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Review: One Button Travel – real time interactive fiction

One Button Travel is an interactive novel with branching plot lines, played out in real time in the style of recent hits such as Lifeline and 80 Days.

Price: $2.99 / £2.29
Version: 1.1
Developer: TheCodingMonkeys
iPhone & iPad

App Store Download button
The game opens by forcing you to press a tantalizing button – but doing so sets in motion a dangerous one-way trip to an unwelcoming dystopian future. Tipped off by a stranger with the convenient ability to send text messages back in time, your mission is to work out the cryptic cancellation code before the machine launches you headlong into the new world.


Go on, you know you want to

The entire story is played out through a series of text messages, which arrive in real time; if your temporal pen-pal says he’ll get back to you in a few hours, that’s exactly what he means. You can drop in to check for new messages manually, but the game is designed to be played with iOS push notifications on and we’d recommend allowing them for the best, most immersive experience.

One Button Travel’s writing poses some interesting social questions, dealing with familiar issues like immigration and government surveillance, without ever broaching these themes beyond the surface level. The portrayal of the future includes some interesting technology like retina implants and driverless cars, while poking fun at some of the absurdities of today’s culture. Oh, and there’s the promise of horned beasts, but we won’t spoil the how and why of that one for you…

Pick your responses wisely

In concept this type of game is similar to the classic choose-your-own-adventure books, but in an app every decision is final – you can’t skip back a page if you change your mind. The only way to see the alternate branches of the story is to start the game over again, which could mean waiting a week of real time to get back to the same spot. Luckily the developers added a hidden speed mode (accessible with the password FEDEF) for the impatient, which allows you to blast through the story much quicker.

While the slow pace of the game and lack of an undo function helps manufacture a sense of permanence to your choices, many of the ‘decisions’ feel paper-thin. Slightly different paths to the same, predefined outcome. Unlike many examples of interactive fiction, One Button Travel isn’t littered with dead ends or myriad ways to accidentally kill yourself, which is nice to a degree but it does lack a sense of real danger. Though you make a lot of decisions, it often feels as though the core story is set in stone.


Ooh, cryptic! But how does it work..?

Considering the entire story hangs on your interaction with a single other character, it’s a shame that he lacks, well, character. There are some charming moments, but he’s a little soulless at times. You’ll also need to suspend your disbelief slightly as your friend live-blogs his surroundings to you in full, perfectly typed sentences – even while in imminent danger.

Typos and unnatural turns of phrase pop up a little too often, which might be forgivable in a real text conversion but come across as jarring here. Some of these flaws can be put down to the script’s translation from its native German, but it remains an area of concern in an otherwise well-polished game.


The odd photo message is all you really get in the way of graphics

Despite the quibbles we have with the game, it’s compelling enough that the frequent message alerts are always welcome; you’ll want to know what happens next. The presentation is great, with a nice ambient soundtrack and a slick graphical interface. If you like your games conventionally gamey, then stay clear – but fans of interactive fiction will definitely want to pick this one up.

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