Blue Lacuna is one of those rare experiences that turns your set of assumptions about a medium on its head. Like Memento or The Usual Suspects or The Outsider, Aaron Reed's game transcends its medium to become more than the sum of its parts, an artwork that leaves a measurable change in the player. You might finish this game, but it may never leave you alone.
On the surface, Blue Lacuna looks like most other examples of contemporary interactive fiction: a screen full of text, a status bar, and a prompt. You interact with the world by responding to the prompt with a simple declaration: "EXAMINE STATUE", for example. Once you spend any time with it, however, you'll see that this is actually a unique interface. Taking a cue from hypertext authors, Blue Lacuna works on a keyword-based system. Blue words are objects to interact with, green words are places you can go, and bolded words are conversation topics. While the traditional way of playing IF is still viable, it's possible to simply type "statue" instead of the above example.
With that small amount of knowledge and the excellently done tutorial system, you're ready to go. Although I've been playing traditional interactive fiction for years, I almost never needed to use a verb to interact with an object, and when I did it was extremely clear what I needed to do.
If that weren't enough, at the end of the game's prologue it will assess the choices you made and give you the option to play a story-based game or the more traditional puzzle-based adventure. Rest assured, neither side is missing out; the story-weighted version has the same puzzles, but they're vastly streamlined in comparison to the more traditional fare. Personally, after finishing the game I had a peek at the walkthrough, and if you're not the kind of person who enjoys working out alien linguistics from a few clues, I can heartily recommend the story mode.
To those involved with the interactive fiction community, Blue Lacuna's elements have a fairly prestigious heritage: the adaptive hints and keyword-based conversation system evokes Emily Short's Alabaster, the surrealist nature of the story, Andrew Plotkin's Delightful Wallpaper, the deep world and puzzles, Graham Nelson's Curses. More importantly, though, are the things Reed does differently.
Analysis: Emergent or branching narratives have been seen as a red herring in game development for a while. Chris Crawford calls them a failure in First Person, the game theory reader. This is mostly because with every choice you implement that drastically affects the story, you essentially double your workload from that point on. In the world of AAA titles, this means exponentially greater costs: after all, with every new conversation comes new models, textures, voice actors, and animations, all of which have to be created by paid talent. However, with interactive fiction comes the freedom to try such unique approaches to game stories.
This is really where Reed excels. After the prologue, you find yourself on a nearly-abandoned island. Your only companion is a mad hermit, a man who talks in broken sentences and shouts at the ocean. Throughout the game, your interactions with him (or even actions in his presence) shape his opinion of you, his relationship with you, and how the eventual ending plays out. Depending on your actions and conversation with this man, the game could play in vastly different ways. He doesn't affect the puzzles themselves, but so much of the incidental dialogue and description of the game is influenced by his mood and relationship with you that it'll end up with an entirely different feel. More than anything else, Blue Lacuna is a game about emotion and memory, and it excels at manipulating both.
Blue Lacuna is something unique, as close to 'interactive literature' as I've ever seen in gaming. You owe it to yourself to try it out.
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