You can buy The Terror Aboard the Speedwell here

The room is silent, your breathing’s heavy. You look over to the woman trying to light a cigarette, her hands shake too much to get the thing to catch. A man stalks around the room wide-eyed and skittish. There’s a clank and a scuttle from above your heads, all three of you grab your weapons and let loose. Once the gunfire dies down you hear a whisper. You can’t tell if it came from you or one of your doomed comrades: “It’s in the vents, it’s in the goddamned vents!”

The Terror Aboard the Speedwell is a sci-fi horror twine game, developed by Javy Gwaltney. If you want a short review here you go: It’s bloody good, play it.

If you want to stick around for a longer version; It’s good, read my words. As you’ve probably guessed this game was developed using Twine and, as such, takes the form of a choose-your-own-adventure epic. The itch.io page boasts “60 possible endings [and] over 50,000 words” and it shows. Each of my playthroughs lasted about an hour, including reading and thinking time, so with sixty endings you’ve got yourself a pretty beefy game.

However, quantity’s all well and good but without quality it would just be filler. Fortunately, this game has quality in spades. The writing is excellent – to begin with I wasn’t particularly convinced that horror could be done well in a text adventure format but by the end of the first section I was completely engrossed. The pacing is excellent and the way the story responds to your choices feels organic and smooth. The framing of the options as specific utterances or general actions allows the player to imbue the protagonist with a huge amount of character and I was able to easily play out the type of person I wanted to.

Your actions also feel weighty and important throughout. I mentioned that each playthrough took me an hour, that was because I spent so much time agonising over which option to pick, there really doesn’t feel like there’s ever a ‘correct’ path to take. This resulted in some really tough choices – first because of the ambiguity of the choices, but also because I actually gave a crap about the characters around me.

TTATS

It’s these characters that I found most intriguing about the game. By rights The Terror should have been a tired and derivative knock-off, reminiscent of Alien or The Thing.

And it is.

But that doesn’t matter, because it’s so perfectly executed. The characters and the situation are primary colours. You know exactly what’s going on in their heads from the moment you meet them, because you’ve met them before. Yet somehow that just makes it all the more satisfying when everything goes utterly wrong. You understand the mechanics; the tutorial was the rest of the Horror genre. The game’s also aware of its place and the writing reflects this with its charm and humour, the world’s seen horror films, it knows what’s coming just as much as you.

I also love the fact that the adventure doesn’t end with the incident. You play out the aftermath, your life. Regardless of whether it’s a grisly or peaceful demise you stay with the character until they’re gone. It’s a brilliant way of providing context to the horror and makes the whole experience feel important. I cared so much about my character because I lived with her and through her right to the end. Choosing your name in this game is a commitment.

There are minor issues. I’d like to be able to click “The End” and have it loop back to the start (instead of just refreshing the page, it works but it feel unpolished); plus there are occasionally mistakes in the spelling and grammar. Just like Secret Place, words are what makes this game. Get an editor. These are, however, little niggles. This game is astonishingly good.

It’s like every sci-fi horror distilled down into one adventure, the game is a bundle of tropes, but executed so convincingly that you don’t notice until you’re done. It’s a pure shot of genre and, like any good, tiny, lurid beverage it’s exhilarating.

Score: Xenomorph/Muscled biceps

Do you have a Twine game you want me to review? Email me at benm[at]indiehaven[dot]com.

About The Author

Contributor

Ben is pretty damned nerdy. If he isn't playing video games, then he's probably rolling some dice to hit goblins and thugs or designing, running and crewing a host of LARP systems. He lives in Brighton, because it's nice there. You can follow him on twitter @benrlmeredith

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