From: "Julian Arnold" (jools@arnod.demon.co.uk)

NAME: Waystation PARSER: TADS standard
AUTHOR: Stephen Granade PLOT: See below
EMAIL: sgranade@phy.duke.edu ATMOSPHERE: See below
AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD WRITING: See below
PUZZLES: See below SUPPORTS: TADS run-time ports
CHARACTERS: See below DIFFICULTY: See below

URL: (ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/tads/way.zip)
Needs TADS run-time (v2.2 or later),
(ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/programming/tads/)

While driving home from work at night your car's engine dies. Stopping at the side of the road you get out to investigate (not because you have the slightest clue of what the problem is, but rather because that seems the thing to do). Moments later you are engulfed in blue light and pass out, awakening once more in a dungeon-like cell.

The introduction to "Waystation" can be seen as analogous to the game as a whole-- rarely do you have a reason for your actions, other than that they seem like the right thing to do at the time-- objects are collected simply because they can be, and used by the same rationale.

Your goal in the game is not revealed until over half-way through, so for the majority of the game you are reduced to moving purposelessly from location to location and solving seemingly arbitrary puzzles. It could be argued that you are exploring the environment, but the game-world is not rich or coherent enough for this to be a satisfactory explanation. Indeed, the game is a mish-mash of genres-- Granade has played with many ideas, but expanded on almost none of them. The introduction suggests alien abduction, but then you are transported to an all-too-human cell and seemingly left to rot there; after your escape you fetch up in an Orwellian world of barcoded and overalled workers, repressive armed guards, and unquestioning order; later, by way of the waystations of the title (interplanetary teleportation booths), you visit a garbage-dump planet, and a decaying, war-torn alien city (in which you find a Roman Catholic church untouched by the bombs which decimated the rest of the city-- shades of H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds"?). This hotch-potch of genres overflows into the local geography in places. For example, one building contains the worker's bathroom, the cafeteria, a strange museum-cum-library, an armoury, and a rather sensitive computer room all along the same corridor.

The writing is quite good, the location decriptions are vivid and all the text is clear in it's meaning. However, a somewhat juvenile humour pervades the game, with the produce of the worker's cafeteria likened to school dinners and the not uncommon trap thrown in which unfairly kills the player after luring him into considering it a puzzle (the most obvious example being the slightly infamous exploding toilet "puzzle" early on in the game). Equally, the solutions to some puzzles verge on the ridiculous (passing the laser beams) or are only apparent with foreknowledge gained through previous failure (protecting yourself from the acid rain, escaping the ruined house, or using the viscous liquid). Also, there are a lot of red herrings, both portable objects and referrable-to, but useless, scenery objects. Used sparingly and carefully such red herrings can contribute to a game's atmosphere and "realism", but here they generally do neither, and the lack of a satisfactory container (such as, say, "Curses" rucksack) results in the need for annoying inventory management.

In summary, though the game is not wholly disappointing, neither is it particularly gratifying or inspired. If you do not expect too much from it, in the way of a strong or developed plot, or detailed interactive NPCs (there are none) the game succeeds reasonably well as just that-- a game. The puzzles, many of which seem to exist for their own sake only, as I've mentioned before, are generally of medium difficulty, and do not noticeably differ in this respect throughout the game. Overall "Waystation" is a fun game, which perhaps offers as many lessons in how not to write IF as it does in how to write it.

[This review was posted to rec.arts.int-fiction, 5th April 1996.]