So maybe your life hasn't turned out the way you expected, but, well, other people have it worse, right? So what if your husband seems distant or even irritated by you, or if you have difficulty conversing or connecting with people, or if your house feels far emptier than it used to? At least you have a home, right? But in Ade McT's interactive-fiction title Map, that home is... changing. You've noticed doors where they never used to be, you're sure of it, despite your husband Derek's dismissal, and one day... you decide to explore. Lacking any real puzzles, Map is a narrative-driven adventure about life and choices, and the decisions you make, and the ones you wish you had.
Map largely plays like most interactive fiction titles, so you'll be typing in commands like LOOK AT or GO and hitting [enter] to execute them. You can UNDO your last command, and SAVE your game and load it with RESTORE, too. Map also has some special commands, such as TOMORROW, which immediately causes time to advance a day, so type HELP to learn about them. If you want to know what has changed overnight, type X to get an overview of the new layout. You can look at just about anything in a room's description to learn more about it, even if it doesn't seem that important to the game... but that's also sort of the point. Examining your surroundings slowly begins to paint a better picture of the quietly withering woman you're inhabiting. Pictures remind her of better days, before she always turned from the camera, and her husband's chair reminds her of times when he used to teasingly chase their kids when they dared sit in "Dad's spot". Map paints a picture of a very common sort of loneliness and disconnected dissatisfaction, of someone who is unhappy and even depressed with their life, but doesn't know what to do about it, or even how they got there. Map's core element, of course, is that through this house's bizarre and inexplicable shifts in architecture and what you find within them, you actually are able to change the past and make different choices to change your life. You can revisit pivotal moments in your life and change the way they played out... though of course you might not always foresee the consequences as you try to tweak your life to perfection, if such a thing exists. Map is a slow burn, an examination of life and the things that make it up, from the big to the minuscule, and if you like your text games with more puzzles and less navel gazing, this might not be the title for you. Others will appreciate the way so much of the protagonist, Elaine's, life can change in unexpected ways, and be driven to uncover more and more outcomes.
Though Map veers close to going overboard in painting its protagonist and her life as gray and borderline miserable, it still feels very genuine in its exploration of regret and wistfulness. The choices you make really are important, and the mood expertly shifts tone as things change around you. It deals with some serious subject matter, making it a heavy read, but part of its strength is its ability to show how few easy answers there ever really are. It's a little frustrating, then, that Map is, perhaps ironically, hard to navigate. Its narrative is more closely structured to a book than a game, and so figuring out directions, or even if certain directions exist, can be a pain because the way the text is structured makes the story more immersive at the cost of ease of use to you, the player. This may, in fact, be intentional to mimic the way our protagonist feels lost in her own life, but to a player, it just sort of feels like going in circles and bumping against walls. You'll want to try different compass directions in some places even if it doesn't seem immediately apparent that those are options, and likewise, some scenes won't always prompt you for interactions the way others do. There are, of course, multiple endings, so you'll want to replay and make different decisions, which makes it a good thing that it feels like there's so much content to see depending on what you choose as the game progresses. Learning more and more about the protagonist, about why she is the way she is, about why certain things happened as you work backward through time, is rewarding, though if you're hoping for a clear-cut way to lead her to a picture perfect ending, you might find Map's ambiguity a little annoying. Still, Map is an intriguing game that will resonate with a lot of people, even if their only shared experience is that lingering feeling of "what if?" and a wish for more.