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It's needle time
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Discussion Starter #1
Three years ago, in 2008, three Finnish media professionals decided to add their own contribution to the already massive amount of gaming companies and created Turmoil Games. For geographical reasons, they never considered making a career in serious gaming, but eventually, the right opportunity appeared and, in 2009, after the adition of two more members, the idea for Alpha Polaris was born from their arctic minds.

Two years later, I was browsing Adventure Gamers and stumbled upon an article previewing this game, describing it as a horror-adventure game, which seems to be the new fad in the genre. Set in arctic Greenland, hundreds of kilometers from the nearest population with more than 4 people, the setting seems perfect for such a genre and a nice alternative to the usual gothic setting. Were the authors able to make this work? It really depends on your preferred style of horror.

The game stars Rune Knudson, a norwegian phD student researching polar bear habits in the arctic region of Greenland and a guest on Alpha Polaris, a station dedicated to the localization of natural oil reservoirs for future exploration. One morning, our protagonist is led to an injured polar bear and decides to trap him for treatment. On the same day, Al, the head of the center, returns from one of his newly found reservoirs with omnious human bones and a skin hide, much to the curiosity of Rune. Following this event, the residents of the station start suffering from nightmaric dreams and so our story begins to unfold, as a spirit begins creeping inside their own minds. Mythology seems to be a bucket of ideas of infinite dimension and this time the Algonquian persuasion was chosen, as our spirit is baptized as Wendigo.


Rune Knudson, our good-looking 28 year old biologist and phD student interacting with Nova. Notice the nice character portraits but weird facial expressions.

Despite the aparent cliché as a horror story, the pacing is actually quite well done and converges to a paranoid atmosphere of mistrust, even if a bit too slowly for some players. It's only after a fair amount of puzzle solving that the game starts hinting towards something darker and even then it takes a while to climax. This may put off some gamers who are expecting something with a quicker pace or suddenly appearing monsters. The majority of the story is actually transported by character interaction, which brings me to one of the game's strong points: the characters. The entire cast can be counted by the fingers of a single hand and, despite following certain standard portraits, the character interaction is actually very realistic, especially when faced with the sensation of impeding doom. The voice acting is top-notch, which is pretty surprising considering the actors and the developers are separated by an entire ocean, and it's the game's main vessel for transpiring emotions. The development isn't as deep as one would want, but considering the story spans four days, this is justifiable and any more would reduce the credibility of the cast. Sometimes during interaction, you are offered different options of dialogue, although these have no effect in the storyline. This offer some control over what you'd like Rune to be, but it's such a superficial implementation, that it's almost needless.

Besides the characters, the game is also strong in the sound department and I actually recommend playing it with loud speakers. The soundtrack is entirely consisted of soundscapes and fit the current events quite nicely. As the game furthers, the lush, light synthesizer keys are replaced by a darker tone in the heavier moments. At times, when stuck in a puzzle, I'd stop playing just to enjoy the currently running loop and do something else or reflect about what should be done.

Following the regular adventure game formula, the puzzles integrated within the game are mostly item driven, although not to the point of frustration that some games seem to take the players. Every puzzle actually felt organic to the storyline and there are no weird lock puzzles that involve a weird sliding system, which is common in a lot of games. This lack of moon logic, however, has the downside of greatly reducing the game's difficulty, but at least flow won't be broken. The only instances where I got stuck were during the deciphering of certain symbols, akin to the final puzzle in Myst III - Exile. These tiny little moments of frustration were the biggest challenges the game had to offer, which felt somewhat disappointing.

The other disappointing factor in the game is the animation. By today's standards, the scenery is rather bland and extremely restrictive. In total, the game has twenty different sceneres and most of them are part of the station or its immediate surroundings. This can be justified by the company's limited bydget and independent origins, but at least, intentionally or not, this goes well with the game's imminent feeling of claustrofobia . The character motions are rather jerky and during scenery interactions, I was actually reminded of the Sims, because whenever Rune reached for an item, the motion never seemed to meet the item's location, but he always seemed to get it. During dialogues, the characters actually remain static and instead we get nicely colourful dryings that show their emotions, which is better than nothing. I actually found these drawings preferable to most facial expressions we get from animated characters, maybe because it doesn't reach the uncanny valley quite as much.


One of the sceneries in the game, portraying the simple inventory system and the most common colour in the game: white.

The game also doesn't last as long as one would wish to. It took me around 6 hours to finish this game, which is below average for an adventure game, so if you prefer a project with a "Longest Journey" duration, then you're in for a disappointment. If you do everything in succession and solve every puzzle instantly, then you can knock off another pair of hours from gameplay and are quickly met with a rather disappointing and anti-climatic ending. Perhaps a few more minutes of interaction would have had a more positive effect in it. It simply felt something was missing.

In the end, Alpha Polaris is the obvious first child of Turmoil Games and despite all it's flaws. Pricing at nearly 20 Euros (28 dollars), it's also not the cheapest independent game in the market, especially considering its length, but I still recommend buying it if you're curious. Only by supporting these small companies can we expect them to fully flourish. With the right support, I expect this company to offer us more than this rather unpolished diamond. It didn't move any mountains in the world of Point & Click gaming, but at least it offered us a story different from a murder mystery or a lovecraftian setting, which seems common nowadays. For fans of adventure gaming, this is a solid entry to your library. I should also mention the fact that this game features a highlight system, which I find mandatory in today's adventure games where interactable items can very easily merge with the environment. The fact I never had to pixel hunt even once in this game instantly saves this game from the hell especially reserved for the likes of Black Mirror.

Again I ask "Is Alpha Polaris a horror game suitable for horror game fans?". If you think the surrounding sound and a character's psychological state has a big influence on the overall atmosphere of a game, then you're in for some real chills, especially in the latter parts of the game. If not, then you're better off playing Amnesia: The Dark Descent, a very good game on its own and with a different style of scares.
 

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Hackin 'n Slashin
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If only it wasn't horror I'd have been very interested.
 

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It's needle time
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Discussion Starter #3
That's a rather harsh way of putting it. The definition of what constitutes horror can vary from person to person, as it depends on how you react to certain situations. If it's scary or gory visuals, which put you away, then this game has none of that. As I've stated, it only builds up on its atmosphere, which, in my opinion, is the best kind of horror. If, on the other hand, it's the atmosphere which scares you, then keep away from this and any other horror recommendation I may state in the future.
 

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Hackin 'n Slashin
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28,630 Posts
Nah, it's not visuals I don't give two hoots about that. It just bores me, this scare factor that exites others to me is a snore fest. I don't care for mystery to be built up around what thing is out there killing people and only get to see what's really up in the last 20 minutes, I wanna see that thing, and then I wanna see that thing destroyed and that's all I want out of the movie or whatever but no horror is usually just set to keep stringing you along for pay-off at the end that if you don't care for the atmosphere from before pales in comparison to even the first 5 minutes of any action movie.

I only liked Scream for instance cuz rather than definitely being a thing it was far more likely to be a person and that turns it into a whodunnit rather than a horror story and those are interesting.

Now sure this one may also be a completely normal whodunnit at the end but it has a second problem. The setting. I hate total isolation settings like an island or some research station in the middle of nowhere these settings automatically make hollywood drive the hysteria levels of all characters other than the hero or heroine beyond even stupidly ridiculous and even worse make them conform to token characters I've seen before and already hated then and this just makes it worse.

And then in shooters for instance I don't like horror cuz it always one of two thing either survival horror and that just plain sucks cuz I can't fight back or it's a jumpy things shooter and those I hate because I can't hit those damn jumpy things without emptying tons of clips to the point I might as well just throw an infinite ammo cheat (well I usually do that anyways) on and keep the fire button pressed down and they rely on cheap nonsense to create the atmosphere like roars and scripted horror shows and bad visibility like torch light and yes in this case they do scare me which I also don't particularily like.



I do like point and click games though.
 

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It's needle time
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822 Posts
Discussion Starter #5
Nah, it's not visuals I don't give two hoots about that. It just bores me, this scare factor that exites others to me is a snore fest. I don't care for mystery to be built up around what thing is out there killing people and only get to see what's really up in the last 20 minutes, I wanna see that thing, and then I wanna see that thing destroyed and that's all I want out of the movie or whatever but no horror is usually just set to keep stringing you along for pay-off at the end that if you don't care for the atmosphere from before pales in comparison to even the first 5 minutes of any action movie.
Valid, if somewhat confusingly stated point. We definetely have different preferences when if comes to horror. For me, things are scary when it's my imagination doing the work and the creators only grant me sand paper for me to hurt myself.

Calling Alpha Polaris a horror game is pushing the line actually, as you can get past the game without a single chill. It really depends on how well you can immerse yourself in the environment

Given that preference, this game isn't for you.

I only liked Scream for instance cuz rather than definitely being a thing it was far more likely to be a person and that turns it into a whodunnit rather than a horror story and those are interesting.
True, things are scarier when they're just by the other side of the line of reality, almost crossing it to our side, however, I don't consider Scream an example of this. It could be scary because the antagonist was a regular human being, perhaps your neighbour, someone close to you, but the remaining characters really ruin it for me: they remove any sense of immersion I may feel, by acting in completely unbelievable ways, not just in the decisions they make, but in their reactions as well.

If, however, you're more interested in the background of the antagonist and his identity, then Scream is more suited as you've stated, and I respect that, despite not really liking the movie.

As a recommendation, Eden Lake may be suitable for you, even though you already know the identity of the murderers. It's more character driven than Scream.

Now sure this one may also be a completely normal whodunnit at the end but it has a second problem. The setting. I hate total isolation settings like an island or some research station in the middle of nowhere these settings automatically make hollywood drive the hysteria levels of all characters other than the hero or heroine beyond even stupidly ridiculous and even worse make them conform to token characters I've seen before and already hated then and this just makes it worse.
"Automatically" may be an overstatement there as there are good movies and games, which play on isolation (The Ruins, The Descent). What you have stated can happen in any kind of setting and indeed unbelievable characters can ruin a movie, especially a horror movie when it's supposed to be centered around them. Gladly, Alpha Polaris completely averts this.

I'd like you to share some examples of movies praying on isolation, but getting ruined instead, however, that'd be going off-topic.

And then in shooters for instance I don't like horror cuz it always one of two thing either survival horror and that just plain sucks cuz I can't fight back or it's a jumpy things shooter and those I hate because I can't hit those damn jumpy things without emptying tons of clips to the point I might as well just throw an infinite ammo cheat (well I usually do that anyways) on and keep the fire button pressed down and they rely on cheap nonsense to create the atmosphere like roars and scripted horror shows and bad visibility like torch light and yes in this case they do scare me which I also don't particularily like.
Well, no one has to worry about that, because this definetly isn't a shooter! However, by your argument, you've excluded yourself from a vast library of horror games, as they're either survival, even if point & click, or shooters.

I do like point and click games though.
Glad to hear some people still enjoy it. It was a dying genre, slowly being revived nowadays, but I doubt newer gamers can enjoy them, due to today's gaming environment, vastly different from that in the 90s.
 
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