As part of my daytime job, I’m required to review quite a number of different media: mostly games, film, music and books. When it comes to discerning between amateur works and professional works, I have a complex set of criteria, and one very simple one.
The simple one goes like this: ‘What!? You’re kidding me…!’
Regarding fiction, it’s a phrase I’ll mentally exclaim if something in the narrative doesn’t gel with me, or if it seems like a complete jump of logic has taken place. It can be triggered by a character acting in a way that appears to be at odds with their previous behaviour; a completely unplausible plot point; cliched devices (such as a bad guy prattling on about their plans for world domination, rather than just shooting the hero and eliminating any chance the protagonist has of escaping); or, just simply, poor writing and structure.
If I think to myself, ‘What!? You’re kidding me…!’ once in the course of a novel, I’ll treat it as an aberration; a warning bell. Twice, and I’ll be starting to question the authorship. More than twice, and there’s a very good chance I’ll stop reading whatever it is I’m reading.
Regrettably, I’m now at the point where I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve made that mental exclamation playing Choice of the Vampire.
The disappointing aspect of it all, of course, is that Choice of the Vampire is a choice-based narrative with loads going for it. It’s got vampires and New Orleans black magic. It’s got power struggles, personal temptations and some great concepts hidden in the narrative. And the writer—Jason Stevan Hill—is more than competent in sections, when he’s not tripping himself up with the ChoiceScript options.
But for me, it wasn’t enough. I’ve picked this game up and put it back down more times than I’d care to admit to. I want it to get better…I really do. But I’m continually confounded.
For the record, I’ve decided not to go into detail about the negatives. But, by way of examples, here are just some of the situations where I was left shaking my head. (Exact details may not be 100% accurate due to the inability to ‘turn back pages’.)
- I completely understand the ‘unreliable narrator’ device for setting up the story in works by Choice of Games, but using the Second Person and telling the player that they’re unreliable too…? Case in point: the narrator has me telling another character that I’ve forgotten something I should know (the effects of vampire spittle). Wait a minute…I can’t even trust my own character!? (My own self?)
- I’m a vampire, who kills and feeds on the blood of others, attempting to hit on a voodoo priestess who is well versed in black magic, but apparently I find the concept of a man trying to communicate with his dead son ‘macabre’.
- And following on from that point, in a later scene I’m completely outraged by the idea of some guy smuggling crops and cheating the state out of its taxes!
- Apparently, despite having been a vampire for some time and being totally besotted with Clotho—thinking of nothing else—I don’t actually realise that my penis doesn’t ‘work’ until I’m pretty much naked and on top of her.
- I’ve happily agreed to pay the debts of a particular man and spare him having to deal with his debtors, only to find myself (in another scene) chasing down this man’s debt-collector and beating him into submission until he agrees to extend the time the man has to pay the loan.
- I’m dating Clotho, a voodoo priestess–well versed in everything dark and mysterious–and she doesn’t know I’m a vampire!? And that’s even after I’ve sucked her blood out of her inner thigh and done all kinds of other things. In fact, she only knows when I tell her outright, and then it’s a startling ‘revelation’ to her.
- My one true love in this entire world is savagely killed by my maker and broodmates, and I’ve chosen to totally want revenge and justice, yet somehow the next scene has me back hanging out with them and agreeing to attend a stately reception in their company.
In fairness, I will finish Choice of the Vampire. I owe it that, particularly after devoting two posts to my disappointment with it.