Another World/Out of this World
If you are going to do bizarre experiments with your particle accelerator, then for goodness sake DON’T do them during a thunderstorm. It’s just asking for trouble. But sadly back in 1991 a ginger scientist called Lester ignored this sound advice and one dark and stormy night in his laboratory he falls victim to a terrible accident. While trying to reheat a Styrofoam cup of tea in the atom bombardment chamber a bolt of lightening strikes the lab. His tea super-heats and boils over, fusing the delicate mechanisms of the equipment and causing a rift to open in space and time. Reaching inside to try and wipe up the mess, Lester gets zapped though this rift and finds himself in…
A frightening place of stark jagged landscapes, patrolled by faceless automatons and huge black beasts. Quickly Lester is captured and dumped in a box, which is then thrown in a monster-infested pool. It is now that you take control of Lester and try and find you way out of.. Another World. This game made its appearance first on the Commodore Amiga in 1991. It was then converted across a range of formats, including the 3DO, SNES and of course the Sega Megadrive (renamed “Out of This World” in the USA). It is considered a groundbreaking game, as at the time it was one of the first games to successfully combine non-interactive “cut-scenes” and gameplay for a more filmic effect.
It also looked very different from many games of the time. It used quite stylised backdrops that somehow managed to look flat and three-dimensional at the same time. The moving characters were also made up of polygons and not bitmapped sprites. This meant they lacked detail, but moved extremely realistically. This gave the game an almost haunting, minimalist look. As Lester moves around the environments change using a “flick-screen” effect, in a similar way to the PSX Oddworld games.
As heroes go, Lester is quite unusual. He has no weapons to start with, no special powers, no bounce attacks or fireballs. Lester is just a man, with only his ginger hair and quick wits at his disposal to get him out of trouble. Controlling him is simplicity. He can walk, run and jump using the joypad. Once he acquires a gun he can use it in three different ways, all controlled by holding the fire button for different lengths of time. The actual gameplay is a mixture of reaction based jumping, shooting and climbing as well as a hefty drop of puzzle solving. You will die a lot playing this game, many of the puzzles can only be solved after you fail and die doing it the wrong way. However the infinite continues and small areas to restart from make it a less distressing aspect than it could have been.
In the first scene you are dumped in the pool, if you don’t hold forward to swim out straight away you will be tugged back by the creature and die. Restart. Then if you get out and walk to the left you encounter some nasty black leeches. If one touches you, you die. Restart. Get past the leeches and you are faced with a huge back beast, it will run at you. If you don’t run back across the previous screens fast enough, you will die. Restart. Now I normally I dislike this kind of “learn by death” gaming, but here I can just about forgive it due to the amazing atmosphere and sense of heightened danger and vulnerability it gives your character.
As the game progresses, another element is thrown into the mix. An alien prisoner who helps him escape from the prison they have been locked up in joins Lester. From this moment on, Lester and the alien cross paths several times, both saving each other’s lives in the process. Although the alien is just a humanoid hulk who does not speak Lester’s language, you do become very fond of him and wonder if he’s OK when he’s not around and feel genuinely pleased to see him when he does show up again. This unspoken characterisation culminates in a wonderfully poignant end sequence, which bought a lump to my throat even though these were no pre-rendered, emoting FMV characters, but small, crude polygonal ones. The portrayal of the bond between them is one of the games most impressive feats.
Overall the game is a real treat. The moody and plain graphics have aged well and are complemented by a suitably downbeat musical score. Although there is some frustrating moments, like having to repeat lightning fast pixel perfect jumps while escaping a tidal wave (and failing many times), these are out weighed by the desire to find out where Lester will end up next. For each illogical puzzle (having to faff around dropping a ball on a guard when you could have just shot him like all the others), there is “hooray” moment. The best being when you have to fend off the gunfire of the alien guards while your new-found friend races to break the lock on the prisons outer door.
The success of Another World influenced several notable future games such as Flashback. It also helped bury the notion that a more coherent, movie-like game had to have reels of real-life film and real-life actors in it. For the first time, the potential of videogames to induce empathy in the player was being realised, rather than just provide pretty ways to test your reflexes and puzzle solving skills. Plots and characters are ten a penny in videogames these days, but back then finding a game to involve you on an intellectual as well as instinctive level was almost impossible. For being a thought provoking game Another World deserves to be commended.
Lester does make it back to earth in the end. After his experiences he decides to give up science and settles down with his lovely girlfriend Betty Freeman, who he later marries. By interesting coincidence, Betty’s younger brother Gordon is training to be a physicist and gets work at a top secret lab in 1998. “Don’t play with your particle accelerator during a thunderstorm” Lester advises Gordon before he starts work there. Of course thunderstorms turned out to be the least of Gordon’s worries, ah but that’s another story…