Alone in the Void is a promising Quest game about waking up from cryonic suspension on a ship called the Amaethon drifting through deep space. Twenty years have passed since you woke up, and since then, something has happened. You just need to figure out what it is… and whether it is a threat to you.
The game falls under the sci-fi subgenre where the protagonist investigates a seemingly lifeless spaceship after an unknown incident. Games following this premise that I have reviewed include A Long Way to the Nearest Star, Fall of the Achilles, and Reclamation. Each time I play a game like this I am always eager to find out what happened.
The gameplay starts in your crew quarters after the ship’s computer guides you there upon your awakening from cryonic suspension. Rise and shine! While the messiness of your living space has not changed, the same cannot be said for the rest of the ship.
From the crew quarters, you wander in search of leads. There are no specific objectives or tasks/checklists that the protagonist must pursue. Everything is exploratory, simply trying to figure out what happened to the ship while you were frozen.
There are occasional small bugs and some situational limitations that were frustrating. Such as the (Spoiler - click to show) bathroom stalls in the deck 4 bathroom.
There are five stalls in the bathroom. Four have signs that read “Occupied.” Normally, the decision is obvious. Move on and perhaps check out the stall with no one in it (don’t, actually). From a practical standpoint, given that this ship has supposedly been abandoned for the past 20 years, I feel that some persistence is warranted as part of your investigation. I wish there were a way to knock on the stalls or somehow confirm the occupants/contents of the stall.
Unless there really, really, really is nothing in there for the protagonist. In that case, forget I asked.
Something bad has happened, that is clear, but there is not a lot of urgency that directs the gameplay. It feels more as if the spaceship is your personal playground following the aftermath of some event that took the rest of the crew while you were on ice. However, there is one exception that deserves acknowledgement.
It comes while you are (Spoiler - click to show) sitting in the seat in the theater. Without warning and in red text:
As you pause to watch the screen, a sudden sound catches your attention from the recesses of the room. You swivel your head toward the source of the disturbance, only to spot a shadowy figure looming near the closed entrance to the lobby.
And if you wait too long, it appears again. Uh oh.
Timed responses can receive mixed reception with players, but the time margin here is reasonable and effectively atmospheric. It comes out of nowhere and the timing is right to surprise you, spurring you into action.
Ultimately, I enjoyed the gameplay even if the atmosphere was underwhelming at times. It is fun because it has a free-for-all self-driven mayhem where loot everything in sight, demonstrate a blatant disregard for locked doors, and grill NPCs for answers (Spoiler - click to show) (see, you’re not so alone after all). While this sort of behavior is often found in similar games, Alone in the Void manages to cultivate a chaotic carelessness that is unique to its plot.
Before I move on, I have some praise for Alone in the Void: The gameplay lacks the sluggishness I often encounter in Quest games. Generally, I don’t think sluggishness is the author’s fault. I usually assume it is a Quest-related technicality. Perhaps it is a computer or browser issue on my part.
Either way, sluggishness slurps the fun out of the gameplay, especially if the game decides to suddenly end while you pause to do something else on another tab. That happens a lot when I play Quest games. While Alone in the Void is not completely exempt from this, it was a smooth ride that took longer to time out when I paused to do something else. Whatever caused this made a difference.
For anyone unfamiliar with Quest, most Quest games have three menus on the right side of the screen for exits, player inventory, and objects in the player’s surroundings. Clicking on items in a menu reveals a set of possible verbs for said object, which helps eliminate guess-the-verb confusion. Through this, you can even skip a keyboard altogether, although I still prefer to use one.
While some Quest games are designed so that navigation via the side menus can be ignored, that is not the case with Alone in the Void. It seems that some puzzles can only be solved by navigating menu options. This was both a strength and weakness. As of *now, puzzles are limited to unlocking doors. One example involves (Spoiler - click to show) entering the cafeteria.
The location description outside the cafeteria reads:
You are in a Hallway on Deck 4.
You can see a Cafeteria Door, Elevator 4 and a Terminal.
You can go down, west, east, north or up.
Examining the cafeteria door says, "But a keen eye will reveal a tiny hole, a chink in the armor - a minuscule orifice tucked away under the words 'Emergency Release.’”
> x hole
The emergency hole is built into the Cafeteria door. Its too narrow for your fingers to fit... maybe if you had something pointed.
The object for the job is the nasty toothbrush from your locker.
However, “Put toothbrush in hole” results in “You can’t do that,” while “unlock door with toothbrush” gets “That doesn’t work.” And no, "use toothbrush" does not work either. The protagonist puts it in their mouth instead. Gross.
The solution to (Spoiler - click to show) using the toothbrush to unlock the door requires use of the “Places and Objects” menu.
Clicking on the (Spoiler - click to show) "Cafeteria Door" link reveals two options that say, "Look at," and "Unlock." If the toothbrush is in your inventory, clicking “Unlock” will automatically unlock the door. This is quite helpful if you are unsure of what item is needed to unlock a barrier. If you gather as many items as you can there is a good chance that no door will stand in your way when you go to unlock it.
Does this detract from the puzzle solving experimentation? A little bit since typing out commands gives the impression that the command itself has no use. But the tradeoff is that it increases player friendliness in the sense that, when it comes to applying the right inventory item to a task, the game “does it all for you.” If you (Spoiler - click to show) have the toothbrush, the game takes care of unlocking the door.
Once I figured out this trick, I was never stuck. But maybe that will (Spoiler - click to show) change later when more of the game is released.
*Initially I wondered whether this could be dismissed as a non-spoiler, but since the argument could probably go either way, I’m playing it safe when I say this: (Spoiler - click to show) Alone in the Void is not a complete game. Eventually you will run into a message saying, “To be continued.” I’m not sure if calling it a demo would be accurate. Sometimes, you can advertise a game as such without it necessarily being considered a spoiler, but since Alone in the Void ends on a cliffhanger, I’m spoiler tagging it.
Alone in the Void is a science fiction game with a mix of horror and mystery. It includes some gore and bathroom humor, and it's no joke when I say that the protagonist seems willing to eat most everything. Like the (Spoiler - click to show) urinal cake. Ugh. There is a bit of a gross factor there, but not too much.
The overarching story behind the Amaethon is surreal, eerie, and thought provoking. It seems that we live in a reality where mainstream space travel exists, but light-speed travel is off-limits. Currently, no ship can go faster than half of the speed of light.
For the past twenty years the Amaethon has been drifting farther into deep space to the point where no other ship, burdened by speed limitations, can match its distance. (Assuming that the Amaethon’s momentum is slinging it faster than any ship sent to track it down. Otherwise, a ship would eventually catch up. However, the Amaethon has a 20-year head start.) What an interesting situation to ponder.
Other than that, an immediate story is still emerging. Like I said, (Spoiler - click to show) the game ends on a cliffhanger.
The gameplay keeps details on the protagonist at a minimum. We know they are a member of the crew and not much else. While they come off as gender neutral in the gameplay, the cover art hints that we are playing as a male protagonist. It would be cool to learn more. I wonder if they are simply underdeveloped or if there is a big secret about their identity.
I do think that the game needs to be clearer about the protagonist’s role on the ship. Initially I thought that they were in cryogenic suspension on a smaller ship sent to investigate the Amaethon. Once having found the Amaethon twenty years later, the protagonist would be awakened to board the lost vessel.
Not quite. The gameplay soon tells a different story. It seems instead that they were already frozen on the Amaethon and awakened by the ship's computer for an unknown reason. The closest answer is (Spoiler - click to show) from Sophie Malaca, an injured officer in the cafeteria.
You: "Do you know what's happening on this ship? or where everybody is?"
Sophie: "I know about as much as you do, according to all the callanders on board its been twenty years"
You: "From what I've seen so far it looks like people left in a hurry too"
Sophie: "So much so they left two officers on Ice? .... lovely"
(Note: there are some grammar and spelling errors in this game.)
In this exchange, it seems that "officers on ice" refers to crew being put into cryogenic suspension and that Sophie, like you, were frozen and awakened by the computer after twenty years of slumber. But when she says, “they left two officers on Ice,” I wondered who's "they?"
Who gets frozen and why? My guess is that crew are either frozen in emergency situations for their own safety or that designated crew members are frozen and awakened in the event of an emergency to investigate. I doubt (Spoiler - click to show) Sophie has been lounging around in the cafeteria for the past two decades. But all I have right now are speculations.
There are (Spoiler - click to show) three NPCs. (Spoiler - click to show) Sophie Malaca (as I mentioned), the robotic toaster in the kitchen, and the automaton upstairs. I wish these characters would respond to a wider range of prompts. Especially (Spoiler - click to show) Sophie since she is the only crew member in sight. Like you, she just emerged from cryonic suspension, most likely before you did.
She also later turns into an undead monster and corners you in the movie theater.
While I can understand why the (Spoiler - click to show) robotic toaster is limited linguistically, I was expecting more from (Spoiler - click to show) Sophie, a fellow crewmember. It would extremely helpful if her character was more responsive since she seems to be the only NPC capable of answering any substantial questions.
What surprised me is that she has a gaping wound (most likely the source of the mess in the bathroom) and you cannot even ask about it. Or the military bandages packet that you found or maybe the ship’s failing power levels. And as for investigating the ship…
You: "Okay, I'm going to continue searching, but I'll come back for you"
Sophie: "You better! - Also becareful, that thing... whatever it is, it's still out there"
Hold on, Sophie. What thing?
That sounds like something we should be able to ask about. My guess is that this “thing” lurking around the ship is responsible for her injury (and later transforming her into an undead creature), and yet she has nothing to say about it when you ask for clarification. Absolutely no response at all.
This also seems like a big plot element. Sadly, we cannot learn more about this development.
Thoughts on setting
This spaceship sci-fi/mystery (and sometimes horror) subgenre often features research or military spaceships as the setting. The Amaethon falls into a similar category, a mining vessel. However, the Amaethon is also a bit unusual. Let’s just say that the ship’s function is not conveyed by its contents. I would never have guessed that it was a mining vessel had the game never told me.
Instead, the Amaethon’s layout gives the impression of a “party ship” or one dedicated solely to leisure. The parts of the ship accessible to the player includes a (Spoiler - click to show) trashed bathroom with a vending machine that sells- you’ll see, an arcade, a movie theater, and a general “store” that strikes you as being anywhere but on a near powerless mining vessel drifting in deep space.
Aside from the (Spoiler - click to show) excess blood pooling on the bathroom floor and Sophie’s injury, The Amaethon gives the overwhelming impression of the aftermath of wild party in a rented venue the night before. This is not necessarily a complaint. It was a fun surprise to see that the game diverts from a generic starship floor plan. I do wonder, however, when the mining part comes into play.
So far exploration offers little explanation of the ship’s mission (if it ever had one in the first place) or its activities with mining. It leaves the player with questions, but hopefully more will be revealed in the future.
Alone in the Void has some of the coolest graphics I have ever seen in a Quest game to date. Amaethon seems to have had some serious gamers. And film fans.
There is an (Spoiler - click to show) arcade (plus a Game Boy left behind) and a movie theater. Looking at the screen in the movie theater prompts a clip to play as if you were watching a projection on a screen. Playing video games reveals a clip of the game in action. Even though the player has no control over the (Spoiler - click to show) clip, it is still impressive and gives the gameplay extra dimension.
Also, the game uses a simple but pleasing colour scheme of a black screen with white text and orange links plus accents. Consistent colour coordination can create a more polished look. Sometimes the game will stray from this and use colour coding for dialog or warning text that includes red, yellow, and purple colours. Overall, Alone in the Void has a crisp appearance.
While (Spoiler - click to show) I was sad that the game ended on a cliffhanger, I applauded the author for making a game that leaves the player curious for more. Its implementation is not perfect and lacks fewer story details about than what I would have liked, but I am also keeping an open mind since the game (Spoiler - click to show) is still under development. The author has already established a concrete foundation of gameplay and setting that sets it apart from other games and carries much potential.
Alone in the Void is a strong addition to the current sci-fi selections of games made with Quest. I hope the author continues to shape it.
The Witch’s Apprentice follows aspiring apprentice Esme Friggleswick, a young woman wishing to be a student of Madam Ingra. Her task is to retrieve a legendary staff from the villainous sorcerer Zandor.
I was not sure of what to expect when I saw the cover art. It gave the impression that it was going to be a Harry Potter riff but turns out I was wrong. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this game. Its puzzles require strategic thinking, and its gameplay is well paced. I think many players will like this one.
The Witch’s Apprentice has straightforward yet cruel gameplay. Straightforward in the sense that the gameplay is not too difficult and most puzzles being intuitive (although some tripped me up, such as (Spoiler - click to show) finding the hidden coronet). But cruel in that there are a few instances where the game can become unwinnable. Some of these are instances are semi-obvious because it has to do with wasting resources. Do not eat the (Spoiler - click to show) dewberry, for example.
The central gameplay mechanic is collecting items to make potions. At the same time, there are a lot of puzzles that do not directly involve acquiring ingredients. Solving them does not result in finding an items. Rather it merely gets the player closer to a part of the game where there is a puzzle that does produce potion items. This made the game less linear and more complex.
One of the tricker elements of the game is knowing what potions you will need to use. You are limited to what you can make based on the items you find which helps in determining which potions are possible to create. Still, it is a fairly long list of potions, most of which sound like they could be relevant to the puzzles. Out of all of them you only need to make (Spoiler - click to show) three (and you find a fourth one). There are some red herrings but nothing too unmanageable.
Challenges aside, the creativity in the puzzles makes the game sparkle. They require you to think outside the box. For instance, (Spoiler - click to show) one of the potions requires fish scales. Now, you find a fishing rod in the castle. Your first instinct is to catch a fish in the river with the fishing rod, but it turns out the fishing rod is used for a different purpose. Instead, the fish scales are found from the plate of salmon in the banquet hall.
There are some guess-the-verb issues. The "use [object] on [subject]" syntax is frequently used in this game. For example, in the (Spoiler - click to show) cave you knock out the goblin by collapsing the rotting beam in the roof. The phrase, "Break beam with shovel" does not work but "use shovel on beam" does. Once I figured this out this syntax the guess the verb issues fell to the wayside.
Thoughts on Quest
The Witch’s Apprentice is a Quest game that wields a wide variety of puzzles with varying levels of difficulty. I am always hesitant about trying puzzle-heavy games made with Quest because typically the further I go into the gameplay the slower the game becomes. It can get to the point where it takes five full sections for the game to process a command which is why I try to crank through everything as fast as possible, so I have a chance to reach the end. This is NOT the case with game.
In fact, the funkiness with Quest is probably not even authors’ fault. Perhaps it has to do with the website or a problem on my end. I am not sure. All I know is that Quest games that have graphics or built-in maps (both of which are cool) tend to slow down faster than those without them (such as this one). If you have the same experience as me, know that this game take a while before it starts to lag.
There is not a lot of written story content. Rather than having the game flat-out explain the history with Zandor and his wrath, the player learns bits and pieces through the places they visit. The subtleties of the guarded castle and ruined tower all hint at this story which I liked. It is an example of showing rather than just telling.
I would like to think that the game ends with the protagonist becoming an apprentice, but I must confess I only played 99% of the game. If you are able to save with Quest, make sure you save after you (Spoiler - click to show) retrieve Zandor's staff. When you return to Ingra’s cottage and give her the staff, Zandor appears and destroys the cottage. The game then only gives you one move to respond, or he kills you which immediately ends the game. I played a couple times to try to solve this, but I ran out of ideas. Do not let that deter you from playing, however. This is an excellent game, and I would love to see if anyone can (Spoiler - click to show) defeat Zandor. Please let me know if you do!
We do not learn much about the protagonist besides her name. The game focuses more on her goal of becoming a witch rather than discussing her backstory. While it would have been interesting to know more, I like how the game does not bog down in details.
There are almost a dozen NPCs including humans, animals, and mythical creatures. Game uses "talk to" command for characters, and dialog is brief and witty. I especially liked the talking Eagle who seemed like a character who could appear in The Lonely Troll by Amanda Walker. Character interactions typically consist of "I'll give you this if you'll give me that" transactions but this is offset by other types of puzzles.
The only character interaction that had some vagueness was meeting (Spoiler - click to show) Madam Elsa. We find her confined in a cell with chains that bind her magical powers. But there is no reaction to her predicament when you enter her cell. When you speak to her there are no dialog options that lets the player ask or acknowledge her imprisonment. Nothing like, “gee, what happened here?” Instead, the dialog only consists of either asking her about Madam Ingra (her cousin) or if she has any advice for the player’s quest. At least, the player can free her.
I would say that this is one of the best puzzle-heavy Quest games I have played (although I guess I cannot say that I have played many to compare it to). But The Witch’s Apprentice would be a great game regardless of if it were made with Quest or not. I was pleasantly surprised with the story and immersed in the puzzles. I recommend this game to anyone.
And on that note, Halloween, at the time of this review, is on the horizon. Over the next several weeks, this may be a festive game to play if you are in the mood for magic, witches, and other spooky themes.
I was lured in by the cover art. It looked like a surreal, tropical island. In this game you spend the day fishing only to have your boat break down, leaving you stranded on an island. To leave you must fix your boat using materials found on the island.
The gameplay has its merits. There is a health meter which is always an exciting prospect in a game about survival, and I liked some of the scenery, such as the palm tree (I like palm trees in games that take place on an island). But if I am being realistic, implementation drags everything down. Consider:
> x boat
Hmm... it looks like there is something under the boat.
> look under boat
I don't understand your command.
Now, if I click on the link "Broken Boat" (this is Quest, mind you) to access the small menu of options for that object there is an option that says, "Look under the boat." Click on that and the game will let you look underneath, revealing a (Spoiler - click to show) hole poker. In fact, relying on the small menus was quite helpful. I learned that you need to (Spoiler - click to show) fight the bear and to poke the palm tree with the hole poker to get the sap.
Here is my advice: If you want to get anything out of this game USE THE LINKS. TAKE ADVENTAGE OF THE QUEST FORMAT AND CLICK ON THE LINK. Otherwise, you will probably quit out of guess-the-verb related frustration. Not that it eliminated every frustration.
If you try to go north while inside the cave the game says "It's locked! It looks like you need to press letters in the correct order." What is locked? Is there supposed to be a door? Are there buttons? The only thing (Spoiler - click to show) visible in the cave is the bear, and even when the bear is gone there are no doorways or barriers in the room description. Just as I was about to give up, I simply typed “none shall get out,” which was written on the bear after you defeat it. The back of the cave opened, and I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to continue playing.
Some implementation issues merely detract from the polish whereas others simply bring the gameplay to a halt. An example of the former is when the game exclaims that there are fish but when you try to examine the fish the game says there are none. Also, the description of the boat is, "Hmm... it looks like there is something under the boat," even after I (Spoiler - click to show) already retrieved the hole poker. These did not seem so bad. The roadblock I encountered was fixing my boat. (Spoiler - click to show) The back area of the cave has rocks, which seems to be the last material needed to repair the boat (I think). But when I tried to fix it with each material I would get these weird error-like messages and then the material would disappear from my inventory. Eventually I stopped there. It seemed like I was getting close to the end, but I could be wrong about that.
I like the simple puzzles and concept, but I am giving this one star because it is incredibly buggy. It has potential, it really does, but it needs testing and refinement before it can be a finished piece. If an updated version become available, I would love to play it!