IFComp 2011: Andromeda Awakening

Spoilers follow the break.

Okay, I have to admit first of all that I was distracted for much of my time playing this game for the Comp, so I may not have seen as much of it as I should have. On the other hand, I also spent much of my time completely stuck and unable to make progress. Looking at the walkthrough afterward, I see some commands that I don’t think I would have guessed. The key thing I seem to have missed was that a cliff with loose crumbly bits is expected to provoke “PUSH CLIFF” — not “PULL” or “HIT” or “SHAKE”, which produce default rejections. Not that I had tried any of those either. To my mind, all of these actions, including “PUSH”, seem very unlikely to produce a reaction from a cliff face. And besides, the nearby alien dome seemed like a more interesting problem to be stuck on.

This dome is part of a whole system of poorly-understood alien technology discovered by the founders of the Monarch colony, capital of Andromeda. But lack of understanding didn’t prevent them from exploiting it to regulate the tides and generate energy, and now millions of lives are dependent on it. So when it starts acting differently, there’s a massive cataclysm. The player character, a scientist studying this stuff, is, ironically, rushing like Jor-El of Krypton to deliver a report warning about such a possibility when this happens, and winds up trapped underground. If there’s one thing this work does well, it’s conveying the sense of emergency here. One minute you’re on a train chatting with another passenger, the next minute that same passenger is trapped in the wreckage with some machinery through his midsection, and you’re trying and failing to rescue him before the entire car plunges into the magma below.

The early part of the game, when all this is being introduced, is very linear and mostly focused on storytelling. Once you get out of that train, it becomes more of an object-based puzzle game with some sci-fi gadgetry. And then it hits a wall. My last accomplishment in the game was activating an “elektron”, an portable interface device that you stick onto surfaces to monitor and control things. This seemed like a promising development that could have all sorts of uses, but the only surface I could find that the game would let me stick it to was that mysterious dome, which just made it report some technobabble and then automatically switch off. So this game is very frustrating to me. It has a story it wants to tell, but it won’t let me hear it.

My one other big complaint is about its odd word choices. Sometimes it outright uses the wrong word, picking something spelled close to what it really means, as when it describes that dome as “an inner sanctum of inhumane proportions”, or its repeated mentions of “cyanotic light”. (I could possibly believe that the latter is metaphor, implying that the light source is diseased or suffocated in some way, but it’s used in places where this doesn’t really make sense.) Sometimes the the words make sense but are odd anyway. It strikes me that naming one of the first rooms you enter after the cataclysm “Molten Span” is a particularly bad choice, because it’s ambiguous enough to be disorienting: the author means a rift in the earth with magma at the bottom, but it could just as easily mean a bridge that’s started to melt from the magma’s heat. It reminds me of problems I’ve had in the past with games that put a large circular shaft in the middle of a room without giving any indication of whether it’s a pillar or a pit.

1 Comment so far

  1. Emily Short on 25 Oct 2011


    The thing you stick to surfaces has to go on a wall that has a black square on it. Unfortunately the rooms in question don’t actually tell you there’s a black square on the wall unless you examine the wall directly.

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