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Were such a brilliant idea as this as brilliantly executed, we’d have a truly extraordinary game on our hands. But, as they say, if wishes were horses, traffic jams would be so much more brutal. Let’s get excited by the idea, and then let down by its delivery.
A large boat lies wrecked on the rocks of a tropical island. It’s rusted, overgrown with vegetation, clearly abandoned for many years. You see a camera feed of a woman waking up on a bed, pulling drips from her arms, and then noticing the working camera. She talks to you. She starts to give you instructions on how to operate the cameras.
The Experiment’s shtick is that you are, as of course you are, completely remote from the action, sat at a computer screen with the ability to access security cameras, switch on remotely operated machinery, and access the log-ins and files of the previously alive members of the crew. She, Lea Nichols, a scientist who had worked on the ship in a 1970s experiment that involved tests on humans and a peculiar new breed of plant, is helpless without you. Using a schematic of the boat, you can switch on lights for her, open doors and so on, which directs her movement.
The sense of detachment is superb. You cannot speak. The closest you can get is to nod a camera in agreement. She is autonomous, but entirely reliant on you. You are removed, completely unable to directly interact with the game. These rules are clearly set from the opening scene, where Nichols, essentially the main character, walks off screen to do something while you are forced to stare uselessly at an empty room. It puts you in your place. Together you explore the ship, looking for clues as to what happened, and completing objectives Nichols programs into computers for you. As you proceed, Nichols experiences peculiar flashbacks which you are also able to see.
We wish developer Introversion had made it instead. The actual developers, Lexis Numerique, were responsible for 2003’s remarkable but somewhat flawed In Memoriam. This time they set their ambitions higher, and missed by a wider margin. First and foremost, the interface is a terrible clutter. Even at the highest resolution, the windows are all far too large, can’t be resized (but for the camera screens, which fight back) and waste vast amounts of desktop. Since these are your windows into the game, they need to be perfect. Then there’s the voice acting. Nichols speaks as if she’s a robot in an instructional video, barking “Waiting!” if you take too long to instruct her. She’s impossible to empathise with, which severely breaks down your engagement with the game - an essential element.
The direction is weak, even lacking at times. For example, the ship is enormous, and you’re allowed to wander off into vast stretches of space that have nothing to do with your current objectives. There’s not enough indication of where you should be, and with so much disengagement from the world, this becomes very alienating.
The concept is brilliant. The story flops between cliche and downright weird. And the execution is deeply wonky. As a novelty, it’s intriguing. Anyone interested in gaming esoterica should get hold of a copy. But be warned - it’s far from perfect.
Mar 27, 2008