Last week, my mother and I played through a “horror adventure game” on Steam, called Alpha Polaris. It was released in 2015 but I had never heard of it – probably because it was made by Turmoil Games, an indie game studio situated in Finnish Lapland.
The game is set in Greenland, and you play a biologist/conservationist (it’s never completely clear what your job title is) on an oil research station. You love polar bears and are trying to keep them and the rest of the environment safe during the oil operation, but ultimately you realize that you are mainly just there as a publicity stunt. Regardless, you encounter a polar bear pretty quickly into the game and do all you can to help it and educate your co-workers about the animals. One co-worker, Al, really only cares about finding oil. While exploring a nearby crevice, he stumbles upon quite a bit of oil, but also disturbs some ancient ritualistic ruins in the process, unleashing a very bad force upon the station. Nightmares begin consuming everyone and things get bloody.
The game is set up as an old school point and click, which means a lot of walking across a screen, then walking across another, then walking across another, and another, and then having to do some pixel hunting to try and find what it is you need. What you need is not always clear, either, and you may find yourself pulling up a walkthrough on your phone out of frustration after wandering aimlessly for 5 minutes. The game is very linear, so sometimes what you need to do to make the day end may be something completely stupid like going to bed. Yes this remains true to old school adventure games (I cannot be the only one that went crazy trying to get the day to end in the first Gabriel Knight!), but it gets downright irritating. A lot of the puzzles are not intuitive, either – for example at one point you have to incapacitate someone, and after pixel hunting to find the object you need to knock them out, you then have to climb into a specific spot to jump them from above. I remember saying “seriously?” aloud at that part of the game because, silly me, I thought I needed to hide behind something or turn out the lights.
The story is honestly quite good. It is Lovecraftian and very much like “The Thing,” with everyone becoming paranoid and turning against each other, and bodies just randomly showing up. The inuit parts of the story seemed a bit thrown in though, and I never really get a real sense of the one Inuit (or half Inuit?) character, Nova. You flirt with her briefly but then she just ends up going crazy with everyone else, so that is disappointing. Aside from being stand-offish and yelling at everyone that they’ve awoken some horrible monster, she really does not do much, and I found that disappointing. The character you play is also quite frankly a wuss, which was irritating at times. Once you do figure out what is going on you do take the necessary steps to try and correct things, but it isn’t without a whole lot of whining and crying and freaking out. I realize this might make the character more realistic, but when I am playing a game I like to feel victorious, not mediocre. The last thing I will say about the story is it just is not scary. It’s not. In fact this seems to be the most common complaint against it, they have freaky looking artwork and even label the game “horror,” but it isn’t. There is a bit of blood, but no jumpscares, no weird “okay what is that noise? What is happening?” moments, no “OMG RUNNNNN!!!” moments. There is really no sense of tension or anything that would get your heart rate up.
VOICE ACTING AND MUSIC:
The funny thing is, I thought all the characters except the one you play were well acted. Rune is just awkward, and I suspect someone from the actual game studio voiced him because at least half the time his delivery just is not there. The other actors were spot-on though and very believable, and I thought the music was great and quite creepy without being irritating.
I won’t rate the graphics because hey, the game was originally created in 2010 and re-released on Steam in 2015. Let’s cut them some slack. 🙂