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Smokescreen: Final Smack

Smokescreen is billed as a casual ARG, and it delivers on that at many levels. It’s a mixed bag, but there are some very good parts and there are just so many different mechanics that you can’t help but be impressed with the ingenuity. Also, in that difficult task of serious game design, it wholeheartedly succeeds. It teaches you about the dangers of the internet without being pedantic or simplistic, and amazingly you learn by doing the things in a nearly natural way. That is no small accomplishment.


  • There are simply a ton of game mechanics. Not all of them totally work, but there’s a lot of innovation here, and I learned a lot just by trying these out. SixtoStart gets mad props on the innovation front.
  • As I mentioned above, it’s a serious game that teaches by doing. I never felt like I was being talked down to, and I often learned the lessons in a way I found completely natural. What’s completely amazing is that you do this fully though play. When you learn how to set privacy profiles, you do it by setting privacy levels on a Facebook-like site. It’s very well-done serious game design.
  • The ARG components reveal themselves in the very naturalized design of the fake sites you visit. It does a lot to add to the experience that the Facebook site looks like Facebook.
  • Mission 8 is an awesome bit of interactive narrative. It is by far the best part of the whole game, and it’s one of the more beautiful pieces of interactive narrative I’ve played in a while. Worth playing even if the rest of this doesn’t interest you.
  • Narrative is pretty good. It’s nothing amazing, but it’s not predictable, and there’s nothing cringeworthy. The cultural references all feel right for a contemporary teenage story.


  • Some of the game mechanics don’t work very well. About half of the mechanics suffer from some flaw that makes them less fun than they should be. Usually, this is an implementation problem rather than an issue with the idea itself; either the control or the feedback needs work. And there are a couple of mechanics (Mission 11, for example) that don’t work at all.
  • The ARG label is a little misleading in that you play by yourself. This would be a lot more compelling experience if there was a meaningful way to interact with other users.
  • There are quite a few moments of false choice in the dialogue of the system. It’s annoying, particularly since Smokescreen shows itself capable of doing interesting interactive narrative at other times.
  • It’s not really replayable. I guess I could go back over the missions to get all of the achievements, but the fact that I have no idea how to get them is very demotivating.


Smokescreen is worth checking out. Mission 8 is a must, and the rest of the missions should be at least tried. If you’re interested in game design, there are just too many experiments into new play mechanics not to at least look at each mission. And if you’re interested in serious games, this is a great example of how to teach using the play itself.  Hardcore gamers will probably find this too dry and hit-or-miss, but it is a casual MMO and at more moments than not a quite good one.

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