Anybody Out There: Dead City
AOT: Dead City (official short title)
2019 (updated edition)
Thanks to Guillermo Paredes for the app icon image.
|User Summary:||You begin receiving cellphone messages from an unknown person calling themselves Sam, who claims a zombie apocalypse is going on. You must guide Sam as they try to stay alive in the new world around them.|
This choose-your-own-adventure app falls into the "artistic" interactive fiction camp. As the player, you exchange messages with a protagonist you never actually get to meet. This is supposed to make you care for their fate more and more as the story progresses, but as I'll explain below, it didn't really do the trick for me. The majority of the choices involve either giving Sam a kind or rude response, and a lot of the time the story will progress exactly the same no matter which choices you make. While the game's objective is to make the reader emotionally moved by Sam's experiences, both the writing and the pointlessness of much of the gameplay made me find Sam annoying instead. Call me heartless, but I can't say I ever felt sorry whenever he or she died.
Somewhat fortunately, the game is not all about talking. In this rather typical zombie apocalypse adventure, at several points you have to choose actions for Sam as you would in any gamebook. Things are made a bit interesting when a villain takes the phone from Sam and you are forced to interact and respond to the villain for part of the game. Still, after several sessions with the adventure I never felt quite satisfied. While there are several choices along the way which feel like they should introduce major changes in the story, they end up not mattering much, with the plot proceeding in the same direction no matter what the player chooses. While there are a number of premature endings where Sam dies, reaching the conclusion of the adventure is not very hard at all. There is therefore little sense of achievement in completing the game.
I confess that after several attempts I'm not sure I've exhausted every path, but based on my experience, - and judging from other reviewers' comments - I believe the point of the story is to have the protagonist uncover a conspiracy and then inevitably meet a tragic ending. Once again I found this more emotionally manipulative than effective, but I guess your mileage may vary.
I suppose I should consider myself fortunate that I seem to have played a revamped version of this game. It seems that the earlier version tried to make things more "immersive" by introducing a real-time dynamic, where at several points in the story, Sam would have to leave the phone in order to deal with a situation or take a night's rest. This meant that the player had to wait hours - or in several cases, the equivalent of an entire night - for Sam to finish whatever he or she was doing before the app would ping the player and ask them to resume the game. This would only have added insult to injury if I had to endure it, but at least the newest version has made the experience completely uninterrupted (except for the ridiculous amount of ads the player has to watch if they don't pay for the app).
Overall, I was very disappointed by this game, and cannot recommend it.