This game has been out for a few months now and seems not to have generated much publicity, at least not in our neck of the woods, which is something of a surprise when you consider that it is also a movie tie-in. I haven't seen the movie so I cannot make any comparisons with the game, but I must admit I was not expecting much except, perhaps, lots of movie sequences to click through. I was very pleasantly surprised when this turned out to be not the case. From my perspective the game stands on its own and I didn't feel that I needed to have seen the movie to understand what was going on.
The introduction shows your character being abducted by aliens. They are about to perform some rather nasty surgical procedure on you when a problem occurs on board their space station and you find yourself abandoned in a tiny cell. Your first task, of course, is to escape from the cell. From there you must explore the sizeable, but largely deserted, space station to learn what the aliens are up to and to work out what you must do to thwart their plans and secure your own escape.
This scenario, like many recent movie plots, seems to feed on our fears of alien invasion and is reminiscent of the Sci-fi themes of the 1950's. It's an interesting phenomena that as we project our fears onto the unknown (or have them projected for us) we can only visualise aliens as evil, exploitative and uncaring -- much as we are. Or perhaps it is simply that movie and game makers feel the need to have instantly recognisable bad guys in order to portray the good versus evil conflict as simplistically as possible. To poorly paraphrase the late and much missed, Carl Sagan, aliens seem to have replaced demons in our collective psyche.
That observation aside, the game itself is quite enjoyable with a good mixture of traditional inventory-based adventuring and logic puzzles that will be familiar to those who have played games like The Seventh Guest. Don't despair if you have problems with logic puzzles, most of these are quite easy and the game provides an in-built hint system to explain what you must do to solve them. Also, after the third hint, you are given the option of having the puzzle solved for you without penalty. Having said that, I almost forgot about the music puzzle. This one you must solve for yourself and it isn't easy trying to identify the sequence of tones.
The Arrival is mostly played from a first-person perspective with 360 degree scrolling and an occasional third-person interlude. Most of the game involves exploring the space station, which looks remarkably human in design and construction, though you will need to visit other locations including a moon-based mining operation where, among other obstacles, there's a substantial maze to map and explore.
Graphically, the game is very impressive though space stations, even alien ones it would seem, are fairly sterile and metallic environments. There isn't a great deal of character interaction though you do get to talk to an alien overseer and a couple of other captives like yourself, who also happen to be of extra-terrestrial origin. Some of the speech is hard to understand so it is a pity that there isn't an on-screen text option. There is an omniscient narrator who speaks more clearly and helps you to identify some of the alien devices you must operate.
The interface is a little inconsistent and I disliked it at first as it seemed to break the conventions of adventure gaming. However, I did get used to it and it didn't spoil my enjoyment of the game. Basically, the game provides two icons; an eye for looking and a hand for everything else, including moving around, but often the eye deceives. When there is something of interest to examine the eye will blink and clicking on that spot will get you a brief description from the narrator, but sometimes you will find things in areas that the eye does not identify. In such cases the hand will indicate there is something to pick up, but you will not be able to identify it with the eye until you examine it in your inventory. Similarly, because the hand is also used for moving around there are times when you think there is something to pick up and you click on it only to find that you have moved to that position and that there is nothing to take. This is disconcerting when you are just starting out and trying to get a feel for the controls. In short, I found it best to look with my hand and not with my eye.
One positive feature I must mention is the option upon starting the game to choose either timed or untimed puzzles and I must thank the game's designers for their foresight and for not automatically assuming that everyone loves the challenge of timed puzzles. Needless to say, and it will come as no great surprise to regular readers of these pages, I chose the untimed option.
The game world is quite large and, thankfully, isn't confined to the space station, though this does necessitate a bit of disk swapping whenever you leave and return. The obstacles to overcome aren't overly complex once you figure out what it is you must do, the challenge is in the figuring out. There are a few hints in the data disks you find as you explore and solve puzzles, but much of the time the game barely provides a nudge in the right direction. You can pretty much explore and do things at will, but this can lead to continuity problems. For example, and without giving anything away, I did something on the moon base that I was later told was impossible until I had done something else first. A miracle must have occurred because I hadn't done that 'something'.
There are a couple of gory bits involving mutilated bodies and exploding heads which are probably 'cool' to those who appreciate that sort of thing, but for my part the game is good enough to stand without them.
Despite this, and despite my earlier nit-picking, The Arrival is a most enjoyable Sci-fi adventure that doesn't take itself too seriously. I loved the parody of the scene from the movie, 'Alien', when you inadvertently open an outer airlock, and the aliens of this game are so tough they have the head of an 'Alien' alien in a specimen jar!
You can purchase this game on-line from Playing Games Interactive
Copyright © Gordon Aplin 1997.
All rights reserved.
Pentium 60 or faster microprocessor, 8MB RAM, 4x CD-ROM drive minimum, A 100% Windows 95-compatible computer system (including 32-bit Windows 95-compatible drivers for CD-ROM drive, video card, sound card and input devices) Hard drive with 4MB of free space, Windows 95 operating system, Video card with DirectX support, Mouse
Recommended Hardware: Pentium P-90 or faster, 16MB of RAM, 2MB PCI video card