Friday, 24 May 2013

Review: Another World (PC)

Writing a review of a game like Another World (known as Out of this World in North America), which was originally released in 1991, is like trying to point out flaws of your most cherished childhood memories. It doesn't feel right, it feels uncomfortable, and there's always the danger of being swallowed whole by the featureless maw of Nostalgia as you let your mind wander back to that place.

The imagery is appropriate considering the terrifying black things that dot the alien landscape that protagonist Lester Knight Chaykin finds himself in after an incredibly bad turn of luck. (What are the chances a lightning bolt would strike a particle accelerator at exactly the moment Lester activates an experiment?)

After being transported to another world and narrowly escaping a water-filled pit inhabited by black tentacles, he's faced with leech-like slugs and a bear-like black thing that chases Lester from screen to screen. His day goes from terrifying to involuntary bowel-release territory in the span of three minutes, which concludes by being shot and locked in a cage with a nameless alien guy, who can't be having a much better day than Lester.

Shortly after, Lester and his cage-mate escape and the game continues as it started: a fight for survival.

Maybe what I like most about Another World is that Lester has no idea what's happening. The dialogue, what minor dialogue there is, is all in an alien tongue and as Lester moves from area to area -- with a lot of trial and error death along the way -- there's this sense that something larger is actually happening but the game never gets into it. Without the context of whatever socio-economic upheaval is happening in this alien place, the player is left to fill in the blanks.

I recall playing this when I was 14-years old and it was one of those games that massaged the part of my brain that likes to fill in the unspoken and unexplained parts. X-Files did the same thing and, later, so did LOST. Another World doesn't even wrap the story up with a few lines of scrolling text! THE END and that's it. The player fills in the rest.

The conclusion of Another World is the first time I remember feeling an emotional release at the end of a game. The game successfully conveys the feeling of Lester being right at the end of his rope, physically and mentally. Not many games have been able to convey that feeling and considering Another World can be blitzed through in about 15 minutes if you know what you're doing, it's an amazing accomplishment. Some games spend dozen of hours trying to build up emotional capital with the player and only meet with so-so results.

It's unfair to post a score to Another World at this point in comparison to puzzle platformers of today because even though I love the look of the game and the creative puzzles, the high level of frustration coping with "Surprise! You're dead!" instant death scenarios (aggravated by distant checkpoints) and some finicky jumps and control quirks, puts Another World in a bad light.

Honestly, I can't do that.

The compact nature of the game, its story telling without an understandable word spoken, and the overall affect it has had on the way I understand games, make the game nearly unassailable in my eyes.

- Aaron Simmer

The Good:
- A fantastic blast from the past
- Manages to tell more story and create an emotional attachment to the characters than most multi-hour role-playing games

The Bad:
- Instant death is all over the place
- Checkpoints are a little too far apart

Score: 9.0 / 10