Author: Brandon Wyber
The most important aspect to a horror game is atmosphere. If the player
isn't scared, even just a little bit, then the entire goal of the game has
failed. Some people may be incapable of being scared by a game. All I
can say is that they should not play horror games, and that game designers
should ignore them, because they are not the audience.
Let me make two statements of fact: 1) Theatre definitely has the
necessary atmosphere, and 2) I am not one of those people.
It's hard not to compare Theatre to Anchorhead, a horror game regarded as
one of the best pieces of post-Infocom IF. But I'll do my best to make
this a standalong review that everyone can appreciate, even if they
haven't played Anchorhead.
Theatre is neither a very long game nor a large one, in terms of room
count. On both it could be considered medium. Going by memory, I'd say
it has about half the number of rooms Anchorhead had, and in Theatre there
isn't the concept of Chapters, so each room stays pretty much the same
throughout the game.
In terms of puzzles, again, Theatre probably falls into the category of
medium (maybe a little on the easy side). Even with my stunted
imaginative processes, I only had to resort to the hints for a single
puzzle, and then only for suggestions on how to apply what I already knew
was the answer. Your inventory nevers gets so large that you're
overwhelmed by the number of choices you can apply to a particular puzzle.
I never once forced the game into an unwinnable state, though I'm sure I
could have on at least one occasion if I'd wanted to. I also never felt
that the puzzles felt forced or artificial. Many of them were very clever
(the ticket one, especially).
Theatre's mood is what really makes the game shine. During your
wanderings, you encounter sounds of unexplained origin: footsteps on tile,
the creak of stairs, voices from an empty room, and music from unmanned
instruments. Stepping into a new room left me tingly each time I passed a
new obstacle, and I was often on the edge of my seat as I scanned the new
text. The atmosphere is not overwhelming either. Understated, it lets
the player's isolation and imagination build up the dark mood of horror.
It's not quite as effective as Anchorhead, in my opinion, and one room of
animated creatures failed to really provoke any response in me, but the
rest of the game worked quite well.
Good writing, good puzzles, good atmosphere. Altogether, a good game.
(View this game on Baf's Guide to IF or The IF Ratings Site)