Photopia is a work of "interactive fiction" which I suppose would lead some people to contest that it is not so much a game, but a book that the reader must explore. While that's an interesting concept and not at all a bad idea for an artistic medium, for the sake of this review I will consider it a game. What distinguishes Photopia from text based rpgs, a notable though archaic genre, is that it is quite heavy on scripted dialogue making the player feel as though he or she is working their way through one of those books with multiple endings that require one to flip their way between pages to reach the end of the story. Well, actually the game is a little heavy on the dialogue and light on the puzzles and other elements that would make it a game, but that's probably enough deliberation on whether Photopia is a game or not. Now for the actual review.
If you aren't familiar with this style of game, the player's only interface is the text line. To walk north, you type "walk north." To look around, you type "look." That being said, there are no graphics for this game aside from the text you read. Actually, this is not true. The game accents certain scenes with a specific background color and text color. For example, the red desert planet uses a black background and red text font, which is a nice touch. However, beyond this, there is no graphical element to this game, nor is there any sound. Of course, these are both standard of the text adventure genre.
Many younger and newer gamers aren't familiar with this kind of gameplay and might write this off as something for thirty year old nerds. Those people ought to bugger off, because I found Photopia quite entertaining despite the fact that I'm not a fan of the genre. The game is 12 years old at the time of this review, and it's supposedly the least game-like of all the developer's interactive fiction projects. The parser for Photopia is well developed and on only a few occasions have I had to retype things a different way. However, on these occasions, the player may be lost or confused and frustrated as a result. This is compounded by the fact that the player cannot scroll up and reread text. But on the whole I found the game fairly straightforward and easy, as well as short...
Except for the damn maze. Damnit. That was annoying. In fact, this game loses a whole letter grade just because of that one part because it was so frustrating to an unholy degree and frankly, the designer should have known better.
I'm not going to say anything about the story aside from the fact that it's really good and quite original in content and style. Anything more would ruin it for when you play it. Because it relies so heavily on it's story and that story is so effective, I would recommend you try Photopia.