I try to stay away from the instinct to call a work ‘Lynchian’ just because it’s spooky and surreal. But Desert of Vice, a tiny parser-based adventure that is both spooky and surreal, really is quite Lynchian. Down to the old-timey feel of many scenes, the existential horror and dream logic that dictates some of the weirder transitions, and the whole Twin Peaks-in-the-desert vibe, it feels very much like David Lynch: the indie throwback text adventure.
Which is to say, it’s exactly my shit.
You start off the game in a sort of waking nightmare, and then proceed to walk into something of a classical mystery, complete with a gnarly case of amnesia. And you navigate the world entirely though typed commands—you’ll type “go to the motel” or “talk to the bartender” or “take the gun”—as appropriate, with no other bothersome interface issues.
The whole game is done up in a very simple style, but it’s effective. It looks a little like MS Paint, but if the artist actually knew how to make MS Paint look evocative and nice.
A game like this can charm with its style, and Desert of Vice certainly does. But it lives and dies by its writing, and by its ability to transport your into its singular, bizarro world. And this is where the little game shines best. I don’t want to spoil anything, because the wild twists are worth going in fresh. But the game’s sole developer, Karolis Dikcius, has really nailed the atmosphere and structure of the Lynchian thriller-mystery. Alongside the good old eldritch horror, but again, we're staying shy of spoilers here.
And they’ve done so with plenty of respect for quieter moments, for weird little details like the smell of coffee and donuts in the police station, and the creaking dread of a church full of people singing numbers late at night.