The full title of this game is Alpha Polaris: A Horror Adventure Game. Starting the game, I was not sure why the developers felt it necessary to have that clarification in the title. This is classic hot-spot, point-and-click, combine-the-inventory territory, so perhaps it is because so many of the classics of this type are not horror, and in fact, are generally comedies which would not suit the horror genre: The Secret of Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle; the closest is perhaps Grim Fandango but that again is decidedly tongue-in-cheek.
Developed by: Turmoil Games
Published by: Just a Game
Release date: June 24th, 2011
Platforms: PC (Reviewed on PC)
Launch Price: 11.99 USD
OK, so, combine Rope with Magnifying Glass, drag to Oily Rag…oh, wait no – RUN LIKE HELL.
The world does not totally belong to Tim Schafer though, and while adventure may be still patiently waiting a mainstream renaissance, there were classics with darker tone, such as the Gabriel Knight series, and auteur Jane Jensen is still active as evidenced by 2011’s enjoyable Gray Matter. Alpha Polaris is of the same vintage, 2011 but re-released on Steam, but sadly, despite some noble ambitions around story depth, character development, and believable relationships, it sadly is a little too brief and a little too clumsy.
This is funny because he’s actually from Norway! Oh, how the long Arctic nights just fly by.
Events get off to a positive start. As a point-and-click, controls aren’t precisely going to have you spending a couple of hours figuring out how to map them to your G13. However, in a departure from many titles, the game doesn’t let you pick up everything immediately, so you don’t have a super cluttered inventory. This is also in keeping with the narrative; why would you pick up a tracking device until you have need to track something? This does mean you need to remember where items were that were once not accessible and now are, but I quite liked the nostalgic feeling of taking a note to remind me of something later.
Speaking of nationalities, this guy is from Ireland. Ireland is next to Los Angeles, right?
Graphics work well considering this is not AAA territory (as well as the year), with well-drawn pixels overlain with hand-drawn images when characters are speaking. There is also a nice touch in that reading the back story and finding clues does not automatically add options to dialogue boxes. Instead, you must type in the answer based on your understanding of the clues, to see if you really got it.
Sure, Al, because everyone knows the modern world values archaeological artifacts more than the oil you’re supposed to be here to find.
This works well for the most part, when reading and deducing answers in written form and answering accordingly. However, there are a number of sections requiring you to answer what you think runes represent. The decoded runes given to start are unrelated to the runes you must decode: how a hemisphere meaning “island” should enable me to understand some spiky mess means “shaman” is quite beyond me. This is the one game I’ve played where I have looked up an answer online in frustration and not felt that I could have figured it out with a bit more time.
While the qualified site foreman busies himself with Inuit history, the polar bear migration researcher goes to look for the oil. Because that’s exactly what a major petrochemical company would allow.
Where things really fall short is story and the dialogue supporting it. The developers have tried to come up with an original Big Bad, but this one was first spat out in horror movies in the early 80s. The explanation for this is clumsy and rushed, with characters who contradict themselves. One character despises hippy tree huggers and is an evil oil obsessed capitalist day one, but on day two he’s a font of spiritual esoteric knowledge. By day three, everybody is denying what they said the previous day. The character Al uses the phrase “jaunty fellows” on two separate occasions, which is peculiar to the point of mood breaking, and the “Irish” guy is about as Irish as a Budweiser at a baseball game. The worst offence is the random requirement to make a cake in the middle of the proceedings, clearly to pad the game’s length. If polar bears were being driven to murderous rages while you were trying to solve the mystery of a cannibal pre-history tribe, I doubt Baked Alaska would be very high on the list of priorities.
It’s not that cold. Get your finger out of there.
I don’t mind giving a cynical big-name publisher a hard time for poor titles. It’s harder when clearly the developers are trying something they care about in a genre close to their hearts. Perhaps, then, the title is a wise and fair one, as by making clear this is a horror adventure game, they’re pitching it at the group who is most likely to get some joy out of this, and letting everyone else know to steer clear. I would agree with that.