This floor pattern is so simple but so cool. The shortcuts in this part of the game are a godsend, but maybe could've been more of 'em
WARNING: I didn't know there was a run button when I wrote this review! Hold down R to run!
Here we are, the final 3 games I have left to review! These are games that I perceived to be extra long and extra good, stuff worthy of saving for last with plenty of time to savor. Got some family stuff to take care of so it's like 50/50 as to whether I'll actually finish on schedule but I'm still swinging. First up is Surlaw's Ghost's Towns, which I had anticipated was going to be very much like his earlier C. Kane.
It's got the same surrealism and then some, and it shares a bit of a dismissive attitude towards the stereotypical "indie game" but is otherwise its own weird little thing. There's no battles: You're just a weird green dude talking to people in a weird town where everyone knows more about you than you know about yourself. Your interactions with these people will earn you tokens, and the tokens can be traded for voyeuristic scenes. Are these little peeks relevant to what's going on? Maybe and maybe not (play the game, you bums!) but they're pretty effective at what they're trying to do.
In a game like this atmosphere is hugely important, and that starts with the right music. Ghost's Towns does a great job in that department, using a subdued soundtrack (No singing trees here!) to set a curious yet vaguely menacing tone. Some of the scenes are better than anything I've seen in a Halloween contest, though the art plays into that too. There's some great psychedelic effects and some little things that do a good job of keeping you on edge. A textbox near the end of the game kinda shits on this atmosphere to make a rib at the expense of the modern "indie game". To me, it felt like it was coming from a place of insecurity, a kind of... "I made this stereotypical indie game and now I'm letting you know I'm in on the joke, I hate those games too!.. you do hate them, right?" deal. Maybe I'm reading too much into it...
As always I have complaints. The player character moves a little slow for my tastes, especially as you reach the end of the game and have to backtrack for the last few tokens. One of the first puzzles isn't even a puzzle, it's a "moral dilemma" as seen in basically any modern PC RPG. Either thing you do earns you a token (With a cool token log on the menu keeping track of each one and how you earned it), but it makes it feel like every puzzle in the game is going to have a paragon and a renegade solution and I'm not sure that's actually the case. Double checking these possibilities would be easier if the player were faster too, but I can see how going too fast might hurt the atmosphere.
One thing I really really liked was a puzzle that involved pulling blocks. You see a lot of games with pushing blocks, but pulling them was a novelty. Getting them to the right place was fun and then figuring out how exactly to arrange them was even better. The perfect balance of hints and letting you solve it yourself.
I don't know if I'd recommend it or not. I'm not sure what emotion the author was trying to convey. I was invested in the game, which is a good thing. I feel something about the game, even if I'm not sure what. There's multiple endings, but it's not clear why each option leads to the ending that it does (or at least I couldn't figure it out).
I guess what it boils down to is the puzzles: If you like solving puzzles, you might like it. If you like ambiguous story telling and aren't afraid the author is just trying to get you to say you admire a random pile of his poop, you might like it. It's not particularly fun in a traditional sense, but it's an interesting narrative-heavy audio-visual experience
EDIT: The run button changes everything. Being able to experience the game more quickly makes it definitely worth a shot.