Developer: FailBetterGames

Platform: Standalone Site

Release Date: I dunno lol

Content Warning: Minor Sexual References


          Welcome, delicious friends, to another exciting installment of the Freeware Fanatic. You may perhaps be pondering why I deign to refer to you as delicious, as though I had recently developed a tendency toward cannibalism. Or, perhaps you might be curious as to why I call you friend, when we've likely never met before. Well, delectable acquaintances, I assure you that my reason is no more nefarious than having recently been engrossed in Echo Bazaar, a posh British text-adventure game set in a universe where London has been swallowed up by a fissure and now resides deep underground.

          As a recent arrival to the aptly named Fallen London, you wake up in prison with no recollection of how you got there. It's up to you to discover how and why you were imprisoned, escape, and make a name for yourself as a new gentleman or lady in the eternally dark city. Your name and a silhouette are all you get to pick before being dropped into the game world, which uses a system of events that you can choose from in order to advance. There are several event options that are constantly available based on your location, but the interesting stuff usually comes from opportunity cards that you can draw and play periodically.

          Your character's abilities and standings are all treated as statistics, which you can view from the "Me" tab. There are four main stats that determine your success in almost everything you attempt and are based on how you solve problems. If you tend to take the physical combat route your Dangerous level will increase, intellectual types will have a high Watchful quality, those who like to talk their way out of trouble have the Persuasive stat, and those who prefer stealth and trickery can rely on their Shadowy skill. Even minor details have their own statistics. Met some people in high places? It shows up as "Connected: Aristocracy Level 1". Are you known for using any means to accomplish your goal? You've probably got a few points in "Ruthlessness". Are you working toward a major goal? You'll see an "Ambition" or one of many "Progress" qualities. They're all based on what you say and do, so always be on the lookout if you've got a particular kind of person you're trying to play as.

          A text adventure isn't much without strong writing, and I'm happy to report that Echo Bazaar has some of the best writing I've ever seen in a video game. Everything is wonderfully described and has a dark yet posh British flavor to it. The game also has great Facebook and Twitter integration, automatically searching for friends who play Echo Bazaar when you connect it to your social network of choice and automatically adding them to your friend list, which you can then interact with from options at your residence. I particularly appreciate that "fate", the premium currency, isn't too heavily stressed and is still subject to having to find the appropriate event cards before being used for some purposes. There's also an energy system that limits the number of actions you can take in a certain period of time, which you can also use fate for. While I've complained about energy systems in the past, I have to give Echo Bazaar credit for using it better than any social game I've seen yet. You can do enough that you feel like you've progressed in the game by the time you run out, and it works with the strong writing to create a feeling of suspense while you're waiting for more energy.

          Unfortunately, there are a few things about Echo Bazaar that stop it from being the perfect social game. While the writing is good, there are situations where you need a higher skill level or have to try an event multiple times that can feel like a bit of a grind. The pictures that accompany events also aren't always very descriptive of the event, and some just aren't very well drawn. Also, the "Nightmare" stat is far harder to get rid of than it should be and can be very disruptive if it gets too high (PRO TIP: you can get rid of it by confessing fears to a friend or by using the "A Moment's Peace" opportunity card. You should also stay away from any event that says it's unlocked by nightmares, although they can sometimes reduce your nightmare level if you're lucky).

          Ultimately, Echo Bazaar is a great game if you're up for some reading, an unconventional concept, and a unique social game. If you're not the reading type (in which case, why are you here?) it probably won't do much for you, but it's definitely worth a look. Or two. Or twelve.

                                                                Score: 9/10

          This has been the Freeware Fanatic, saying if you say a word about the lack of screenshots this week I'll gladly use my Level 4 Criminal Connections to put a hit on you!. I can give you text, or I can give you screenshots of text. Either way, it's text.

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