Author: half sick of shadows
Development System: Inform 6
Cruelty Rating: Cruel, but the game has a finite number of moves
Length Of Play: 5-15 minutes each playthrough; about 3 hours for me to solve the puzzle
My Rating: 9
Awards: 3rd Place — 10th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition
Best Individual Puzzle — 2004 XYZZY Awards
“The encounter could create a time paradox. The results of which could cause a chain reaction that would unravel the very fabric of the space-time continuum and destroy the entire universe!…Granted, that’s the worst-case scenario.” — Doc Brown, Back to the Future 2
And such is the world logic of All Things Devours. The inventor of a time-travel machine, Natalie Williams comes to the same realization about paradoxes and sets out to destroy the machine. However, she soon realizes that her plans have been taken and she must find them so that the machine can never be made again. And soon the player realizes that time travel is necessary to find those papers, and there’s a total span of nine minutes in which to work to avoid the guards, avoid your present self, and avoid creating a paradox for your present self.
Toby Ord crafted an incredibly tight puzzle box that is a delightful gift to unwrap, with Natalie’s insight and foresight the present (and the past!). There is a lot of learning by dying as you get to know what Natalie already knows about the facility as well as the game’s internal logic about time travel. The logic, as with all time travel stories, breaks down if you think about it too much; however, it is consistent within the story. I took extensive notes while playing, detailing the exact time of each move I made, and then after destroying the universe with another paradox, adjusting actions ever so slightly the next time around. Normally, learning by dying eventually exhausts me, but because every death here taught me something new, I never stopped having fun.
Despite the incredibly tight timeline, there is still a little flexibility with decision-making as well as multiple solutions to several puzzles. Some of those solutions require knowledge it would be impossible for Natalie to know without dying first, though there is a path through the game that is plausible if you care about that sort of thing. My only critique is the final solution only insofar as I thought my alternate solution should have worked!
One of the best uses of time travel I’ve seen in a game and a treat for those who enjoy a complex puzzle.