’ Which is not really required – the plot and the writing are fine, albeit not so spectacular to elicit a response of OH MY GOD YES I MUST KEEP PLAYING THIS.

The interaction to this point feels a little railroaded; this does not seem like a game that’s highly focused on exploration or experimentation. The first scene has you wandering around a forest, as the wolf, and there’s something that looks as though it might be a puzzle, but advances the plot more or less regardless of what you do. After this, the game is mostly keyword-based conversation, usually presenting you with two options at a time and rejoining pretty heavily. Thus far, this feels very much like a pre-established story in which the point of interaction is to draw the player along, rather than one where interaction itself provides significant interest; perhaps the conversation choices will have long-term effects, or telepathy will turn into a systematic mode of interaction, but there’s not much sign of it so far.

There’s some potentially fruitful dramatic tension being set up here: the wolf and its human captors can communicate, but they operate from fundamentally different mindsets, have different ideas about what to do about the Tide, and might just kill one another. But the intro didn’t leave me with very much idea about what to expect from the main body of the game; so far this all feels like preamble, as though the author doesn’t quite know how to get this story into a game-like shape.

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