First Things First is a very ambitious game by J. Robinson Wheeler, author of the popular tongue-in-cheek IFComp game Being Andrew Plotkin. FTF is a very different game from Being Andrew Plotkin, however. It is much longer, more traditional, and puzzle-oriented. In short, FTF has everything Infocom fans have come to know and love, with a unique take on time travel that makes it far from being a cliché game. |
The game begins innocently enough: an ordinary day in an ordinary life. As the intro states: “...you've just arrived at home from your nightly visit to the science and invention section of the local public library, where you spend each night dreaming your dreamy dreams of one day inventing a time travel machine. Tonight, for some reason, you're especially fatigued, and can't wait to get inside and go right to bed. Seems like a good plan, but somehow you have a premonition it's not going to be that easy... “ It’s not until you enter your house (after finding the missing key, of course) that the game begins to get very interesting — and much more so as time goes on.
I have never seen a game in which the consequences and paradoxes of time travel are as thoroughly explored as FTF. Although the game has only a few locations and characters, you can freely travel through time, making changes in the past and then observing the results in the future. The writing is not particularly memorable, but it is adequate. The game is solidly “traditional” in the style of Zork: you will face puzzle after puzzle, many of which are just there for the sake of stumping you with devious puzzles rather than as a plot device. One gripe I have about the game is that there are a few too many red herrings for my taste, and some “unfair” puzzles (such as the situation in the garage where you have to SEARCH multiple times to find useful objects. You will have to use SEARCH many times in the game, in fact). Some puzzles are hard only because you’re not sure if you have solved them already or not: sometimes the changes are very subtle, and the game doesn’t notify you if the game is no longer winnable. The NPCs do provide hints, but because they also talk about other things, sometimes it’s hard to tell hints apart from routine chitchat. The only solution is to save and save a lot.
After the slow start, FTF soon develops into a very interesting and a much more thoughtful game than it first appears to be. It’s not as long as, say, Heroine’s Mantle, but it definitely requires long hours of intensive puzzle-solving and careful observance to beat. The puzzles are mostly fair, although anyone new to the genre may find them too obscure. The game is free, but you are encouraged to make a donation via PayPal to remunerate the author for his efforts. All in all, First Things First is a very satisfying traditional IF with one of the best time-travel plots you’ll ever play. Highly recommended, especially to fans of Time Quest and Graham Nelson’s Jigsaw.Reviewed by: Underdogs