The Joy of Text
Great IF games you can play right now
It's not all about colossal caves and twisty little passages any more. Here are a few IF highlights that show off how varied the genre can be, from card-based trips to the 'Neath to hunts for lost pigs. In the print version of this, we also linked to a interesting James Bond text-adventure used to promote Skyfall - unfortunately, that's been taken offline now. Still, if it was good enough for Bond...
Gloriously dark and dripping with wicked culture, but a game that takes a little while to open up. Using cards to represent random events, explore the underground realm of the Traitor empress with no greater purpose than to live a virtual life. It can get repetitive, but the higher your stats get, the more stories become available and the more control you have over your destiny.
Pig lost! Boss say it Grunk fault. Grunk need help. Grunk an orc, and not good at description; detailed expository introspections on combining inherently ludic nature of interactive fiction and unconventional prose style not Grunk’s thing. But Grunk’s story funny. Grunk win 2007 Interactive fiction Competition. You probably like Grunk. Help Grunk find lost pig.
While this is iPad only, sorry, there is a live demo on the site. This is easily one of the most stylish attempts at bringing interactive fiction to portable devices so far. It’s not really an adventure so much as a live retelling of the story, placing you at the good doctor’s side as he meddles with things man was not meant to know. All wrapped up in some very nice interface work.
Spider and Web
An oldie but a goodie, this spy story is one of the most enjoyable examples of unreliable narration, and a story that couldn’t be told any other way. Your mission went badly wrong, and your ‘adventure’ is the story you spin to an interrogator who knows a lot more than you do. To survive, you must weave a precarious path through the gaps in his knowledge. It's not easy, but it is extremely clever.
Although built on the same engine as Fallen London, this is a very different kind of project – a Rogue-style RPG based on decks of cards. Its most interesting twist is splitting the action into Surface and below decks. Surface decks fill in your backstory and restore your Spirit. The more you use them though, the darker your story becomes and the less reason you may have to ever return.
A great example of how interactive fiction can work without a big dramatic concept, Bee is simply the story of a girl trying to win a spelling bee, despite low motivation and a difficult home life with her religious parents. This is also a good introduction to a basic rule of playing interactive fiction – if you see the name 'Emily Short’ listed as the writer, it’s going to be a good one.
Just because a game communicates through text doesn’t mean it can’t provide atmosphere. This proto-hacking game is set on the bulletin boards of the late ’80s, telling a mystery mixed with romance, wrapped up in wires. Some nostalgia for the sound of a dialling modem will help, but absolutely isn’t required to have a good time digging into this retro-sci-fi mystery.