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Excellent game with a great story, March 23, 2015
This review was previously published on a blog in connection with IFComp 2012.
Andromeda Apocalypse is a science fiction story, which is the sequel to last year’s Andromeda Awakening. It’s an excellent game, and a must-play for any science fiction fan, regardless of whether you’ve played the previous games in the series.
(Spoiler - click to show)Andromeda Apocalypse is the sequel to last year’s Andromeda Awakening, which I haven’t played, but remember being somewhat controversial. There were a lot of complaints about the language of the game being hard to understand, due to the author being Italian, and using weird turns of phrase. The phrase “cyanotic light” in particular seemed to draw people’s ire.
However, the game must have had solid fundamentals because it seems to be pretty well regarded nowadays, and two more games have been written in the same universe, by different authors. This is the first case I am aware of where a shared universe is used by several IF authors. Judging from the quality of this game, I’ll have to go back and play those games, to get the full backstory.
Luckily, playing the previous games wasn’t necessary to appreciate this one, as it does a pretty good job of establishing what is going on. You are the last survivor of the planet Monarch in the Andromeda galaxy. The ABOUT menu contains a helpful summary of the backstory: The planet has been destroyed by a mysterious race of black spheres, called Hyerotropes, which has lain dormant beneath the surface for millennia. These go around destroying solar systems and galaxies for unknown reasons, and also have the ability to convert matter to “cold, azure light”. I can only assume this must be the infamous “cyanotic light” I’ve heard so much about.
As the game begins, the main character has escaped the destruction aboard a Hyerotrope, which can luckily also be used as a spaceship. For some reason I didn’t quite understand, the Hyerotrope also contains the Voyager probe, along with its famous golden disc. The only thing the main character has managed to bring with him is a single expired railway ticket, a melancholy reminder of his loss. The game uses feelies to great effect, by including pictures of the disc, the ticket and a postcard from the planet Monarch, to set the mood. I wish there had been an option to display these pictures in-game, but the game itself is entirely text based. Perhaps this choice was made to ensure compatibility with browser based interpreters, who don’t seem to be able to handle pictures very well yet.
uring the game there are frequent flashbacks to the late planet Monarch, where you get to have conversations with your uncle and best friend, while watching the approaching storm in the distance. Both the descriptions of Monarch, and the conversations themselves are well written, and did a great job of making me feel nostalgic for the place, even though I had only the faintest idea of what it was supposed to be like. Unfortunately, they also suffer from being almost entirely non-interactive: The only thing you can do is type TALK TO X over and over, until the conversation is over. Attempting to ask about a specific topic tells you that you prefer to follow the flow of the conversation. Worse, when you later need to talk to the main NPC of the game, you do need to talk about specific topics to proceed. By this time, I had resigned myself to the fact that the game would use TALK TO conversation, so I had to check the hints to figure this out.
After a while, you crash into a huge space station, and it is here that the bulk of the game takes place. The station turns out to be an ancient ark that a previous civilisation used to escape the destruction of their home galaxy by the Hyerotropes. The station is very large for a Comp game, with lots of places to explore, and controls to fiddle with. The exploration is helped by the fact that all the exits are listed in the status bar, something I really wish more IF games would do. I’m terrible at visualising how locations are connected, and too lazy to draw a map, so I always end up getting lost in most non-trivial environments.
Soon enough, you manage to activate the station’s AI, which provides conversation and hints throughout the rest of the game. You can talk to the AI from any location, and receive location based comments and backstory. The conversation is topic based with the syntax conveniently implemented as “NAME, TOPIC” in addition to the usual ASK/TELL syntax. This is something I would like to see done more often since hardly anyone seems to implement separate responses to ASK and TELL these days.
The topics you can talk about are highlighted in the text, which helps avoid “guess-the-topic” problems, but also means that the conversation system is really no different than a menu system, except you have to type in the options rather than selecting them from a menu. You end up just lawnmowering through all available options without much thought. I think I prefer having to figure out what topics are available myself, even if it means occasional frustration. In spite of this, I really did enjoy talking to this AI throughout the game, and felt kind of attached to it at the end.
The puzzles in the game are generally very good, and I was impressed by how intuitive the solutions felt. The necessary actions almost always felt completely natural, and on the few occasions where I got stuck it was usually because I hadn’t been paying attention, or had typed something blatantly wrong.
The hint systems is also very good: The game uses the usual menu based “invisiclues” type of hints, but makes them context sensitive, so you can only see hints for currently active puzzles. This neatly solves the usual problem with menu based hints, where the menu options spoil events that have not yet happened.
The only time the hints let me down, was at one of the late game puzzles, where you are chased through the station by a ravenous beast. The hints only mention one way of defeating the beast, but I had unwittingly closed off that option earlier in the game. Just as I was about to give up, I managed to find an alternative solution. It’s a testament to the excellent puzzle design in the game that I found this solution with no hinting, but if I hadn’t found it in time, I would have assumed that I had put the game in an unwinnable state, and probably rated it lower. Authors should take care to mention all the possible puzzle solutions in the hints, and maybe even include an in-game walkthrough. Sometimes I just want to get to the end of a game, without having to wade through 20 gradually more explicit hints to figure out how.
I greatly enjoyed playing this game and can recommend to pretty much everyone, especially people who enjoy science fiction. The ending of the game strongly implies that there will be a sequel – at least I hope that’s the intention since I am not quite sure I understood what was going on. Did someone else escape the apocalypse? Is that presence in the distance the Hyerotrope king or something? Will there be cyanotic light where we are going?
Hopefully I’ll get to find out in the next game in the series. Perhaps I’ll even find a use for that expired railway ticket I’ve apparently been carrying with me since the first game. I’ll definitely have to play the previous installments while I wait.