Reposted Review: Another World

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(Originally posted on the inactive Retro Retreat.)

Not as iconic as Pac-Man or Space Invaders. But equally important.

Not the first cinematic adventure game, but one of the best.

PROS: Storytelling. Atmosphere. Gameplay.

CONS: Once you beat it, replays make for a short game.

DID YOU KNOW?: Interplay made an unofficial sequel for the Sega CD.

My first experience with Another World was on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. I was in my teens, and for my birthday one summer I was graced with a copy as a gift. Of course, I knew the game as Out of this world. The box art was kind of odd. It became even odder seeing the original European Amiga cover years later, when I would discover some of the history behind the game.

Another World or Out of this world (Depending on which title you prefer) started life as an Amiga game. Designed by Eric Chahi, the game would go on to be hugely popular throughout Europe, and become a cult favorite globally. It’s a unique game in terms of it’s combination of stylized Virtual Reality visuals, and puzzle platforming. It is one of the few video games that can tell an engrossing story using almost no dialogue whatsoever. It’s also a very interesting game in it’s software technology. Chahi actually coded his own 3D graphics engine, and used rotoscoping techniques. (For any of you budding programmers out there, pick the anniversary version up off of Steam or GoG. The 20 minute video on it’s creation is really great stuff.)  Rotoscoping had been done in Kareteka, and some of the platforming style had been seen in Impossible Mission. But Another World uses these elements in it’s own atmospheric way.

The game starts out with an opening cinematic. Like a lot of early 3D, and 2.5D games you’ll notice models aren’t the super textured, bump mapped, action figures modern gaming has gotten us accustomed to. Instead, much like the original Star Fox, Hard Drivin’, or Test Drive 3 you will see plain, single colored sides of the shapes that make up the characters. Plus, being a 2D play field you won’t see much in the way of a Z-axis. But this all works in the game’s favor. Unlike most of those other simplistic polygon games, Another World has a certain charm. In fact going completely whiz-bang  would probably hurt the game rather than help.

The low poly models actually complement the art style of the world. This aesthetic creates a world you want to explore, and the things you run into will get an emotional response out of you. Whether it’s the beast you run into early on, or the first time you meet an alien convict. The story of the game is that of Lester Chaykin. A physicist, the game opens with him arriving to his lab in his shiny black Ferrari. After opening a soda, he runs an experiment on his high-tech super computer. While the experiment is running however, a thunderstorm brews outside. When a lighting bolt hits the lab, a surge of electricity hits the equipment, and explodes. This explosion rips a hole in the space-time continuum.

Arriving on a mysterious world you now have to try to find your way around, and hopefully a way home. Another World sets up every stage in a similar way to vintage Atari 2600 games like Pitfall! but with a little less openness. Each area is a single screen. But on each screen you must figure out what to do next. Stay in the water of the first screen for instance, and Lester will be pulled to his doom by alien seaweed. There are a LOT of fatality cinemas in Another World. Every screw up will result in one, and force you back to a checkpoint. Much  of the game is very puzzle oriented. Even much of the combat is when it arises.  It never tells you how to solve the puzzles, or how to progress. There is almost zero dialogue, and the little there is tells you nothing as it comes from aliens you won’t understand. Along the way you do meet a sympathizer who tries to help you throughout the game. But don’t worry about him becoming a boring escort mission. He mostly leaves you to your own devices, and when he does become important it’s to move the story along.

Even though it is a simple story, it’s a very well told one. You will actually care about the strange world you are on, it’s inhabitants, and even the musclebound alien trying to help you. It’s not a very long game once you figure out all of the puzzles, and decide to revisit it. But the first time you play it you will spend days on it without a walk through as I did way back in the day on my Super NES. Movement is done with a D-Pad, or arrow keys if you’re on a keyboard. There are also two buttons. One for jumping, and one for action. Action can be anything from pushing levers, to firing a gun. In one chapter you will find a gun which is about the only real weapon in the game.  The gun has some versatility. Firing it will shoot a small laser beam to disintegrate enemies. There are also two charges. Holding it until a small charge appears will form a shield. Shields are important against enemies who have weaponry. A full charge however will blast a super beam that not only kills enemies, but also destroys certain scenery, as well as enemy shields. You can’t waste shots either because eventually the gun will stop firing, and you will be pretty screwed. It enhances the gameplay because even the gun becomes an element in some of the puzzles you need to solve to progress.

There are a few minor differences between versions. The original Amiga version’s blood was reduced on the SNES. The SNES also had a minor alteration in one scene toward the end I won’t spoil here. Interplay also wanted to change the music around when it published the game on other platforms. Chahi fought the company on this, and eventually the development studio he was contracted with, Delphine Software was able to work out an agreement with Interplay. As such the original scores are the same on every version except for some dynamic music that was added to the Super NES. The SNES, and Genesis also had text crawls of Lester’s journal entries added to the introduction sequences. The port to the 3DO also changed background graphics around which while well made, don’t have the feeling the simplified visuals of the other versions behind them. The one major change the ports brought to the table is one added puzzle section near the end of the game. It actually does enhance the experience, and makes the game longer without feeling like padding. In fact, the 15th anniversary remake, and the recent 20th anniversary re-release left this addition intact. Although the dynamic music introduced in the Super NES version does not appear in these reissues.

Another World may be over two decades old now but it remains a cult classic for a reason. It’s one of the most fun cinematic games ever made. It’s presentation holds up very well, and it inspired many of the story driven games you have likely played over the years since it’s release. If you missed it back in the day, or were too young to have played it definitely check it out. Collectors can find the Super NES or Genesis versions fairly cheap these days. The 3D0, MS-DOS, Atari ST, and Apple versions are higher. The most expensive version of course, is the original Amiga game. As of this writing it’s getting about $150 on online auctions.

If you want to simply experience it, or re-experience it pick up the recent 20th anniversary package on Steam or GoG. Eventually Eric Chahi regained the property from Interplay. This allowed him to do a 15th anniversary edition. So everything in that version is here. It’s a mere $10. It gives you the game with the option for newer high-resolution backgrounds you can turn on or off on the fly. A really nice 20 minute inside look at the game’s creation with it’s creator.  It also gives you the original game’s music tracks (Not the ones added to the Super NES), and you get some scans of the development artwork, and documentation. Plus, you can easily play it with a gamepad if you cringe at the thought of playing on the keyboard. Buying this on Steam also includes some achievements for those who simply need them in their games.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

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