One of the more encouraging developments in interactive fiction is the development of distinct genres special to the medium -- not genres based on book-selling categories like "fantasy" and "mystery", but genres that are about interaction. The gradual development of these is, I think, a sign of the medium maturing; of authors beginning to see how specific interaction patterns are useful for specific kinds of storytelling; of players recognizing those patterns as interesting.
C. E. J. Pacian's Gun Mute belongs to the genre of combat-puzzle IF.
Interactive fiction has historically had a certain amount of trouble with action sequences and combat. It's tempting to develop combat scenes based on the conventions of role-playing games, and set the player up with a randomized chance to overcome his enemy (which is what Zork did with the troll). A problem with this, though, is that most interactive fiction incorporates an UNDO command -- indeed, players have come to regard it as a right -- and randomly-generated successes and defeats are much less interesting when it is possible to get past them by UNDOing a turn and replaying. Though various authors have tried various technical solutions, they mostly haven't been very convincing.
There is also a subtler problem with this approach, which is that randomized combat (whether tied to player stats or not) is at odds with the conceptual domain of interactive fiction. Text games are necessarily mostly about the qualitative rather than the quantitative; numbers, proportions, and approximations, like spatial positions, are harder to represent in text than in graphics. The player's input is likewise discrete. Readouts about statistics clash with the textual aesthetic; graphics can offer an elegant presentation of (say) how many hitpoints the player has left, but text can only muster a dashboard of numbers. Showing the player how he's doing statistically is a problem. The alternative is to hide that information from the player and base encounters on statistics that are never revealed -- but that tends to be frustrating, requiring the player to fight blind and make guesses about what gameplay would generally improve his chances.
What's more, there tend to be fewer events (such as encounters with hostile creatures) in a standard IF plot than there would be in the course of essentially low-plot, high-encounter-ratio work such as Monster's Den. What that means is that there isn't nearly as much opportunity for statistics to produce a sensible average result. The randomness produces arbitrary successes and failures; the stats reflecting the player's earlier choices don't play a big enough role to make the player's agency seem meaningful.
But action and combat scenes are important story elements, and the fact that we haven't been very successful emulating the action/combat approaches of other games doesn't mean that it's impossible to do these things right and in an IF-ish way.
Recently we've seen several works that are essentially a series of combat puzzles. There's a set piece scene in which the player goes up against the enemy, and he has to figure out the right way through it -- often by improvising weapons or using elements of the environment to his advantage.
Gun Mute is my favorite of this small new genre: it's got a charming story and setting, the puzzles are fair and rational, and there are lots of colorful side characters. If we were using genre titles borrowed from other media, I'd have to put it on its own tiny shelf labeled "post-apocalyptic western gay romance" -- but since we're not, I can just call it a successful combat puzzle game, and leave it at that.
N.B.: Gun Mute was built using TADS 3, an interactive fiction engine created by Michael J. Roberts. To play the game, you need to install a TADS 3 interpreter on your machine, and download the game file. We link to TADS 3 interpreters for PC, Mac, and Linux above.