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Smokescreen Day#3: Creepiest…Wingman…Ever

Third Mission in Smokescreen takes me back to Shane, the weird programmer from the first mission, and has me perform the weirdest thing I’ve ever done in a game: serve as wingman for a stalker. The game is actually has a really neat mechanic, and it’s one that I think could be used to interesting effect in other games. But this goes into one of the creepier-things-I’ve-played-in-a-while box. Spoilers within.

So the third mission starts with me getting a phone call from Shane, the sketchy guy who built the Rumor Mill app in the first mission. I have no idea who I am, and the game never really establishes it. This is strange, and normally would annoy me, except that the character I’m playing is led to do some repulsive things, so I’m actually happier being anonymous.

What repulsive things, you ask? Well, it turns out Shane is interested in Jo, the girl from boyinacoma, and he wants to make a move on her by “accidentally” bumping into her by figuring out where she’s going and getting a bunch of information on her in order to chat her up.  In other words, he’s cyber-stalking her, but using me as his hands.  The ethics of this are questionable at best, and it’s a very weird position for me to be in. I went along with it, both because I was testing the game and I was anonymous, but it’s very disconcerting to be thrown into a narrative with no prep and be asked to do something so icky.

Anyway, I get the name from Shane and enter it into a fake google. Then from the list of results, I pick Jo’s Fakebook page. Here’s where the game begins. Shane starts asking me questions, and I search through Jo’s information to find it out. I select answers from a multiple choice. There’s a heart meter at the top that goes from broken heart to full heart; each accurate answer (I hestitate to say correct) moves the bar towards the full heart, while each inaccurate one moves the bar to the broken.

For example, Shane’s first question is where Jo is going to be. There’s a link on Jo’s recent activity list to a Blah Blah Blah event, and clicking on it answers Shane’s question. Then Shane asks how he can get in. To answer that, you need to look at the event’s wall and see what options there are, whether it by impersonating someone or buying a ticket from someone with extra. From there, Shane asks about dress codes, what Jo’s going to wear, what she’s interested in, etc.  I find this information by searching Jo’s Tweetr and Fakebook pages to see what she’s written about it.

This mechanic is quite fun. There’s a time limit to give me some pressure, and scanning all of the fields is great for both narrative immersion as well as simple challenge. Maybe it’s SAT student in me coming out, but combing texts for a specific answer with time pressure is fun. I actually ran out of time the first time I went through it (more on that in a second). It’s a bit simple here, but there’s still some nice bits of accomplishment and tension. I can honestly imagine dozens of uses of a mechanic like this. It’s really the first game part of Smokescreen that I’ve enjoyed exclusively as a game.

Anyway, when you finish the spying section, Shane heads to the club and he “leaves his phone on” so you can hear the conversation and help him in his creepy quest. This part is also quite nice with a couple of significant issues. The mechanic is the multiple choice from before where you help Shane choose lines to give Jo; the better you did in the first part, the more choices you have, although it isn’t always clear that the extra choices are better, because Shane sometimes says bone stupid things even when you pick what seems like a right answer. Having Shane screw up good options is more naturalistic, especially given that Shane’s a dick, but it makes the game a bit too unknowable. You still have a heart meter, and it goes up for when Shane gets closer to his slimy goal and down when he stumbles.

Shane and Jo have good voice acting, but it’s a little weird that Jo is always negative to Shane in how she responds to him, regardless of where the heart meter is. There’s a palpable contradiction in having Jo insult Shane when the heart meter is near full. But the writing here in terms of content is quite good. Sixtostart has done its research and mentions good bands (I did know who Ladytron was, thank you very much), real comics, and popular TV. Touches like that do a lot. And the conversation mechanic is fun despite its unpredictability.

The scene ends when Shane implies he’s been following Jo online, and Jo accuses him of stalking. The narrative takes a very interesting turn here as Shane tells Jo that he’s done nothing different than the way Jo was stalking Cal while he was in a coma, and Jo explodes, throws a drink in his face and leaves. Points to the writing here for introducing a little depth to the plot details here.

I get all of the achievements except two, which appear to be epic fail and epic wins. That excites me, and I actually go back and replay the game several times to try to earn them. Unfortunately, the conversation options are unpredictable enough that I can’t really predict how I’m going to score, and I fail to make the achievements. Nonetheless, the fact that I was interested in replaying the base games means to me this is the best Smokescreen mission to date .

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