Alien Incident and my journey to adventure games

Last time I reviewed Alien Incident (Muukalaisten Yö), the very first adventure game I ever played. The game was very important to me for several reasons. For one, it was the first legit PC-game I ever got to play. When our dad bought us our first computer in the mid-90s, me and my sister spent a lot of time playing or rather playing around with a variety of “Multimedia CD-Roms” (the most frequently used were the Lion King: Interactive Story Book and I think Moomins at Sea).

Alien Incident was something different and I also remember that our dad had no clue how to make the frickin’ thing run since it only supported MS-DOS (and all the “games” we had for the PC at the time ran straight off the CD on Windows 95). So what did we do? We turned to our grand-dad who thankfully had owned a computer for a few years already. He installed AI for us and I happily played the game for the next three or so years and actually managed to beat it.

Here’s my little retrospective and over-view of the game. It may include a few spoilers but I’ll avoid giving any solutions to puzzles as I do.

“It’s a Halloween Night…”

collage01I remember being blown away by the intro the first time we got the game running. The awesome voice-over explaining the what’s happening at the start and then being introduced to the two central figures of the game, Ben and his uncle Albert. This game is the first time I ever heard about worm-holes along with a lot of other science fiction concepts. In fact it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to say that this game might have made me the sci-fi geek I am today (although I’d already seen Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi by this point).

One thing I have to say in retrospect is that it seems to me that Housemarque writers forgot their basic astral physics and keep using the terms (solar) system and galaxy interchangeably. Admittedly, the “Meanwhile, in a Galaxy far, far away” text, was probably intended more as a tongue-in-cheek Star Wars reference, it still bugs me since in the immediate following scene Ben’s uncle (the jokingly named Albert Einstone) declares that the aliens have come from the Killian system: a measly 60 light years away (the Milky Way is a 100’000 light years side-to-side).

A little scientific inaccuracy beside, what the intro immediately shows is that the aliens are both a serious threat and a source of comic hilarity. The evil alien leader, Boss, shouts at his cronies with a deep manly voice while the inept tiny white aliens keep stuttering and talking in funny voices. When the aliens come for Ben‘s uncle Albert in their techno-thumping spacecraft the basic setup of the game is set.

The Key Hunt

collage02I maybe attribute my thoroughness in playing the game as a child to the fact that playing an adventure game for the first time was such a thrilling and novel experience for me. It’s funny since playing the game again, over a decade later I kept ignoring certain interactive items and had to keep coming back to search different rooms over and over again.

What’s fun about looking around the mansion is that Housemarque clearly knew to allow the game to have a very broad sense of humour. From something as obvious as the Floppy-Toaster and the milk in the fridge (designed to help with the over-population of the planet) to something more subtle like the skull in Ben’s room. There are even nice weird little touches such as the stuffed owl that moves and the Indian arrow that comes out of the TV when you put a video-cassette inside.

You are also immediately introduced to some of the adventure-game essentials: a crowbar, a length of rope and some kind of serum or potion. In fact the whole first part of the game actually suffers from a bit of what I like to call an “inventory explosion”. In most adventure games you have to struggle to find useful items from your surroundings. In this game, you’ll amount more items than you’ll literally know what to do with. As mentioned in the review, one of the more annoying things about the game is that you can’t view all of your inventory items all at once and as a result you may even forget that you’re carrying certain items.

In any event all the actions in the first part of the game become about finding the correct key. Whether it’s the key to the library or the key to the mysterious padlock, it seems that Ben spends an awful lot of time looking for ways to open doors, in spite of the fact that he’s carrying a crowbar from the very beginning. This is another annoying aspect of the game, the fact that there are several items you only ever use once but Ben still keeps lugging around for no apparent purpose.

To fight off the monotony though the game keeps serving you cut-scenes of the alien boss being annoyed by one of his underlings.

Out of the Mansion and into the Woods

collage03Once you find the secret elevator and get out from the sewer the aliens finally search the house and leave. It’s sort of funny how you spend the first part of the game looking for a way out and the aliens just happen to leave once you do. At this point however, you’ll begin to appreciate the effort the Housemarque crew put into the game’s environments and music. Outside in the dark night, you’ll still have a creepy feeling… even after you light a mailbox full of dynamite on fire.

I think Housemarque must have taken a bulk of their inspiration from LucasArts’ The Secret of Monkey Island. Despite the romantic and mysterious atmosphere created by the night, you keep running into characters more loony than the last, whether it’s the shouting Antique salesman from the 24 Hour Antique shop, the Hippy chained to a tree playing a handheld gaming device (wink, wink) or the old man sitting in the hole of a tree.

Oh yeah, that last guy is Yodle. I don’t know why but somehow I felt really surprised to run into the character who was only very briefly mentioned in the game’s opening. The fact that he’s not only a central figure in the story but also helps you out is what always surprised me the most. Now of course, most of you realise the obvious similarity of his name with Yoda and it’s probably not a coincidence at all. A large chunk of the conversation between him and Ben is lifted straight from A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, when Yodle confesses to being Ben’s grandfather. We learn a great deal about Ben’s past which is something I had forgotten from my initial playing experiences.

This part of the game probably has the most refined puzzle solving (in spite of the dynamite in the mail-box) as the player is required to take apart and operate numerous things as well as backtrack to the mansion to get all the necessary parts for completing the teleporter puzzle. However, what I remember best from this part from playing it as a child (besides the Hippy and Yodle) is feeding a piece of moldy bread to the parrot. It’s so cruel yet funny at the same time, I remember laughing myself silly at that part.

Down to the Caves

collage04Of course, what adventure game would be complete without a trip down to some creepy caves. I can be glad that Alien Incident made me familiar with most typical Adventure Game milieu-types, including the eternally repeated, weird stuff written on a tombstone gag in the cemetery. It’s definitely not the finest example from the realm of adventure-gaming but it’s nice that Housemarque made the attempt. Also, the graveyard music is one of my favorite themes from the game, which is a shame since it only plays on one screen in the whole game

Before going to the underwater depths you need to get the diving suit which Ben puts on with surprising ease (another part that made me crack up when I was younger). However, I’d like to point out another logic problem of the game which is that Ben not only carries a crowbar but also later a lock-pick with him yet he still has to dive underwater after a key to a locked door.

The prelude section to the actual cave-part of the game has probably one of the worst examples of a “gimme”-puzzle. This term, along with cutscene, was coined by Ron Gilbert, the principal creator of LucasArts’ Monkey Island games. In essence a gimme puzzle is something that simply requires the player to click the correct parts of the screen without thinking about the solution at all. In Alien Incident this takes the form of three switches the player has to pull and push just to get into the caves. One is to shine a light revealing the switch which will turn off the machine putting out steam that prevents you from stopping the propeller that prevents you from entering a cave. It’s a monotonous exercise in pressing one thing in order to press another.

Once down in the caves you’re immediately treated to what is possibly the most beautiful piece of music in the game and unfortunately, once again, it only plays on one screen in the whole game.

Heading into the catacombs you really get an unsettling feel, which is made worse when you realise the maze-like structure of the caves. Maze-like is actually me exaggerating a bit, but you may shit a brick the first time thinking that you may not be able to find your way back. Just to give people some relief though, the cave actually has a very simple pattern to follow, but as a kid this part did definitely make me nervous.

At the very bottom of the caves you finally encounter Awlox, the shiny manta ray resembling Entity which the aliens are looking for. With his help and a teleporter phone-number your quest can finally head towards the grand finale.

Waiting Rooms, Laser Bars and Escape Pods

collage05After the creepy excitement of the caves, the final part on the alien ship is actually a bit of a let down. There are only a few locations you can go to and this part of the game suffers from a problem of leaving everything for the player to find in the wide open. However, this is also the part where you can get permanently stuck, so I guess it evens out the incredible easiness of the first part.

It’s sort of interesting seeing all the varieties of aliens on board the ship, not just the little white ones you’ve seen through most of the game. In the end though, the game once again becomes a hunt for key… cards. It’s not much of a hunt as most of them are lying around in the open and one of them is actually given to you by Boss himself. It’s just a shame that Housemarque didn’t feel like putting a tad more effort into the puzzle designs of this part of the game.

In the end the Alien ship gets destroyed, while Ben, uncle Albert and Yodle escape. The ending has probably one of the few truly touching moments from the game when Albert and Yodle think Ben’s been killed in the escape pod’s crash. This of course is until you realise that this whole part of the ending is lifted straight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (right down to Ben recovering his baseball cap the same way Indy did with his fedora). Never the less, it’s easy to get choked up especially thanks to the music. Also, as a Finn I’d like to think that Housemarque might have planted a very, very subtle Ginga Nagareboshi Gin reference into the style of music and Yodle’s screaming (but this might be just my inner Otaku).

Still, Housemarque deserves credit for making such a memorable and funny experience. The game undoubtedly couldn’t compete with the likes Broken Sword: The Shadow’s of the Templars or even The Curse of Monkey Island (which was released a year later), in either epicness or story. However, considering this was Housemarque’s first and last adventure game, they did a decent job and certainly made a game that made me a fan of the genre instantly.

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