Modern adventure games are a wide and varied bunch, with styles as different as Gone Home’s faux-horror teen drama and Telltale’s story-driven procession of accessible episodic moral grinders giving the long-standing genre a diverse lineup, with nearly something for everyone’s tastes out there if you look hard enough. Albedo: Eyes From Outer Space is catering to fans of shlocky B-Movies of the 1960s, as well as having more than a glimmer of 90s CD-ROM PC point n’ click about it. Go into Albedo knowing that and you’d still be more than a little put off by the way it goes about things.
So what kind of B-Movie conceit are you in for with Albedo? Well, you play as John T. Longy the nightwatchman for a secret facility known as JUPITER. Safe to say the night we join John, things are going a bit wrong at the facility, strange beasts are roaming the halls, and John must find a way out. The titular eyes are, of course, something to do with these shenanigans, and through a slew of first-person puzzles, you and John will hope to get to the bottom of it. Or just escape. Hard to say, as John himself seems to have the emotional range of a cucumber.
B-Movie inspired as Albedo may be, you’ll struggle to find a performance so insipidly one-note as this in any other game out there. Worse still, the echo effect on the dialogue makes the majority of the delivery sound like a series of loud farts being broadcast down a sewer tunnel. When John initially falls through the floor (purposely done by the way, not a glitch!) to begin the game’s initial puzzles, the combination of a poorly lit room and the unmercifully bad dialogue makes a terrible first impression. If you survive that monumental hurdle, then Albedo does start to grow on you just a little, provided you embrace the concept wholeheartedly, otherwise it’s just going to look a bit shit.
Considering this is mostly the work of one man, Albedo isn’t a bad-looking game. It’s nothing spectacular, often darker than necessary, and a little too rough round the edges, but it captures the low-rent naffness it’s going for. It’s a smart idea to use the B-Movie template to mask the visuals’ grubby messiness. One of the few times the concept gets fulfilled without much impact on how Albedo plays. Elsewhere, you see, Albedo really struggles to make the concept compliment the gameplay on a consistent level.
Take the puzzles, key to the experience, and at their best, delightfully clever things, with just enough challenge to make you feel smug and smart when you solve them. These puzzles are usually the ones with the daftest solutions, a key component of many older adventure games (especially from LucasArts) and completely in keeping with Albedo’s silly tone. The rest are firmly in one of two camps: insultingly simple or infuriatingly obtuse. There are several reasons for both camps existing, mainly though it boils down some iffy design work, and also to John’s monotonous way of stating very simply what things are when you choose to observe them, rather than elaborate in any way. That’s a hindrance in solving the tougher puzzles, and a bunch of obvious statements make the simpler ones even simpler. It’s never easy finding that balance to puzzles within this genre, and to be fair to Albedo, I’ve seen enough of them fall into the same trap, but here, because of the game’s silly tone, it’s hard to grasp if you should be applying logic, or going with nonsense most of the time. The law of averages here means most of Albedo’s puzzles are badly constructed and/or highly unmemorable, but there are still those few shining lights that save it from being a terrible adventure game.
Then what of the writing? Is there a solid, campy story to be told here, with tongue lodged so firmly in cheek that it’s touching an ear? Yes, and no. It is a bit camp, there are some amusing moments, accidental or not, brought on by the deadpan delivery of the protagonist, and the dreadfulness of the set up is expert level B-Movie fluff and nonsense, but mostly, Albedo is a bit dull and uneventful. It veers away slightly from its sci-fi roots to take in a bit of survival horror, which is fair enough, survival horror was born of adventure games to begin with. The same problem creeps up again however, because the tone takes away any edge it would have had. Hard to create genuine tension when everything is this hammy.
These bits also involve some gunplay. It works, just about, it’s not exactly like a FPS in terms of controls, but it’s clunkier style at least fits the more plodding nature of the game. The major grumble is that when guns aren’t involved as combat becomes a pain because it’s nowhere near as responsive as you need to be in melee combat. It’s a bit like Skyrim, if the entire realm was enveloped in treacle, but the enemies somehow were immune to its stopping power. This is another of those small things that could have been really good. Proper panic and terror brought on by tank-like controls works, we know that because Capcom made a pretty penny off the back of it years ago. A few tweaks to the combat would have created a bit more variety, and made sure that the survival horror elements weren’t so hampered by the brazenly ridiculous plot.. So close, yet so far from having a much better game on our hands.
Sad to say, but games like Albedo are tragic cases, even though you know most of its flaws are a part of its personality and indeed, it’s concept, they still end up being incredibly harmful to the enjoyment of the game. I think of games such as White Night, Murdered: Soul Suspect, 5 Star Wrestling and Bedlam as recent examples of this. It’s frustrating, you can just about see what the developer was aiming for, but it misses several targets, and instead we have a decent concept marred by a hefty lack of follow through.
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