It’s amazing to think how much gaming has progressed in 20 years, (well 23 to be exact) the difference between games now and those made in the early 90s is staggering. When I first played Another World (Out of This World in the US) on my Amiga 500 all those years ago, it fast became the game I showed to my friends to convince them to give up on consoles and get an Amiga instead.
At the time, the graphics were absolutely mind blowing. The combination of hand drawn backgrounds with polygon models and the use of fluid rotoscoped animation along with in game cinematics combined to create a game that successfully bridged the gap between movies and videogames for the first time.
It was also one of the first games that wasn’t predominantly aimed at children, although admittedly I was six when I first played it. Although tales of a scientists being transported to hostile alien worlds is fairly run of the mill stuff today, in 1991, colourful platformers staring every woodland creature you can think of dominated the gaming landscape. Needless to say Another World stood out, it was dark, it was violent, it was punishing (even for the early 90s) and cinematic.
It was the first game I ever played that made me see the potential of games as a storytelling medium and one that certainly had a similar effect on some of today’s most notable game designers. Fumito Ushida has said that it was the inspiration for ICO, Hideo Kojima ranks it as one the five games that inspired him most and SUDA 51 has said it is his favourite game.
So when I heard that Another World was getting the ol’ HD spit and polish I jumped at the chance to put it through its paces.
The good news is that it is still the game that you knew and loved 20 years ago, unlike that poor excuse for a Flashback remake, sorry ‘reimagining’ from last year. Instead, it’s more of a remaster in a similar vein to the recent Secret of Monkey Island remake, although not quite as drastic. Instead the game’s original creator, Eric Chahi, has instead gone back and retouched the original rather than an outright remake by re-rendering the game in HD, improving the poly count of the original 3D models as well as the quality of the animation, remixing the game’s minimalistic soundtrack and sound effects as well as creating much more detailed backgrounds.
When I first started the game it didn’t feel like much had changed, that was until I pressed the button which allows you to switch back to Another World’s original visuals on the fly, at this point the differences in quality became clear. It’s a commendable effort too as these numerous light touches all combine to give the world of the game a much greater sense of depth than it had before, yet still maintains the charm and feel of the original 1991 presentation.
The 20th Edition also includes many of the various, tweaks and additions that have been added to the game’s numerous ports over the years, like the ability to play with the game’s improved soundtrack from the Mega-CD version as well as the introductory cinematic that was included in the 3DO version.
This provides more context to the game’s events than the Amiga version that started with him swimming out of a pool. Instead is Lester hard at work at lab using some high tech equipment that looks suspiciously like the Large Hadron Collider before being inexplicably teleported to a strange and hostile alien planet.
It is then up to you to try and figure out how to get Lester home. From the off, the game doesn’t hold your hand for a second and is incredibly unforgiving. You’re literally dumped in the water and told to figure it out for yourself. Alone and wet, stuck on a weird and hostile planet surrounded by beasts that want to kill you with no clue how you got there or how you can get home.
After dodging some vicious leeches and out smarting a creature that looked a lot like one of the dogs from Ghostbusters, poor Lester is then bashed on the head and imprisoned by a group of humanoid aliens, waking up in a cage alongside another Alien prisoner known as ‘Buddy’. After rocking the cage back and forth and killing one of their captors, the two attempt to escape from the high tech facility.
It’s at this point that Lester picks up a gun; a laser pistol that can be used by standing still and pressing the run button. Hold it down a little and it produces a shield for blocking incoming enemy fire and a little more and it produces a powerful beam capable of destroying doors and blasting holes in walls.
If you thought you died a lot in Dark Souls, just wait until you try Another World. If anything at all interferes with you, you’ll die. It is also completely unforgiving.
The indigenous population will murder you as soon as look at you, you’ll be crushed by rocks, drowned in reservoirs, skewered on spikes, vaporised by lasers, blown up by grenades, eaten, beaten and abused. But you’ll press on regardless because the game is just so bloody compelling.
It may not be much of a looker anymore; in particular the detail of the character models could have used a little more work, but the games brilliant level design and fantastic story telling still shines through even 20 years after its initial release.
The firefights are still as tense and exhilarating, the puzzles are still as devious, the world still feels alive and incredibly threatening, you’ll still worry about Buddy and you’ll still get pissed off when some bugger shoots you from off screen.
Trial and error (along with a large dose of luck) does make up a large part of the games design, but it doesn’t deter from the enormous sense of accomplishment you’ll feel every time you overcome a particularly difficult section or besting a tricky enemy. If you’re feeling particularly masochistic you can even try to play the game on its new hard mode which adds more nasty things to kill you. Alternatively if you’re finding it all a bit much you can always play on easy, which to be honest, is still a challenge.
The best addition for me though is the increase in checkpoints as getting through a tough bit just to miss a jump or get jumped by something nasty and have to restart the entire section again was always a pain in the arse. They also have the handy effect of telling you if you’re going in the right direction, something the original Amiga version never did particularly well. Then again, at the time that was part of the charm.
Hopefully these tweaks will enable more people to actually get to the end of the game, because despite being one of the best early examples of a narrative driven game, I don’t know many people that ever finished it.
If you have any interest in the history of videogames, or development, you should play Another World 20thAnniversary Edition. It is in every respect the best version of a landmark title and one that every gamer should experience at least once. For old buggers like me, it’s a welcome trip down memory lane. For the younger generation it’s a chance to play the game that inspired so many of today’s modern classics and creators.