Slouching Towards Bedlam is a great game, without being a perfect one. It has some rough spots in the implementation; there are moments when key characters could be more fully developed. But polish isn't everything. The production values here are good enough to support the game's main concept, and that concept is enough to make it worth playing and replaying.
Slouching begins at a Victorian lunatic asylum. The setting is steampunk-Lovecraftian, and the first few puzzles are fairly research and discovery puzzles. Expect to spend some time manipulating the mechanical filing system at the asylum. At the beginning, things seem to be strange in a familiar way.
But as the truth comes to light, the game turns into something substantially different. As you discover what is going on, you realize that there are other layers of possibility in the game, other things you can and should be doing besides solving the obvious puzzles. Explaining in too much detail would spoil the discovery, but Slouching Towards Bedlam is one of the most successful experiments I've seen in giving the player both freedom and agency: there are many different things you can do, all sensible within the emerging logic of the game, and they all have effects on the story. And none of them is without a cost.
This transformation of the gameplay is truly an achievement. It is relatively easy to write a creepy opening to a horror story. It is much, much harder to bring one to a satisfying end, without making the outcome absurd, excessive, or just plain incomprehensible. Even Anchorhead (by many people's judgment the best piece of IF ever written) loses some of its moodiness and power at the end, when it is obliged to make *specific* things happen to the player, and all the horrifying unknown collapses into mere particulars.
Slouching manages to avoid that fate. Because the player has real and significant control over the way the story turns out, the final portions of the game are not a disappointing boss-monster light show, but something more internal to the protagonist, and considerably creepier.
On a more personal note: one of the game's authors, Star Foster, died unexpectedly in 2006. I didn't know her well, but we'd met several times. She was wonderful company, bright and interesting and subversively funny. I'll always be sorry that we won't be having any more three-hour dinners, and glad that she left this work for us.
N.B.: Slouching Towards Bedlam 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. An introduction to interactive fiction in general can be found here.
Cover art is courtesy of J. Robinson Wheeler, and is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution license.