My introduction to interactive fiction was playing the Infocom games as a kid. They were fun then but a bit dated now, with an emphasis on contrived inventory and set-piece puzzles and less NPC interaction than modern works. “Alias ‘The Magpie'” plays like one of the best games from that era, but with a rich setting, motivated puzzles, and memorable characters.
Gameplay: The protagonist is a thief intending to steal an item from a manor to which he has secured an invitation under false pretenses. The plot snowballs from there, and it adds a bit of excitement to the game to see him get involved in further complications. The characters are immediately recognizable: the scatterbrained major, the reserved butler, the flighty noblewoman, and so on. They’re lifelike here, though, and interacting with them is a pleasure. 10/10.
Mechanics: Despite its strong characters, the game is fundamentally about solving puzzles. Those puzzles are well-designed and clever but fair, with logical solutions that develop naturally from the plot. Conversations are also handled well, with ASK CHARACTER ABOUT THING covering most of the interactions. The game map is also designed well, with rooms revisited over the course of the game and the connections between them changing due to certain events. 9/10.
Presentation: The dialogue and descriptions are strong throughout. The NPCs, although agreeable stock characters (which is completely fitting for this genre of work), are fleshed out with backgrounds, personalities, and interactions among themselves. There are a few typos (an extra space in the description of the driveway, a missing comma in a conversation, etc.), possible guess-the-verb issues with the watercolor in the study and the bull puzzle, and a parser issue in the last scene in disambiguating a cigar from the cigar case (“Which do you mean, your monogrammed cigar case, a cigar or your monogrammed cigar case?”). Those are all very minor complaints, though, and overall the game is extremely polished. It’s clear that it went through extensive beta-testing, and the playing the final product is a smooth experience. The author also provides an illustrated map of the game environment and a walkthrough, to minimize frustration. 9/10.
Tilt: It’s a game about a corvid (by alias, at least) who commits crimes in a British mystery-novel setting. +1.
You might be interested in this game if: You insist on games’ being thoroughly tested and polished.