Circus Reviews - Salt

Well, it's time for IFComp again. One of these years I need to get my shit together and actually enter it. Sigh. I've also been slacking on playing new interactive fiction lately, but thankfully IFComp doesn't judge me; it allows me to judge it instead.

Salt is a short game about an unnamed protagonist who decides to go for a swim in the ocean one day. The farther you venture from the shore, the more your thoughts wander, from the people waiting for your return to the creatures sharing the sea with you. Slowly, the shore on the other side seems to be growing closer and closer...

Instead of just reading through text the whole way through, you actually control the protagonist to a degree by using the space bar to swim and the up and down arrow keys to make choices when prompted. You also can't swim indefinitely; the time you spend underwater gradually decreases until you're finally forced to surface. It's a real innovation that makes the whole experience a lot more immersive than it might have been otherwise.

The soundtrack definitely helps with that, too—the background music is quiet and unassuming, but fits nicely with a story about swimming out to sea just because you can, just to see what might happen. An author's note does recommend playing with headphones; sadly, I don't currently own headphones, but I have no doubt that had I been able to use them, the music would have sounded even lovelier. The soundtrack is the work of one Paws Menu, who has some other really good stuff on Soundcloud.

The game is short, around fifteen minutes for one playthrough. You can replay it and alter the choices you make, or choose to swim for shorter or longer periods of time, which will change your inner monologue. I played a few times to see what would happened if I ignored the game pleading with me to stop swimming. I played to see what would happen if I turned back in the middle of the ocean or continued on to see what was on that distant shore. It was a beautiful dream all the way through. The act of swimming keeps you constantly on the page, constantly engaged with the story. It teases you with what happens next, and you keep going because you want to see. This game's creative use of interactive functions combined with its careful, patient narration make it a joy to experience.

Overall, quite a strong entry in IFComp this year. I'm really happy to see such great interactive fiction being made.

Salt is available to download for free or play in browser on the IFComp website.

Final verdict: Salt successfully creates an enchanting and immersive tale that gently eases you in to a journey through an enthralling but dangerous ocean, and it's a wonderful journey to take.

Salt is developed and published by Gareth Damien Martin. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review.

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