Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist - Brutal Backlog
Brutal Backlog is a semi-regular feature where the JDR team plough through some of the unplayed games on their shelves (both digital and physical), disregarding their age or the technical limitations of their era. Only the very best games will stand up to scrutiny today.
Look, I’ll be honest with you here. I didn’t know how or why this game was in my backlog when I was looking through my Steam library. I decided I wanted to play something and looking through I saw this. I wondered if perhaps it was from some sort of Humble Bundle, or maybe it was gifted to me. I really didn’t know. I’d hardly heard about it either to tell the truth. The name rung a bell but that was it. I wouldn’t have been able to tell you yesterday this game exists.
Checking it out online made everything clear, though. It’s from the creators of The Stanley Parable and was released as a freebie towards the end of 2015. That indicates the type of game we might expect as we get to playing it. Now, I only looked after I played the game — so the following is me not knowing it’s directly related to Stanley’s experience. Keep that in mind.
So let’s take a look…
10 Minutes In
Right. So I started the game up and then I’m sitting in some kind of backstreet emporium looking at a screen showing the title screen of the game I’m playing. OK — so we’ve got some kind of meta-shit going on? Fine. This was all the rage recently with things like The Stanley Parable and so on. The game sounded fun — I mean that title alone is basically what grabbed me, being all cool and suggestive as it is — but already it’s very odd. I can see lots of notes lying around which I’m able to read but they don’t mean a great deal to me at this point and I hear someone talking about starting the game. Is this a random character, a narrator I’ll hear from throughout or something else?
They had started the game, with ‘they’ being the developers of this game (and the other person who started playing it just before me) which seems like it’s a real thing, but is of course inside a computer game which is all meta, so who actually knows any more? They had started it with someone else though, not me. I’m stuck in a game where I’m meant to be playing the game but I am not allowed to play — I’m actually being told that by the guy I could hear earlier and still do. He’s not really very sure of anything and so I don’t think he knows what’s going on, but perhaps he’s less in the dark than me. The game is storyboarded in front of me, though, in the second area or so that I have entered, and I keep getting random information from those notes which are left around. Something about dodgy health and safety, grappling hooks and a lack of hope. Hmmm.
This is utterly meta. I do want to know what the heck’s going on though. I don’t know why but Cabin in the Woods comes to mind, oddly.
15 Minutes In
The narrator — yes, the person I heard speaking is still with me, and I imagine will be for the duration — who seems to be managing the game, is asking me to do things. What things you might ask? Well the game has a first-person viewpoint and I get to turn wheels, press buttons, pick up phones and let tigers loose — hopefully at the appropriate moment. And by and large I’m doing it. I am doing what I can to not do it too (to see how the game handles me going off-script), but I then have to get back on the straight path. It’s not like The Stanley Parable in that regard but otherwise it very much is. I don’t like the fact I’m being told what to do. There’s no ‘Would you kindly’ but I’m thinking it in my head all the time.
25 minutes In
OK, this game thinks it’s clever. I went through the whole thing and finished it. I think I was eaten by a tiger. I think by doing all the wrong things backstage to make the other player’s game go well — by not turning the wheels I was supposed to, or keying in the codes I was meant to, I messed up my game. It’s not easy to explain what’s going on but think of it like this. In the world of this computer game I started out backstage of some great big theatre, or movie plot. I am controlling what happens in the game for another person from the world’s backstage area, whilst I look forward to my go at the game on the stage (which I haven’t seen at all yet).
I’m going to try again, this time obeying my master narrator. It feels wrong but…
35 Minutes In
Nope, I played it a second time doing the right things when I could. Still dead. It seems that no matter how you play the game the end result is the same. You, as someone there to play the game, actually help manage it for another player who started just before you. We never see that player but whilst we’re waiting to have a go ourselves we’re asked by the narrator chap to help backstage make this other player’s game go well. When it’s your turn, whoever is managing it for you utterly screws it up, leading to your death. Yay.
It’s fucking stupid. A game made by those behind The Stanley Parable that quite frankly is a repeat of the first trick, done badly. You spend twenty minutes playing the game on your computer in the hope you get to play the game in the artificial world which you are actually helping manage for another player. Then you die. Whether you do what you’re told straight away, or dick around until you have nothing left to do, the end result is the same. I’m not really sure what the point of that is. There’s no message given there’s no impact from what you do. I’m rather frustrated that I spent any time actually clearing this from my backlog.