Paper Dragons, By James P Blaylock & The Sinking City @ 03:50 pm
And here I am catching up with "Paper Dragons," which won the World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story in 1986. Originally published in Imaginary Lands, I have the standalone version from Axolotl Press with the intro by Blaylock's pal Tim Powers.
The story has a lovely dream-y feel of Northern California with a lot of what makes Blaylock Blaylock. Animals behaving strangely. People behaving strangely. And the petty foibles of human society -- like tossing tomato worms into a neighbor's yard. Not much of a story, but more a prose poem on the possibility of the magical being just around the bend, or behind a passing cloud.
The Sinking City is a Lovecraftian videogame. Lovecraft doesn't translate well to films or videogames, where most people just add tentacles to make it 'Lovecraftian'. But the Sinking City does a pretty fine job of capturing more of the spirit, so on that level it's successful. Your hard-boiled, ex-Navy diver investigator finds his way around a decrepit town beset by a flood (yes and the occasional tentacled monster). He's been told he can find the answers to his nightmares and visions, and various people around town are happy to pay him to solve their own particular problems.
Perhaps the most novel and 'Lovecraftian' gimmick is the Mind Palace, which provides a concrete game mechanic that corresponds to a mind 'correlating its contents'. Clues that you find on a case can be matched together two-by-two to form deductions that get you closer to the ultimate solution of the case.
Not very novel is a SAN meter that when it gets low results in additional visions and hallucinations. Sometimes, it's handled pretty ham-fistedly, but other times it creates some pretty vistas. I consciously avoided getting the sanity upgrades because I enjoyed the phantasmagoria.
Drawbacks are long load times and some glitchiness, and some extreme logic gates. You the player can have figured out where to go next, but unless your character has schlepped over to the newspaper morgue to confirm the location, the clues won't be there. They only magically appear once they've been unlocked by the schlepping. Sometimes you have to look at this clue before you look at that clue, or it won't give up all its secrets.
The combat system is not very good. If you're looking for combat as the point of a game, this is not it. But if you want some moody investigating, it has something going for it. Probably a C+/B- for a gamer, but an B+/A- for me.