Hey, you! Yes, you! You, of course, being Rick. You're not a thief. No, not you! You're just... down on your luck a little. Supremely unlucky, in fact, since the sheriff happened to show up just as you and your good buddy Muddy Charlie were liberating some silver. Unfortunately, he's not willing to let you off with just a slap on the wrist, and in this bit of interactive fiction you'll have to use every trick in your cowboy book to escape the Hoosegow, the award-winning CGDC7 entry by Ben Collins-Sussman and Jack Welch.
Make your breakout by thinking outside the box and typing your actions into the game. "Look at", "use", "ask ___ for", "search", and even "spit" are just some of the things you'll need to do to progress. Pay close attention to your environment; characters will occasionally prompt you with a hint as to what you should be doing, but you'll have an easier time of it if you remember to examine everything. Don't be afraid to experiment, but if you need a nudge, type "Help" or "Hints" for instructions and clues, respectively.
Analysis: Hoosegow is exceptionally well done, with humour sprinkled throughout its robust narrative. So robust, in fact, that you can spend more time reading the fiction itself than you do interacting with it. Small, seemingly inconsequential actions can trigger a glut of three, sometimes four meaty paragraphs. Sure it's well written, in a classic aw, shucks, hoss sort of Western vibe, but it does occasionally make you feel as though you're doing little more than setting off cutscenes. Cutscenes you read.
You'll need to pay attention during those scenes too, since you'll miss out on important clues if you just skim the text. It would help if the items you could interact with were more obvious; less challenging, maybe, but it's easy for the less observant to spend a while fruitlessly spinning your wheels just because you didn't realise the item mentioned briefly at the end of another description was something you could use. Maybe this wouldn't be an issue if some of the solutions were a little less oddball. Thankfully, the hint system here is actually well implemented; hints are provided in tiers as you request them, getting more and more explicit as you go. It's a nice touch, and will be appreciated by players that just want a nudge so they can figure something out themselves, rather than being explicitly told what to do. Hey, my brain works sometimes!
Okay, so the game is good at providing direction when you ask for it. But what it is absolutely fantastic at is staying in character. Hoosegow exudes a sort of effortless, good-ol-boy charm that features in even the help menu. Visuals? Your brain is your graphics card here, and thanks to the authentic twang that permeates the dialogue, you'll have no trouble mentally envisioning the picturesque loveliness that is your dank little cell. Mmm, smell that stale perspiration! It's like you're really there! Ooh la la!
Tag team champions Ben Collins-Sussman and Jack Welch have created a wonderful thing in Hoosegow. It's fun, funny, and guaranteed to bring out the cowpoke in you. (A dusty, bumbling, thieving cowpoke, but a cowpoke nonetheless.) A workout for your imagination as well as your problem-solving skills, Hoosegow is a challenging escape for those of you who have always wanted to ride off into the sunset. Sort of.