Retro Rated: Another World

Factfile
Developed by: Delphine Software
Released: 1991
Format played: Amiga
Ruminations

Arriving at his lab during a night time thunderstorm, Lester sits down to get to work on his particle accelerator. But a freak flash of lightening strikes the lab at just the wrong moment and in a flash, Lester is gone, desk and all, rematerialising in, well, Another World.

A 2 year labour of love from developer Eric Chahi, Another World is a side scrolling platform game that combines elements of traditional platforming, co-op play, puzzles and action. Famed for its cinematics and cutting edge rotoscope visuals, Another World garnered praise across the board on release, earning 89% in Amiga Power and reaching as high as number 20 in their Top 10 games before going on to sell over 2 million copies on its original release and being ported to multiple systems. Its blend of graphical fidelity, narrative and cut scenes would be a clear influence on games such as Metal Gear Solid and Flashback. Such is its enduring appeal that having secured the rights to the game following the closure of Delphine software in 2004, Chahi would go on to release 15th and 20th anniversary editions of the game, bringing the graphics up to date for release across Xbox, Playstation and Wii U.

Truly then we are dealing with one of the all time classics of retrogaming. There’s just one problem though – I hated it. Well, kinda. It’s a bit confusing.

Those Graphics Though

As we all know, graphics do not a good game make but such is the technical accomplishment here that before we spend time dissecting the game, it is important to acknowledge the visual achievements on display.

Right from the off, this is a technical showpiece. Lester’s arrival at his lab and subsequent transportation to the alien world are pure cinema, brought to life supremely. Tech has clearly moved on since 1991 yet this remains utterly beautiful to look at. Much like Prince of Persia, movement and animation of the central character is fluid and graceful, the alien world and its inhabitants suitably barren and menacing in equal measure. The screen is free of clutter throughout with no HUD or health display to ruin the atmosphere, the player left to his own devices.

There are sophisticated touches too that seep into the puzzles. In one scene, Lester can fire his pistol at an object hanging from the ceiling, the aim being to drop it onto the head of the guy below, who will otherwise light you up like a Christmas tree. But with the alien off screen, how to line up your shot? Why by carefully watching his reflection on the bottom of the hanging object, timing your shot to drop on his head as he walks underneath. Subtle, clever and effective.

Die, Human Scum!

Right, back to the game itself. It is easy to see why it has received so many plaudits. In many ways it was ahead of its time, creating an atmosphere and character despite the inhabitants being largely silent throughout. The world in which you find yourself broods menace, puzzles you must solve are challenging and multi-layered whilst action, when it comes, is intense. And yet…

Let’s take a walk through the very first scene. After emerging into this foreign world you find yourself in water, slowly sinking to the bottom. Feeling as disorientated as your avatar, it is all too easy to be frozen into inaction. And so you sink to the bottom and die. One quick reboot later, we emerge from the pool and pull ourselves to the surface. After taking in the stunning backdrop (and spotting a menacing beast lurking in the shadows), we head right to explore. Only to walk into a deadly bug, get stung and die. Back to the beginning we go. And so we once again swim to the top, pull ourselves out, head right and this time jump over or kick the crawling death bugs, gaining some confidence now as we keep heading right…and come face to face with a dirty great monster. Guess what? Yep, we’re dead and it’s back to the start for us.

This is a gameplay trope that repeats. Walk along and get shot by a guard before reloading from the last checkpoint, remembering the moment of death and taking evasive action. Blast out a retaining wall and drown in the ensuing flood. Roll through tight corridors that only show you part of the way, meaning that you have to take repeated leaps (or rolls) of faith, inevitably resulting in you crashing to your death. Or those moments when your alien buddy, who works with you to aid your escape throughout, is, unbeknownst to you, working on a solution to help you progress that requires you to stand in just the right place at just the right moment, otherwise you die. Again.

It’s like a beautiful looking Rick Dangerous. Play a bit, die, learn from your mistake, repeat. There was a particular battle with a couple of aliens that took me at least 25 attempts and looking up an online help video to get past, requiring several fiddly actions at once as well as keeping eyes in the back of your head. I almost gave up, writing this off as a bad job and it was at this point that I started to muse on how much I detested this so called classic.

But I persevered and gradually, having finally made my way past these two titans, I began to develop a grudging appreciation of the game. I began to appreciate the smooth control, Lester nimbly jumping, sprinting and rolling past danger. I began to enjoy the action, learning when to crack off a quick shot, when to squeeze fire to bring up a shield and when to hold it down for a full on blast to destroy walls and doors. I began to understand the structure of the puzzles that often required starting an action in one screen then backtracking and coming underneath where you started to complete the loop. And I really began to buy into the narrative, absorbed by the relationship between Lester and his alien friend, the two helping each other through this hostile environment, developing a bond despite the absence of common ground.

Bottom Line

Once you know what you’re doing, you can breeze through the whole thing in around 30 minutes. And those 30 minutes will be spent equal parts marvelling and berating what unfolds before you.

I started out hating it. I ended up respecting it. Either way, this is an essential game to experience for yourself.

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