As you can tell, I’m working through a very old and very big backlog of ‘Games I said I Would Play But Never Did’. This one is by Jon Ingold (Parser; IFDB).
The Arkwright mansion is before you, a solicitor who has been tasked to retrieve a handful of valuable books to rescue the elder Arkwright from financial ruin. When you enter, though, it’s clear something’s not right with Arkwright…
It’s all very Lovecraft, inspired as it is by Lovecraft’s Commonplace Book #67:
An impression—city in peril—dead city—equestrian statue—men in closed room—clattering of hooves heard from outside—marvel disclosed on looking out—doubtful ending. (Source)
Cosmic terrors, eldritch books, powerful magical artefacts: this game has it all. The writing is first-rate. It’s atmospheric, using tiny details in the surroundings to inspire unease and dread. There is plenty of flexibility in the commands that can be entered – a thoughtful move on Ingold’s part – as well as in the story. Although the interface suggests an appropriate command in the beginning half of the story, it’s possible to do something which would make sense in real life but does not progress the story.
The interface is also interesting, featuring multiple panels: one for inventory, one for suggested commands and one for story art. It’s an interesting feature which makes the game that much more player-friendly, especially for those new to IF.
Dead Cities may be short (about 20-30 minutes from start to finish), but it’s a treasure trove of interesting writing.