Fail-Safe is a work of interactive fiction created by Jon Ingold. It could be one of the strangest text-based games you've ever seen (in a simple, subdued kind of way), as Ingold removes all meta-commands from the parser, forbidding you do to things like saving your progress, consulting a help manual, or checking your inventory. But there's a good reason for this. Fail-Safe immerses you so deeply in the world that even the conventions of playing a game would snap you out of it. And when you start playing, you'll see why that's a crucial part of the experience.
Fail-Safe is one of those games where discussing the plot, puzzles or content would ruin everything. Even the smallest mentioning of an event, setting, character or sentence kind of spoils the fun. Well, you would still get some enjoyment from figuring the game out and seeing an ending, but the immersion factor would be lost, and that's where Fail-Safe really shines. I will say this, however: as the game begins, you are responding to a distress call. Now, start reading, think about the game world, and don't look away from your screen until you've saved the day.
Analysis: When I first played Fail-Safe my eyes widened with excitement. It took little more than three paragraphs to grab my attention, rivet my fingers to the keyboard, and keep me thinking about the in-game events until the bitter (and not-bitter) end. Big game developers spend enormous amounts of time and money developing concepts that can reel players in like squiggling little fishies. And here Jon Ingold does it with a few lines of text and a whole lot of intrigue. That's exactly what I like in a game.
The pressure is always on high in Fail-Safe, but not so strong that I didn't feel I had time to "explore" my "surroundings". (Yeah, you'll understand those quotation marks once you play the game.) Almost all of the text in the game is spoken dialogue, keeping descriptions organic and interesting without that bitter flavor of exposition. This also serves as an additional tool of immersion, preventing you from dropping back into "look and see" mode as a player. The parser even stays in-character, spouting story-appropriate text in response to your failed commands.
Fail-Safe is a short game, perfect for any casually-minded player, but there are multiple endings to uncover, and I'm sure you'll want to see more than one. If you're new to the interactive fiction genre you might struggle a bit with this game, so you might want to level-up your IF skills before jumping in. Llama Adventure is a good place to cut your teeth. And when you're ready to lose yourself in a great story experience, Fail-Safe will be waiting for you.
Cheers to Brian for sending this one in!
The links above point to JIG's internally developed Flash-based Z-Machine interpreter (thanks asterick!), with the story files hosted here by kind permission of the game's author, Jon Ingold. That means you can play Fail-Safe in your browser rather than having to download and run the game in a standalone interpreter. If you would rather download the game, grab the file at the Interactive Fiction database followed by an interpreter for your OS: Gargoyle for Windows, Zoom for Macintosh and Unix.