[Warning: this game contains sometimes unexpected descriptions of death and gore.]
You wake up in a North London flat, unable to remember how you got there. Tottenham is devoid of people. It’s time to go.
The game is initially a lot about exploration. There isn’t much of a clear goal, but as you explore, it’s clear that something very bad has happened. The game never makes it clear what you’re aiming for – perhaps a vague attempt at safety – even to the end.
Howwl is written with a vaguely Twine or Undum-like format, where you click links to progress.The links suggest what would be common actions in a typical parser game – taking inventory, inspecting objects and so on. The layout is attractive and neat, in which links add to a growing transcript which can be scrolled back. Header images mark changes in location. You can create an account to save your place in the story, but given that the scope of the game, as it stands (I played Beta 0.81), isn’t too long, you might not need this.
Howwl aims for the gritty urban apocalyptic atmosphere in its abandoned buildings and filthy interiors, and does it quite well. You never get to see the source of ominous (and sometimes uncomfortably human) noises. You stumble over unexpectedly gruesome sights. The writing style is detached – is it resignation on the PC’s part? Hopelessness?
I found the PC to be way too generic to give the reader a stake in how the story progressed- not that you get to make many significant choices, anyway; the author’s method of removing options if they’re not necessary makes it impossible, for example, to escape a certain place or to explore more buildings than the author intended you to.
Some mildly spoilery stuff below the cut.
Spoilers to follow.
Because the author removes links deemed unnecessary, it is possible to get impossibly stuck at some point(s?) in the game. So it’s not that the game is unforgiving in its puzzles – there aren’t really puzzles – it’s more… a design fault, kind of.
I had some minor niggles about the writing. Brand names are mentioned, almost to the exclusion of actual description for some items. The PC is horribly generic; we know more about the PC’s dressing and clothing than the PC themselves. Also, when you start, the PC is somehow aware that you’re on the eleventh floor despite not knowing where you are or how you got there.
There are occasionally external links to illustrate what, for example, a minotaur or a Molotov cocktail is. Though I can see how they might be useful, I found them distracting.
Some things I liked, though: I liked the interface, though I found the scrollback style made it visually distracting since your gaze must constantly move from the new text to the links. I also liked the unusual mix of classical monsters (there are minotaurs, for example) in a modern urban landscape, something I’ve not seen before.
Howwl is hugely promising, I think – I like the way it looks, the way it does atmosphere and its premise. (Urban fantasy. I dig urban fantasy.)