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About the StoryA vacation in our lovely country! See the ethnic charms of the countryside, the historic grandeur of the capital city. Taste our traditional cuisine; smell the flowers of the Old Tree. And all without leaving your own armchair! But all is not as it seems...
[--blurb from The Z-Files Catalogue]
Winner, Best Game; Nominee, Best Writing; Nominee, Best Story; Nominee, Best Setting; Winner, Best Puzzles; Winner, Best Individual Puzzle; Winner, Best Individual NPC; Nominee, Best Individual PC; Winner, Best Use of Medium - 1998 XYZZY Awards
-- Carl Muckenhoupt
A Game Untangled
Despite the linearity of the game, its ultimate meaning is entirely in your hands. Or perhaps entirely in your mind. There are a couple of endgame options -- *important* options, things that sum up the whole meaning of the story -- but you're not told how they play out, one way or the other. You get to choose, but you don't get to know all the final ramifications. People have found this unsatisfying, and griped. I myself found it unsatisfying, and griped. There's something about it that is nonetheless true to morality in real life: not only do we often have to make our decisions blindly, but we cannot always know for certain even after the fact what the outcomes were or would have been.
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The experience of playing it is unique and vaguely reminiscent of "1984"--it forces the player not only to accept someone else's account of a certain truth, in this case his own memories, but to replay them in conformity with what he's told--and the feeling is often unnerving. (Duncan Stevens)
The mechanics and prose are, as in every Zarf game, excellent. The one fleshed-out NPC is convincingly drawn, and Zarf's choice to limit conversation with him to "yes" or "no" works well both in the context of the game and as a tool so that the amount of coding is kept to a minimum. The spy gadgets work intuitively and the interface seems very believable. And they're fun to play with. (Adam Thornton)
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Personally, I didn't really enjoy this game, but that is a personal response to the game. Technically, it is very good indeed and those who like this sort of subterfuge plot will be in their element.
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While the game's turning point has a wonderful "Aha!" quality to it, it's a point that I never would have gotten to without relying heavily on a walkthrough solution. And although the descriptions are expansive, the characters' dialogue believable, and the plot is richly complex, I was left feeling that I could have done without some of these features if only I could have really played more of the game for real, without outside intervention.
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Number of Reviews: 12
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Most Helpful Member Reviews
Three minutes later, I was surprised to find that this game had a point and was interesting. Ten minutes later, I was awestruck.
I still hold the Infocom games up as the gold standard, but this game was the first I encountered that rated a "platinum" label. Daring in its conception and almost always brilliant in its execution of both programming and prose, Spider and Web shows the true power of the medium. This story simply couldn't be told in any other format in such an effective way.
I reserve five stars for works that are not just good, but that reach the epitome of a particular genre or otherwise earn a "landmark" status. Such works are the yardsticks by which all others are measured. I'm happy to bestow my first five star rating here on Spider and Web for its sheer genius in terms of premise and construction.
Kudos to Mr. Plotkin, who well deserves his reputation as a star in the IF community.
Finally, “Spider and Web” has helped me understand why zarf is such a popular figure in IFdom. Spider and Web starts with a somewhat conservative opening, a man standing in an alley in front of a door he can’t open. But just as you are about to get bored (which the game figures out by you either standing around doing nothing or simply walking away from the door) you are suddenly blinded by light and find the curtain of the world torn away.
It turns out you have been captured by an organization and have been strapped to a chair to be interrogated. The interrogation is taking place in a unique manner, however. You’ve been connected to a computer which is allowing you to step into places you know from your memory and re-enact the events that led to your capture while your interrogator watches the play from his console. Ostensibly, the ‘game’ is about trying to figure out what you had done the first time around so you can show your interrogator and prevent him from killing you in frustration. The simulation you’re placed in allows you some freedom in that goal, but any time you do something that contradicts the evidence your interrogator has gathered, you are stopped and forced to restart the simulation after being told why what you did doesn’t match the evidence gathered.
Even if that was the entirety of the game, it would be fun and certainly out of the ordinary for the IF games I’ve played. But, naturally, that’s not all that’s going on. (Spoiler - click to show)And about three quarters of the way through the game something happens that changes your perspective on what you’ve been experiencing, bringing some doubt to whether you've been fully honest in your telling of events. Of course, the truth has been cleverly hinted at all the way through the game as well, with clever parser responses to actions that should be standard. For instance, very early in the game you obtain a ‘wrapped package’, but all attempts to open or unwrap the package receive the cryptic response “Not yet.” This does an excellent job of adding mystery to what is going on and make the reveal towards the end so much more satisfying.
The writing in this game is excellent, as is to be expected from Plotkin, so there is little more to say.
The gameplay, while ingenious at times, is a little cumbersome at times too. Much of the game involves meandering around doing things until something triggers your interrogator to intervene and reset the simulation because it didn’t match the facts. Then your challenge is to figure out how what the interrogator said you didn’t do alludes to what you DID do, and then do that.
Okay, that was a confusing way of putting it. Ultimately, it’s trial and error. You do something, like open a door, and then the interrogator yanks you out of the simulation and says something like “No, that door wasn’t opened until after you cut power to the security systems, otherwise the alarms would have gone off.” Then you are thrust back into the game and need to figure out where the security systems are to shut them off. This isn’t an actual scenario from the game, but it gives you an idea of what’s expected of you.
Unfortunately, what the interrogator implies is not always straightforward and I spent quite a bit of time fumbling around trying to figure out what was next. This is exacerbated near the end of the game when the guiding words of the interrogator are absent for a plot-related reason. Also, the end goal of the game, which is to obtain a MacGuffin of some sort, requires a bit of reading between the lines to figure out what exactly it is and what you should do with it when you get it. Unfortunately, I needed a walkthrough in the end to fully figure out what to do in the final few minutes of the game.
Overall, this game is excellent, and does a great job of allowing you to play a very, very intelligent protagonist without feeling as though you’re breaking his character. The story twist is superb, and launches an otherwise average spy story into new heights. Fully recommended.
Related reviews: andrew plotkin, zarf
Don't play it if: you want a less linear, more open game that lets you take your time and explore, or a spy story that focuses less on plot and more on theme.
At least at the time of its release, Spider and Web was obviously a novel concept for IF, if not so much for storytelling in general (connections to Rashomon have already been pointed out, but let's not forget The Murder of Roger Ackroyd; and The Usual Suspects, which had hit the theaters in 1995). Me, I came to IF relatively recently barring Zork I, so the historical impact of the game is lost on me. But does it hold up by itself?
Yes. Putting aside the then experimental nature of the game, this is still an appreciably good bit of IF. One thing I've always liked about the medium is that, aside from the really early history, IF can age extremely well, and this is one work which feels like it could have been written yesterday.
Aside from a couple of people who seem not to have finished the game, there's not much other than high praise for Spider and Web here. Most of the positive aspects of the game have already been outlined. So I'll mostly skip that, except to say that I really love games like this and Sean Barrett's The Weapon, where you have to discover and solve at the same time, and do it under observation (it really adds a sense of urgency and pizzazz to the puzzle-solving process). Instead I'll take the time to address some of its flaws.
This is necessarily spoiler-heavy, so...
(Spoiler - click to show)In terms of gameplay before the big reveal, there are one or two moments which feel somewhat underclued. The lockpick distraction method doesn't entirely make sense to me, not least because the lockpick strikes me as the tool a master infiltrator would be least likely to part with. I might as well have just thrown the minilamp, surely? It didn't also make much sense to me that the functions of each dial on the timer weren't explained in the descriptions of the dials; pretty much everything that wasn't intuitive for the other tools was explained upon examination, so why not the timer?
The game does lose a lot of my interest after the big reveal, and I think it's because the climactic sequence is longer than it really needs to be. In a longer game with more varied puzzles I would have found it acceptable, but choreographing your efforts to complete the game takes up enough of the gameplay time that it feels like another game tacked on. It doesn't help that the puzzles bear little relation to what you've been doing up until that point, with the exception of the common geography.
I accept that it might have been difficult to squeeze the post-escape sequence into just a few paragraphs of exposition, and there's no honest middle ground between the two options...but then I simply have to chalk it up to the story being written into a corner, albeit an enjoyable one. The Usual Suspects, in contrast, basically ends with that analogous twist and, regardless of whether or not you appreciated the plot that came before, I think it's fairly obvious that setting the film's climax after that reveal would have been a lot less punchy and a lot more tedious.
I also have mixed feelings about the discussion of moral concepts in the story. Don't get me wrong, I'm a sucker for Cold War narratives and the murky worlds of arms escalation and espionage, but in order for such narratives to work you need the other side to give you something to work with, and while the interrogator has a good deal of personality the PC has almost none (aside from a few flashes of attitude in the first couple of turns). While the conceit of having the PC know more than the player is well-done, it would have worked even better had it been connected with the moral dimension of the story. If the PC actually responded to the interrogator with opinions and ideas, it would have added an extra layer to the intrigue: is what you're saying part of the patter to get him to accept your story, or is it actually what you believe? Or is it even both? The ambiguity in the game is purely external - by which I mean it affects the plot, not the actual stances and opinions of the player character.
In the end, this is still a very good game, and I would argue, worth your time. It's not really a masterpiece, though. A generally well-done employment of one or two neat tricks in a story short enough for them not to outstay their welcome.
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