Babel

Author: Ian Finley
Year: 1997
Development System: TADS
Cruelty Rating: Polite
Length of Play: 3-5 hours

My Rating: 10

Awards: Best Writing — 1997 XYZZY Awards

In 1999 I discovered the IF Archive and the first game I played was not Babel. It was Heist, by Andy Phillips. While I was terrible at it, I was impressed by the parser since the last new text adventure I had played was Bureaucracy. The second game I decided to try was Babel, and I was simply blown away.

The standard criticisms thrown Babel’s way are fair. The game uses not one but two sci-fi clichés (amnesia and a doomed Arctic research station). Most of the story is told via flashbacks. The puzzles are mostly perfunctory. The ending is predictable. None of this mattered to me twenty years ago. And I played it again last year and it didn’t really matter to me this time either.

Finley is a great writer and accomplished two things here. He was able to develop several multi-dimensional characters (via flashbacks) and pace the reveals well enough (hence, the perfunctory puzzles) to increase their intrigue. And he also created a tense atmosphere that had me on the edge of my seat as a college freshman. While on my recent playthrough I wasn’t quite so moved, I was entertained and once again impressed with the game’s breadth and technical strengths.

While it’s true that flashbacks are not the strongest storytelling technique, and while it’s true that unlocking a bunch of doors is not the strongest use of puzzles, Finley masterfully weaves both facets of his game together, engaging the player in both goals and necessitating the player use one aspect to inform the other. Additionally, the game is so well coded that it’s great as an introduction to interactive fiction.

Babel is not my favorite game ever, but probably the one for which I am most fond as it led me to this wonderful community. I even paid to register my game and get the feelies. It’s too bad they appear to have been lost to the ether.

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