If you have ever used the Internet (and if you're reading this, there's at least a 70% chance that you have), then you'll probably be familiar with the core components of Smokescreen, a new alternate reality game (ARG) from entertainment company Six To Start. Social networking, blogging, and chat lingo are all part of this game that takes on the task of warning players about the dangers of the Internet in a way that makes you feel like you're experiencing them first-hand.
The game is played through simulated websites, instant messengers, and mini-games in the form of social network applications. It's fairly straightforward with what you're expected to do, but there is also a hint button to give you a little nudge in the right direction if you get lost. Sound is required for this one also, but the game will warn you before you even get started, and so you don't get too far into things and then get stuck.
The game itself is laid out into different missions, and that's where things get interesting. Every few days a new mission is made available. Right now there are only six (To Start!), but they'll be rolling out new missions over the next 4 weeks or so. The missions can be played in any order, and once you have completed them, you can go back in and start them from various checkpoints. Registration for the site is not required, but it is necessary if you want to save your various achievements. Sadly, I did not realize this right away, so my high score in the Rumour Mill game is now lost forever. That is one thing this game didn't warn me about: always take screenshots or it didn't happen.
Analysis: Smokescreen is quite an unusual game and therefore won't appeal to everyone. The gameplay is fairly straightforward and not particularly challenging, and if you're like me, you'll wish these characters really existed just so you could correct their spelling and grammar. There is also some infrequent mild language on the site, hence the yellow rating. Still, it's hard to find too much fault with a game in which the goal is to educate people, especially when it manages to do so in such an engrossing way. Through all the different messages and recordings, you really start to get into your character. Any game that makes me feel like a character on Degrassi is worth a shot. It is quite evident that a lot of heart and soul went into making this game, and according to the developer's website it took over 2 years and 50 people to make this happen. That commitment shines through in the small details, like the extra lessons to go along with each mission. Those of you with kids will definitely want to consider sharing this one with them. Just make sure to get them a dictionary, too. Illiteracy is no laughing matter.