Sunday, January 26, 2014

Review of "The Independence Job," by Marty Runyon

Alright guys, time for my next review. Sorry for the delays; I've got them all outlined, but I still need to type them up as I go along--a task which sometimes gets interrupted by life. But they'll trickle out.

Anyway, this review is of "The Independence Job" by Marty Runyon.

When I picked up "The Independence Job," I was initially quite pleased, mostly because some crime hijinx sounded like a great change of pace. I ended up enjoying it, but not as much as I expected to. I really like a lot of the mechanics that were used, especially a way of tracking relationships with points. But the fact that these points were obfuscated by calling them "red points" instead of "Dorothy approval points" or something, did nothing to help me emotionally connect with the characters. In fact, the characters felt like cardboard cutouts. I liked that their emotions toward you were modeled, but at no point did their emotions feel real, not even in the models.

As for the crime itself, it was notable mostly in that it did a pretty good job of making the "game" side of it solid. The story side, once again, came in a bit lackluster. But I talk about all that below.

All in all, I felt that The Independence job skillfully avoids either the extremes of excellence or putritude, coming in solidly middle of the line.

Total Score: 15/25

The opening to "The Independence Job" definitely piqued my interest. I like the dirty crime genre, the rules are short and sweet, the "Introduction" section is short enough to not be overly labored, yet substantial enough to give you a clear idea what to expect. I only wish the story had lived up to the promise.

I was also pleased by his, "A Word About Sex," making it clear that you are free to envision the main character as either male or female. Although, I think using the word, "gender" there may have been more appropriate, since gender refers to identity and sex refers strictly and only to biology. Strictly speaking, what he's written could be correct, but I think, "A Word About Gender," may have been more true to his meaning.

I actually think the flow here is one of the strongest parts, though not perfect. Generally, your decisions are meaningful. I like the wager system, although I felt it was only slightly flawed in that having more Fortune points doesn't actually help you in game--since wagering more /decreases/ your chance of winning. But it gets you a better result at the end, so that's fine. And he did a good job of making sure all the skills could be used.

The most interesting part was also it's weak point, which is the whole "Red, Blue, Green" points part. If you haven't played it yet--well, if you haven't played it yet and you want to, stop reading and go do it because spoilers lie ahead. Otherwise, as a reminder for the rest of us: as you go through the game, you can earn red, green or blue points. Turns out these represent how much the different characters hate you. I was amused to discover that no, there is not any way of making them like you again. That is a one way street!

This is cool because the various decisions you make and how you relate to the other characters affects how the story ends. But once you grasp what's going on, it's a pretty simple model that doesn't really support much replayability. And more importantly, I don't really feel that it's supported by the story. But it's a cool twist for your first play-through.

When I read the first line of Chapter One, "The windows are wide open, trying to catch an evening breeze off the Hudson," I thought, damn, son, that's some good writing. I'm looking forward to reading this piece!

Then I made the mistake of reading the second line, "Your apartment is an oven, and you are the turkey."


That doesn't even earn the trophy for wierdest line of the season (that dubious distinction might go to next week's review, "Gunlaw") but it's certainly in the running. And sadly, the juxtaposition of those two lines is exemplary of this piece. There's really sharp, crisp, fantastic writing abruptly adjacent to cliche drivel, and it's hard to tell what to expect from one paragraph to the next.

I was also dismayed to find a couple of typos. Not that big a deal, but another round of editing may have been desirable. And if that editor were looking not just for typos, but for cliches, that would have been even better.

The story is the weakest part of "The Independence Job." While I like the crime genre, this incarnation of it doesn't do anything to take it above and beyond the cliche. I love that relationships with the other characters are built into the game mechanics, but it falls a little flat because the characters are all so bland. It doesn't really feel like you're offending another person. You just occasionally get told to take a point. The relationship is modeled, but you don't really feel it, as the reader.

That blandness extends beyond the characters to the rest of the world as well. The heist tastes like flat beer, without the vivid details that would make it come to life, without the tension that would put the reader on the edge of the seat. It just feels like the whole thing is drawn in two dimensional greyscale.

I've been reading McKee lately, and he says that cliche comes about when an author does not fully realize their own world. When an author does not create, explore and enliven their own vision enough, then when they come upon some part of the world they haven't created anew for themselves, they'll reach into their memory and grab it from somewhere else. I think "Independence Job" may be suffering from that fate.

That said, I'm not giving it a one, mostly because it does do some clever things with the ending, and I like how well the story and game mechanics are twined together, supporting one another.

Secret Sauce
For me, this comes in middle of the road. It stands out as exceptional in some areas, with a solid narrative framework, reasonably good choice structure and great mechanics--especially the whole relationship points thing. But in other ways it really falls flat, with some hit or miss writing and a flat, lackluster story that fails to get the reader's emotional investment.  I like it, but it wouldn't be at the top of my list for this season.

No comments:

Post a Comment