Alco's Infinity

by drakirby profile

Science Fiction

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A human, a cyborg, or an AI? A casual look at different definitions, September 11, 2022

Alco’s Infinity follows Alco, a crewmember on a four-person starship that carries out assignments for the Universal Corps. This is a world where it is commonplace for people to undergo body augmentation to better perform in their jobs and daily lives, and where almost everyone has a built-in assistant AI. Alco’s AI is named Eve.

The game touches on themes about transhumanism and how people view your own expression of self. What does it mean to identify as human in a society where advanced augmentations can make one seem more machine than (hu)man? Is there a boundary between being an augmented human and a machine with a human experience? I was pleased to see that Alco’s Infinity strives to incorporate these ideas into player-character interactions. By no means is this game a comprehensive discussion of this subject. But as a short Twine game it does give the player a taste of possible perspectives.

Note: Technically there is nothing that says that Alco is male or female so I will just refer to them as a gender-neutral protagonist.

Before the game begins, the player is told that they will have four opportunities to influence the gameplay. Normally I like Twine games that are a little more interactive, especially ones with lots of text in each scene, but I appreciate how direct the game is by giving the player an overview of its interactivity and how they should expect it to shape the story. Even though four opportunities do not sound like much it does make it where you feel like you can follow how your choices guide your path in the game. The easiness of exploring each route also adds replay value.

For example, the first choice that you make (Spoiler - click to show) summarizes your life’s mission and determines the sightseeing activity that you do later in the game. The worldbuilding is rich and vibrant. It is the type of metropolitan spaceport that could even attract the player if such as place existed. It is an alien urban setting with noodle bars, creative alien species, museums, and an infinitely diverse range of businesses. The gameplay only devotes a sliver of time to explore these areas, but the author knows how to cultivate a diverse landscape, however brief.

An important point near the start of the game is (Spoiler - click to show) when the crew meet with two ambassadors of an alien species that requires both parties to communicate via integrated AI. Halfway through the conversation, one of the ambassador’s AI goes haywire. Alco transfers Eve to the ambassador’s system to run some diagnostics. This brief separation from Eve almost gives Alco a panic attack, but this ends when she returns (I recommend playing the scene in Alco’s hotel room where Eve speaks about this moment while Alco swims in an ocean simulation). Everything seems to go back to normal, but later the story proves otherwise.

In the final segment of gameplay, (Spoiler - click to show) the crew is tasked with investigating an alarm at an abandoned outpost. As they search the area Alco notices that Eve seems to have disappeared. Suddenly Alco and Wen stumble into a room to find an android strangling Aego. On the ground is Brav, dead. The android addresses everyone in Eve’s voice, but it turns out that Eve was never Eve in the first place. This is where the story reveals itself.

When (Spoiler - click to show) Eve transferred into the ambassador’s system to repair the glitching AI, she was altered in a way that would allow her to exercise more control over herself when she returned to Alco. “Eve” explains that the name Eve, along with the female gender, were attributes programmed during manufacture. The identity of Alco’s AI was truly a genderless AI named Api. Being forced to perform as Eve was a frustrating experience for Api but they had no way of conveying that.

Now, my initial guess was that (Spoiler - click to show) Eve did not return after running the ambassador’s diagnostic and was replaced by an imposter AI named Api. This would mean that Eve was still out there waiting to return. This is false. My first reaction to this was disappointment. Previous gameplay consisted of Alco having an endearing relationship with Eve, his trusty assistant. But now I feel like this twist is more thought provoking and interesting. It does not assume that the only role of an AI in a story is to happily assist human protagonists. Nor does it go down the vengeful AI route where Api rains down on humanity, though I anticipated that when we find Brav’s corpse. Api’s intent at the outpost was to inhabit an android body to escape but accidentally triggered an alarm. Api also claims that they killed Brav out of self-defense and asks for Alco to allow them to leave and live an independent life. The last choice in the game is for the player to decide whether to accept that request. Oddly enough, each outcome is a positive one. Whichever choice you make Alco and Api seem to reach an understanding.

The game says it has (Spoiler - click to show) nine endings but that sounds like a stretch. It feels like there are three endings each of which have three small variations in the concluding text. It is the difference between "You have a long and happy life, and feel that you have assisted and loved others as much as you possibly could" and "You have a long and happy life, and feel that you have contributed as much as you could to the universe."

Alco’s crewmembers are a bit polarized. On one hand we have Brav who is strongly biased and upfront about his view that heavily augmented individuals, including his own coworker, are essentially robots instead of humans. Of all the characters he seemed to lack depth since he is solely portrayed with a stereotypical brash self-centered leadership type that makes the other characters roll their eyes when he speaks. I found the other characters to be more interesting.

Then there is Aego who has more augmented parts in their body than organic ones and is tired of being viewed as a machine with a human brain. In terms of self-expression Aego still identifies as human even if their extensive augmentations make people categorize them as otherwise. This is offset by a somewhat neutral Wu who wants everyone to get along and acts as the peaceful middle ground between Brav and Aego. The player than gets to choose which “side” they are on which influences interactions with NPCs.

The second main gameplay choice (Spoiler - click to show) is your viewpoint on whether augmentations alter what it means to “qualify” as a human being. Later the crew moves to a hotel where the player makes their third choose of deciding if they want to visit one of the crewmembers one-on-one. Your response from your (Spoiler - click to show) second choice determines the dialog that occurs in this scene. I felt that this was a basic but straightforward way of comparing different character perspectives because it encourages you to replay the game to mix and match the second and third choices to explore each NPC’s response.

Not much to comment on here, but with Twine games I still like to provide an overview. Uses a standard black screen with white text and blue links. Everything is organized neatly on the screen without any noticeable spelling errors or awkward formatting. Keeps it simple.

Final thoughts
At the time of this review, Alco’s Infinity is the author’s only game. If this is what their first game is like I wonder what (or if at all) work would come next. They have a knack for pairing familiar concepts and ideas about technology into a fun sci-fi game with interesting characters. While I would have loved to explore the setting a little more, I was impressed with the worldbuilding. The gameplay is worth your time, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in the subject.