In the last few years narrative adventures have populated the double A video game market, especially horror-themed ones. Franchises such as Amnesia and Outlast, for example, have shown how it is possible to take another way to scare the player, setting aside genres such as survival horror or third person shooter mechanics that have made the fortune of sagas like Resident Evil. The Alien Cube, second feature by Alessandro Guzzo, belongs by right to this sort of new genre that has been able to establish itself on the market.
The key points? A fragmented plot, to be discovered by investigating the surrounding environment and various elements that serve to confuse those who, pad in hand, find themselves investigating in search of a solution to a possible mystery. To make a product worthy of reaching the market is often only one thing: the puzzles. Because yes, this particular type of game is the direct successor of graphic adventures, a sort of evolution, since being devoid of any type of action it is necessary to be able to solve a series of puzzles that intersect at every corner.
The Alien Cube does all of this and does it very well. And it also has a pretty solid history behind it, which deserves to be discovered. The premise is that of many horror games belonging to this genre: a lonely man, named Arthur, is tormented by visions and lucid nightmares, concerning a strange cube arrived from space. His night terrors become reality, however, when he receives a strange invitation to be able to take possession of the house of his uncle Edgar, mysteriously disappeared for a long time now.
And it is inside the house that his worst nightmares will become something of a reality. If the premise seems obvious enough, the way it is built is not: one of the biggest mistakes that can be made by developing a horror-themed narrative adventure in the first person, linked to a common thread that must allow the player to solve an intricate mystery is surely that of throwing too many unanswered questions at playing. The Alien Cube instead takes its time: be investigated slowly, without pressure, explore and have a certain freedom of action in visiting certain landscapes and different locations.
And each page, each painting, each diary allows us to add a small piece to the story. Without making too many spoilers, you understand from the first forty minutes of the game where the title will go to waste and the deeper you go into the plot, the more you understand perfectly what kind of turn the story can take, without however ruining the taste for surprise. All combined with the colors of Lovecraft: the game is in fact heavily influenced by the writings of the father of modern horror and it is noticeable: in the dialogues, in the atmospheres and also in that alien cube that haunts Arthur’s mind.
A perceived horror
Where The Alien Cube manages to give its best, however, is certainly the horror component. It is quite simple in fact to be able to scare a player by throwing at him a series of shocking images and disturbing characters, more difficult instead to be able to give him a feeling of anxiety, fear and haste with the whole environment.
Although the danger is imminent, it is not possible to perceive immediately and this work is the result of two important elements: a constant sense of anxiety generated by the idea of running away from a threat but at the same time having to solve a puzzle and answer all the our questions and the choice of the style used to create the game scenarios. Forests, furnishings, positioning and choice of architectural style, use of lights with environments that are not too dark and not too bright are all details that are needed to convey a sense of restlessness in the player.
Walking in a forest, wandering around an apartment where everything is left to neglect, moving in an environment lit only by fires and knowing that we have an enormous danger behind us, depicted as a sort of devil ascended in an alien world are all elements that help the player to immerse themselves in Arthur’s story.
The feeling of anxiety and fear is also fueled by the fact that puzzles can be solved only with exploration. The idea of not being able to find out what danger lurks behind a certain door, or being afraid of a roar or any other sound heard from the walls puts us on alert.
The game asks the player a question: is it safe to head in that direction? The obvious answer is no, but progression is inextricably linked to exploration, in order to find a certain mechanism, an item capable of opening a new avenue of exploration. And as we said at the beginning, these are puzzles that are difficult to solve, but never frustrating. And very often, if you fail, the fault lies with a careless exploration and a missed interaction with a certain object. The Alien Cube in fact requires calm and invites us to explore every single corner of its levels, because often the detail is hidden in plain sight.
A well-crafted horror adventure, but …
Just like the previous The Land of Pain, Alessandro Guzzo has again opted for the CryEngine as a graphic engine. The tool developed by Crytek, said the developer, is useful for implementing realistic graphics even through the use of photo symmetry.
On this we can not blame him: the game environments are in fact made with extreme care, so as to be almost realistic photos. Technically, The Alien Cube is made respecting the modern standards of the games belonging to the genre: a beautiful graphics, well-made textures and a soundtrack between songs and well-made audio effects. During the test, however, we ran into some small errors.
There are indeed a couple of development problems to report, but nothing that cannot be solved in the coming months with a post-launch patch. The first is definitely the interaction with the environment. In fact, the camera very often allows us to interact with a certain object, but leaving a view that is too large.
To give an example, to turn on a switch it will not be necessary to be close to it, but you will have a sufficiently large field of vision to be able to frame almost the entire wall. This risks bringing a sense of confusion to the player, who risks not understanding which action and which object he is interacting with. The second, on the other hand, concerns stability: while managing to reach 60 frames per second and keeping them for almost the entire session, the game suffers from micro shots. Also noteworthy are some crashes that occurred while trying to load a checkpoint and adjust the brightness.