Fail-Safe

Author: Jon Ingold
Year: 2000
Development System: Inform
Cruelty Rating: Cruel (but the game is so short it doesn’t matter)
Length of Play: 1-2 Hours

My Rating: 8

I’ve always enjoyed games that take place in space, especially on failing space vessels (e.g. Mission Critical, Seedship). I fell immediately for Fail-Safe’s hook, which entails playing the role of mission control talking to the lone survivor on a failing space vessel.

Ingold does an incredible job at building a tense atmosphere based entirely on conversation. His decision to disable most basic interactive fiction commands (save, restore, inventory, etc.) was perfect in keeping the player locked into the moment. It wouldn’t work in a longer game, but given the brevity here it was the right move.

The only thing that pulled me out of the game a bit was that mission control had some jargon that mission control would know but were not obvious to me, making a couple of things less clear. However, there’s a derailing plot decision that is pulled off very well. It’s a huge risk for sure, as it can seem like pulling the rug out, a cheap trick as it were. However, there are a few clues sprinkled in that I didn’t pick up on that in hindsight I should have. All I could do was tip my cap to the author and replay.

Definitely worth a look if you’re in the mood for something short and immersive.

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