Developer: Nicholas Walton
Size: 15.8 MB
Platform: iPhone & iPad
AI Dungeon evokes classic late-70s-early-80s text adventures like Colossal Cave Adventure and Zork, where players forged their own narrative paths using crude text inputs.
While such games tended to be built within tight narrative frameworks, you genuinely don’t know where an AI Dungeon story is going to take you. This turns out to be both the game’s biggest strength and a glaring weakness.
You start each tale out by selecting one of four well-established settings: fantasy, mystery, apocalyptic, and zombies. You can also establish a suitable role within those distinct universes.
AI Dungeon will then proceed to spit expository paragraphs at you on this theme. You can guide what happens by typing responses, from simple commands like ‘run away’ to more complex commands like ‘go and buy some coffee then steal a bazooka’, or even issue direct speech if you pop the text into quotation marks.
AI Dungeon will then use its AI engine – trained by reading the internet – to respond and to steer the story in a naturalistic way. The results are occasionally impressive, sometimes funny, and frequently confounding.
The first logical anomaly presents itself within a minute of starting my first adventure. The locked door I’m presented with at the outset of an apocalyptic scenario suddenly becomes a wide open door without a lock. I proceed to attack the door with my rusty knife, and suddenly it opens. Wrap your head around that one.
Numerous quirks immediately follow, from being told that I was stabbed ‘again’ in my sleep (there was no first time) to running to the local hospital and having the wound looked at by a doctor. Which deflates the whole post-apocalyptic vibe somewhat.
Then there’s the occasion I came across a scared fellow survivor, and proceeded to go from reassuring the person to sleeping with them within two innocuous lines. That’s what learning from the internet will get you, I suppose.
On another run, I was a detective on a murder case. What unfolded can only be described as a fever dream of frustratingly vague witnesses and bizarre non-sequiturs. And not in an artfully noirish way either.
At other times, AI Dungeon can be thrillingly on point. Having instructed to get to high ground during a zombie attack, my words were interpreted perfectly. The game also showed signs of remembering previous commands, such as when I added the aforementioned bazooka theft request as a supplemental detail. An explosive twist duly cropped up a couple of lines later.
The custom adventure mode also impressed. My gritty self-penned scenario about a down-and-out San Franciscan fleeing across the Mexican border with some purloined contraband played out surprisingly organically – at least initially.
Even when a story makes occasional sense, though, there’s the persistent feeling that you’re the one doing all the heavy lifting. It’s even up you to wrap the story up and purposefully start again. There’s just no recognizable thread or resolution to any of its freeform tales, which leaves you simultaneously impressed and curiously unsatisfied.