The Act of Misdirection is a short horror story. There are some interactions that might be called puzzles, but they don't feel like it -- at least, not in the conventional sense. Instead, the interaction feels like an improv routine, in which the game hints gently (and then more explicitly) at the player's role, and the player performs on cue.
That might sound like an unsatisfyingly non-interactive kind of design, but it works beautifully for Act of Misdirection, for a couple of reasons. For one thing, this is a story about performance, and the player starts out on stage, under the spotlight, mid-act. Being prompted through the act feels natural there, and, once established, carries on as a mode of interaction into the rest of the story. For another thing, the game accommodates a wide range of performance styles. Play is usually less about trying to figure out the one thing the game will accept as a next maneuver, and more about choosing the most amusing interpretation of one's assigned role. Act of Misdirection treats as much as possible of the player's input as meaningful.
AoM also handles its narrative more confidently and more like static fiction than most. The vast majority of interactive fiction takes place in a single space, in continuous time. Of those that break that rule, most present scenes in strict chronological order, even if one leaps to the next. Among the exceptions to that rule -- such as Photopia -- the non-linear presentation usually forms a sort of puzzle to the player, challenging him to figure out how the scenes fit together, offering no particular explanation for the jumps in time and space. The role of narrator is left as much in the background as possible.
This piece feels narrated. It begins with a riveting set piece scene; then it jumps back in time to explain how you got to this point; then it revisits the present, giving the same events new meaning; then -- but I'll avoid the spoilers. The result is quite effective: It's hard to imagine this story told in any other order. In particular, the magnificent opening set piece capitalizes on the fact that it *is* the first scene: the player doesn't know what's going on (but doesn't expect to, given that we are so frequently dumped ignorant into games); and that confusion masks the more significant question of just what the viewpoint character knows and understands at the outset...
AoM is not perfect, though (on replay, in the current version) it's also rather better than I remembered it being. I reviewed it shortly after it was released in February of 2004, and at the time I criticized the over-the-top extravagance of the writing, and found the pacing of the middle scenes dragged a bit. Replaying it recently, I didn't notice either flaw: maybe later versions of the game cleaned up the issues I noted in my review, or possibly I've just mellowed in my old age. Or maybe I was luckier on this play-through than on the previous ones. Pacing in particular tends to depend on how much the player picks up of the author's cues. I still find some of the background of the story a little less clear than I would like, though.
All the same, as an example of interactive fiction making use of some of the more sophisticated narrative techniques of conventional fiction, this one is definitely worth a look.
N.B.: Act of Misdirection was built using the Z-machine, an interactive fiction engine originally created by Infocom. To play the game, you need to install a Z-machine interpreter on your machine, and download the game file. We link to Z-machine interpreters for PC, Mac, and Linux above--you can probably find them for other devices, too.