Mini-Review: Divided

Game web site; download page (26 Mb)

Review written by Andrew Plotkin

I'm always happy to find another Myst-genre game sprung out of someone's basement. Divided is a short one, and somewhat uneven, but I still enjoyed it. And it's a free download, so you should enjoy it too.

(I'm going to talk about the uneven parts now, but don't let it scare you off.)

The interface is a slightly odd choice: panning, but with horizontal rotation only. It's serviceable, but it leads to a few odd moments: something important is on the floor, but you can only interact with it if you step back. Because if you're close to it, it's below your field of view. I'd say it's worth extending the engine to handle up-down panning as well.

The hotspots and cursors are also inconsistent -- or just more complex than they need to be. In the panning view, the cursor lights up on hotspots, like you'd expect. This is also true in some close-up scenery views. But in others, the cursor is always lit. I think this indicates that that view has no hotspots, and you should just click anywhere to back away. Perhaps more convenient, but definitely more confusing. I spent a lot of time clicking around those views, looking for something to do.

I also got confused by the inventory system. You can get a close view of anything you're holding, which is fine. Some of those views have hotspots, which is also fine; you can page through books and fiddle with some devices as you hold them. However, the distinction between cases where you're supposed to fiddle in your inventory, and cases where you're supposed to use an inventory object on a specific location, is very thin. It made sense in retrospect, especially when I considered how much video would be needed for certain objects. But while I was playing the game, I was frequently trying to use things the wrong way.

The puzzles were quite good. (I could quibble about the first one being underclued, but really I'd just be complaining that I wasn't paying enough attention.) You have your purely logical puzzle, your math puzzle, your alien-machine puzzle, your physical environment puzzle... just about one of each, come to think of it, since the game is so short.

The scenery is atmospheric, detailed, and there's plenty of it; it's not a mere thin wrapper around the puzzles. I appreciate that. I got a little tired of the algorithmic textures, but I'm not complaining here; the environments were nifty. There's even some video -- heavily compressed, since this is a downloadable game, but good enough. (If the author offered a high-resolution version of Divided, on CD, I'd pay for it.) Good audio as well. Okay, one of the instruments in the background music made me think I was being chased by an angry D'ni cow, but it was good background music nonetheless.

The story is an unapologetic mix of classic adventure tropes. You're in a symbolic world in someone's head. Two brothers in conflict. Tricks and traps. I'm all in favor of this, as long as it's done deliberately, and in Divided it certainly is. (I caught a Myst in-joke, and the author credits Myst, Riven, and Zork Nemesis as inspirations.) The story underlying all this is original, not generic adventure cliche. The journals that you find reveal quite a bit about the world. (The author's English is imperfect, but passes.) I thought this background wasn't tied in tightly enough with the gameplay, but it was still interesting material, and it supported the narrative and the ending.

My biggest complaint is that, given all the Myst riffs, I expected a game with multiple endings. It's not that an adventure game needs multiple endings! But when I hit a resolution that seemed non-optimal, my first impulse was to go back into the game and look for an alternate outcome. (Remember, I had been confused about the interface. I thought I might have simply missed some combination of inventory items and mouse clicks.)

When this turned up nothing, I looked at some web forum posts, and it became clear that was the ending. It was a perfectly suitable ending for the story. But because I had been expecting more, and then didn't get it, the ending came off as anticlimactic.

None of these are fatal complaints. Divided is a nice short-story-sized homebrew adventure, and since the only cost is download time, it's a bargain. I hope the author does more.

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