Delphine, the premier French developers, have applied their cinematic style to the platform genre, and heaven help us, it works! A new generation starts here...
The French have long been the butt of computer game jokes, what with their bizarre puzzle games, garish colour schemes, and appallingly translated manuals. But our friends across the Channel need worry no longer. If Delphine's Cruise For A Corpse didn't set the record straight, then Another World certainly will.
Another World is an arcade-based adventure game, but it's one with ideas far above its station. The programmer has sought to offer a playable movie - or cartoon, if you're being pedantic - and the result, if not quite up to the (overly) ambitious grand design, is certainly a leap in the right direction. We can only hope that many of the ideas spawned in Another World will inspire other programmers to take further steps towards combining real arcade playability with cinema-like direction and dynamics.
I guess what Another World really offers is what Cinemaware were claimed to have all those years ago when Defender Of The Crown first appeared - a fully interactive movie. Now, I'm not naive enough to expect anything other than a pretty linear plotline here (even the mighty Monkey Island is surprisingly free of player freedom - there's freedom of movement, but plot advancement requires things to be done a certain way), but that aside, this works very well as a piece of interactive storytelling. What Another World lacks in player freedom it more than makes up for in sass, class and sheer vision. There's not another game I can think of which shows anything like comparable attention to detail. You get the impression that everything has been fully thought through, and sadly that's quite a rare thing.
So how does it all actually work? Well, although the finished result comes across as very much its own game, it's easy to see where programmer Eric Chahi took his influences. The platform-ish running, jumping and combat elements can be traced to Prince Of Persia, or even as far back as Impossible Mission, while even the distinctive visual look (majoring on the remarkable animation and range of moves available to the main character) is similarly echoed in Persia.
The thing is, Another World doesn't stop there. Added to the stew are graphics routines, and pieces of finery which mirror those used in Cruise For A Corpse. Nowhere is this stronger than the lengthy intro sequence (those typically stylish French graphics; the way the hero walks right into, and then away from, the 'camera'). It's all strangely reminiscent of modern Japanese cartoons (Battle Of The Planets, Akira, whatever the latest one is!). This isn't top quality animation by their standards, but for the Amiga to pull off anything remotely similar is quite a feat.
But where Another World really gets interesting is when these little graphic interludes are dropped into the main game. Walk to a window and the scene cuts to a spectacular view of the alien planet. Pick up a pistol from the floor, and the view cuts to a glorious close-up of the gun, which our hero then reaches toward and picks up right before the player's eyes. These are things which, although in many ways entirely irrelevant to the workings of the game, help make it something very special indeed.
Imagine what sort of things might happen if other software designers picked up on this idea... What if, for instance, Psygnosis made sequences of a similar quality to their famous pre-game intros an integral part of the game design? (Okay, so in many cases it's probably going to take a medium such as CD to hold the amount of data required, but the potential is quite literally astounding...)
But back to the game in hand... and what a game it is! From the off, Another World really does try to live up to its title, providing a vision of an unknown planet looking pretty (but unsettling) from the word go. Having been transported to this strange netherworld through some million-to-one side effect of a doomed nuclear experiment, our hero materialises in a bottomless lake, prey to lethal tentacles that rise up from the deep. From here his fortunes go from bad to worse, as flesh-eating mammals and poisonous slug things hinder progress, and a very nasty (and very, very armed) bunch of aliens attempt to imprison, beat and/or kill our hero.
This action is achieved using a fairly formulaic platform-based exploration romp as the basis for things, but with the addition of a number of graphical set-pieces that make the urge to see what's around the next corner all-consuming. Squish all the slug creatures near the start of the game, for instance, and the player is faced with a huge iron-like creature. Run from this, and leap for a vine, and the vine breaks. Land back on the ground and run from the lion creature and two aliens appear, saving you from its jaws. Safety, you think. Or maybe not - the aliens shoot you, and you regain consciousness only to find yourself trapped in a cave with another creature. And so it goes on. The events, plot twists and logical progression of everything could almost form the storyboard for an action film, and how many games it is possible to say that about?
Of course, all this detail and ambition is going to create problems, and there are two real downsides to the whole thing. The first is the game size. Due to the complexity of the action and detail of the locations there just isn't that much of it. Couple that with the very controlled route you're forced to take through the game, and you start to think Another World doesn't actually give you all that much game for your money. It's fun while it lasts, sure, but you're going to get a lot more playing time from a whole range of rivals.
But there are so many plus points. The intuitiveness of the controls is quite remarkable, to the point where it's harder to explain how to perform a manoeuvre than it is to simply do it. Any game which sees the player get punched to the floor (his gun skidding out across the room as he falls) then picked up by a huge alien (all animated brilliantly, with appropriately sickening smacking noises) is to be applauded. And when that game then lets the player kick the monster where it hurts, drop to the floor, run across the room, roll to the ground grabbing the gun as he rolls, turn and shoot the alien in its tracks - without having to consciously remember how to do any of it - and, well, it instantly becomes a contender for game of the year.
And yet, Another World is something of a frustrating experience. On one hand, the irritatingly death-happy controls (I'm just glad that there's a password system to save trudging through the entire game again!) and limited game design are real downers, but on the other there's the sheer scope and ambition of the whole thing to think of.
To take part in something so visually exciting is too precious to let some unfortunate mistakes spoil it. It's a brave experiment, and while not entirely successful, it's close enough to provide an almost unbearable tease about the sort of thing we can expect to see in the future.
This game points the way forward, and we can't ask for much more than that.
Uppers: Near-perfect graphics (it's the animation and stylished approach that do it!) are combined with wonderfully appropriate sound effects, and some truly breathtaking setpieces.
Despite obvious reference points (Impossible Mission, Prince Of Persia, Cruise For A Corpse), Another World is one of a kind. Let's hope that doesn't remain true for too long.
Downers: The frustration level rises to health-risk level at times, and once it's been played through to the finish, that's your lot - end of gameplay. It's arguable that behind some very clever programming and design, there's little real game.
Perhaps not the true classic it should be due to its small number of locations and occasional lack of playability, but it's still a game destined to become a landmark. I can't wait to see what's next!