The House Abandon
"There is an art to the building up of suspense," pronounces Guildenstern, in his first line from Tom Stoppard's absurdist comedy Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. It's one of my favourite lines, because suspense is one of those tightrope acts that so often elude game makers and storytellers these days. The nature of narrative arcs often renders a lot of suspense moot: we know that the protagonist isn't going to die, we know that there is some kind of struggle, we know that there will be obstacles, etc. etc. etc.
But there are ways to play on those expectations, to undermine the expected and to arrive at a new, chilling suspense. The House Abandon, from No Code Games, is a brilliant example of this.
It's a difficult game to talk about, for two reasons: first, in that the game can be completed in roughly 20 minutes, and second, in that those 20 minutes consist of a slow-build arc to a conclusion so audacious it had me grinning like a maniac. To spoil even an iota of that arc would be a massive disservice, so I'll try to couch this brief review in vague terms. Suffice it to say that The House Abandon plays wondrous havoc with the 4th wall, putting you in a game-within-a-game situation. You find yourself sitting down in an 80's-esque environment to boot up your sweet new text based adventure game: The House Abandon! ...Huh.
You play the game, by, well, playing the game, so you're limited to typing classic key strings like "Look Around," "Use [item]," and so on. In the in-game situation, you find yourself pulling up to the titular House, presumably to reminisce about your childhood spent inside its friendly walls. Where the plot goes from there is, believe you me, wholly unexpected, and I'll say no more on it. The game is obviously awash in 80's nostalgia, but in the best way possible, taking nods from Zork and The Lurking Horror and other Infocom titles. There is also a very strong visual tie to Netflix's Stranger Things in the art direction and the title text. All of which COULD be perceived as mere window dressing, but to me served as the key element in this game's aforementioned artful suspense.
By drawing the player into a comfort zone of familiarity, The House Abandon very effectively sets up a conceit and then begins chipping away at it even as it chips away at the mind and nerves. Just when we think we know the rules and the standards and the tropes, it twists and turns again to keep us out of our element. And all of this inside of 20 minutes.
Last week, in talking about Void, I mentioned how Unity is atool that can be very easily abused. Void is a game that is incredibly simple, has a short play time, and basic graphics. It utterly failed. The House Abandon is incredibly simple, has a short play time, and basic graphics. It utterly knocks it out of the park. The key is in intelligent, well-paced, suspense. Take a break some time and give it a play through. You won't be disappointed.