• Add Review
  • Subscribe
  • Nominate
  • Submit Media
  • RSS

The killer is me.

NOTE: By the very nature of this game, this review contains spoilers. You've been warned. (There are also minor spoilers for Beautiful Escape and for another game, but it's a very obscure one.)

(Apologies to Alice In Chains for borrowing their song title for this review.)

The fascination of most people with crime is one of psychology's enduring mysteries. Is it because, as the old saw goes, "bad men do what good men dream of?" In other words, do we all contain impulses to crime within us, even if we work hard to keep them in check? Recent evidence from neuroscience suggests that this may be the case: Benjamin Libet, for example, has demonstrated that humans probably have "free won't" - the ability to veto an automatically computed impulse - rather than "free will". The fact that most of the Ten Commandments are "thou shalt not", Libet points out, shows that even the ancients were aware of this.

But enough philosophizing. It's one thing to read about a crime, or even to scour the archives at CrimeLibrary.com (I've whiled away many a sleepy Sunday doing just that), but the video game medium provides a further twist: how about playing a game where you are the killer? In my interactive-fiction playing days, I came across Adam Cadre's "1981", in which you play the role of Ronald Reagan's failed assassin, John Hinckley, Jr - an experience which is unsettling, but also thought-provoking.

The author of this game, Calunio, is no stranger to the concept: his earlier game, Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer, has you take on the role of a man whose greatest pleasure is torturing people in a dungeon. However, Suzy and freedom is closer to Cadre's game than to Dungeoneer, as it is based on a real-life crime. (Fans of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation may recognize a lot of this game's plot from the episode Blood Drops, though CSI's take on the story makes the protagonist much more sympathetic.)

Story and writing (5 out of 5):
At one level, Suzy and freedom plays like a film noir - Dan, an ordinary nebbish, is seduced into committing a crime by Suzy, the titular femme fatale. But to dismiss it in such a glib way is to miss the depth of what Calunio has achieved. By playing as the various characters - Dan, his brother Cris, Suzy, and even the victims - the player achieves a level of immersion that is quite different from reading a conventional "true crime story". In the end, as you feel the investigative walls closing in, the claustrophobia and sense of impending doom is palpable.

If any fault could be found with the story and writing, it could be that we don't get enough time to know more about each character. What made Suzy take that cold-blooded decision? Was she a sociopath (like her real-life counterpart), or was there some truth to her allegations of a tortured home life? Why did Dan go along with her? What were Suzy's parents really like? But sometimes brevity can be a good thing, and I can understand why Calunio chose to take the laconic route - to leave it up to the player to decide, imagine, or project his own desires onto these characters. Well played.

Gameplay: (3 out of 5)
If this game's writing is its shining strength, the actual gameplay lags some way behind. Instead of a conventional RPG engine, the story advances through a series of mini-games, which range from fun (Cris beating up an entire battalion of gang-bangers in a Double Dragon-like scene) to frustrating (the "you're going down" block puzzle, the "wait and wait until your dad sleeps" scene.) While these games work beautifully as metaphors, they're not particularly special in themselves. The conversation puzzle - in which Suzy has to convince Dan to kill her parents - is probably my favourite, and stands out from the rest.

Miscellaneous stuff I liked: (4 out of 5)
- The opening scene. Poor Dan, little did he know what was coming next.
- "Spice." I realize I'm probably betraying my ignorance of drug-users' lingo (de-addiction never was my strong point, even during residency), but it sounded apt, and reminded me of The Way's "lace".
- The background music, which is well chosen.
- The final scene. Can't think of a better way to end it.
- The walkthrough. Sorely needed, especially for that one puzzle.

If you haven't played Suzy and freedom yet, you ought to. It's not the most edifying or cheerful story in the world, but it makes a strong case for video games as narrative art - or, at least, as psychodrama.



Pages: 1
Thanks for this review!

I loved all the references you made. The CSI episode seems pretty interesting, though there's probably no direct inspiration. I couldn't find much about Adam Cadre's 1981.

Looking back, there's probably too big of a leap from the initial scenes to the murder scene, even though that was something I tried to avoid. Two of the game's LPers said "That escalated quickly!" when Suzy said "We kill my parents". Maybe it wasn't completely justified at that point. But I tried to make up to it with the "make him do it" dialog, where the nature of her decision is made clearer.

It's funny how I get mixed opinions on the minigames. Everyone seems to like some of the puzzles and dislike others, but there's no consensus on which ones.
"Life is a riddle I wish I had the answer for..."
Glad you liked the review, I rewrote it a couple of times to make sure I was getting the point across!

The CSI episode mirrored the set-up of "Suzy" closely, down to the boyfriend and a friend of his being the actual murderers, except that:

Tina ("Suzy"'s) father actually raped her, and the younger child in the family was the daughter, not her sister. Her motive for murder was that the father was now abusing her "younger sister", and she wanted to protect her.

"1981" can be found here: http://www.ifwiki.org/index.php/1981_%28game%29 (strangely, like your game, it was also written for a mini-comp, the theme in that case being "romance". Oops.)

I didn't really feel that the leap was too long, because the "write your paper" game created a nice sense of tension and impatience (plus, I've had several infuriating experiences writing papers myself!), so when "Let's kill my folks" came up, I was - if not ready - then at least primed for the idea.

I'm generally pretty bad at puzzles, so don't take my plaints about the mini-games too seriously. Thanks for the walkthrough, though!

Anyway, I shall definitely await your next opus. (I will eventually get down to writing a Dungeoneer review, once I actually manage to do something other than getting a "Game Over" or ending my victim's life...)
Pages: 1