19th Jul2018

‘Another World’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Rupert Harvey

Another-World-screen

In 1991, Delphine Software was an obscure French developer, known at that point for the ravishing but deeply flawed point ‘n’ click adventure Future Wars and the spy-‘em-up Operation Stealth. With Another World, in the hands of auteur programmer Eric Chahi, they took their visual talents and movie narrative impulses to alien climes.

A wonderful introduction sequence conjures a rich atmosphere from the very start. A young scientist works late and alone. A storm rages outside. As he powers up an experimental device, lightning strikes the facility, opening a portal that whisks him away to a different planet, possibly a different dimension.

At this point there is a classic transition: you the player aren’t aware that the game has begun and that you are in control. Failure to react means death. Suddenly, you really are in another world, and the presentation is out of this world.

The graphics are deceptively simplistic: craggily precise polygonal blocks, clad in shades of grey and black. Even your avatar conforms to the aesthetic, except he sticks out because of his mop of red hair. An outsider.

Naturally, the Switch port is the remastered version, originally released on mobile for the 20th anniversary, and then ported to Windows in 2013. You can choose between original or HD graphics (and flick between them with the Y button in-game), and you can also select remastered, CD original, or classic original sounds. There are no CRT or scanline options.

The action is structured in single screens, and virtually every screen contains a new puzzle, peril or monster. In the beginning it’s a bunch of ghastly, toothy worms. Soon after, carnivorous mouths are snapping on the ground. Later, there are indigenous warriors with guns. And always, it seems, there’s a monstrous black lion stalking you.

The closest modern parallel would be the work of Playdead studios. Limbo and Inside share a similarly austere look and, it must be said, a similarly callous attitude toward the player. To survive is to learn, and sometimes there is no escaping death.

You do have a gun to protect you, although mechanically the shootouts are unrefined. Tap the button and you fire; hold to produce a shield; hold longer to fire off a super-bolt. Clearly designed for the Commodore Amiga’s single-button joystick, this results in firefights which feel less like thrilling Star Wars encounters and more like tiring wars of attrition.

In its day, Another World was described as “cinematic”, owing to unique setpieces punctuating the exploration, where the difference between survival or reload is pixel-perfection. At one point you must trigger a flood, and escape the way you came while the torrent chases you through cave tunnels full of deadly pits.

Sometimes the “scenes” are inspired, like when you escape from a hanging prison cell by rocking it until the chain snaps. Other times, it’s a leap of faith from a sheer cliff, or memorising the pattern of falling rocks, or a random death in a pitch black maze. Such moments are tedious, especially in the absence of a rewind feature (the reissue of Delphine’s Flashback had one, so why not this?).

The problem is, the wearying insta-death moments dominate the mind because there’s just so little of Another World to enjoy. It’s a game that can be finished in 30-40 minutes – including mistakes – and there is no replayability. No secrets or lore or intriguing exploration. Because everything that doesn’t mean progress means death. That’s the “cinematic” way, I suppose.

Brief, beautiful, groundbreaking, atmospheric, fitfully exciting and frequently infuriating, Another World is unforgettable for reasons ranging right across the spectrum. As with Flashback, it’s a tough sell for the uninitiated, who might do better with a modern equivalent; but it’s must for nostalgists – if you can find it at a discounted (by which I mean reasonable) price.

Another World is out now on Nintendo Switch.

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