Weekly Time Waster: One Chance

From football's four downs to Mario's one-ups, games are built around the player's ability to try, try again. And as any good ring-toss operator knows, it's good for business--it's what keeps us all coming back. We like to win for keeps and lose for a trifle. But when that playing field is upended, the whole psychology of the game changes...Russian roulette, anyone? Now, One Chance isn't going to leave you with a hole in your head, but it approaches (in harmless, cutesy browser-game form) the same kind of psychological torment that we feel when we know "this really matters."

The setup is over-the-top melodrama: Scientist John Pilgrim (that's you) has cured cancer only to find out a day after the cure is crop-dusted over the entire planet that his cure will actually eradicate every living cell on earth before the week is through. The gimmick is that you only have "one chance" (just like John Pilgrim!). Once you've completed the game, your Flash plug-in will remember you, rendering your browser unable to simply "reload" the game. If you try to go back to the beginning, you are simply faced with the same ending screen from your first and only play.

Scanning the comments section, you can find out how other people ended up.

There isn't necessarily a "win" screen--every ending is a balancing act of sadness, some being more heavily tipped than others. The different decisions you make as John Pilgrim all come with some kind of moral weight: Do you feel an imperative to try to rescue humanity, or would you rather spend time with your family? Would you get all sexed up with the busty lady in the office if you knew the world was going to end? Would you tell your daughter why she doesn't have to go to school anymore? Or why her mommy isn't around anymore? Or perhaps that most important moral question of all--would you win in a knife fight?

Yes, the game is heavy-handed, but perhaps it wouldn't work as well otherwise. We're not used to games asking us to make decisions for ourselves, so we need the stakes to be high if we're going to have any kind of internal compass whatsoever. The graphics are 8-bit on some kind of textured cloth so that everything kind of looks like needlepoint. The well-done visual style goes a long way to undercut the overwrought plot and make the game feel less extreme and more self-aware. We recommend muting the repetitive music and cranking up the more enjoyable and thematically appropriate "One Life to Live" by Phyllis Dillon instead.

Aside from the "one chance" gimmick, One Chance borrows a significant amount of its structure from last year's popular art-game Every day the same dream. Some commenters were a little taken aback by the similarity, though we think it's pretty cool that we get to see these ideas and new forms evolve right in front of our eyes.

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David Feil
Contact: David Feil