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Dispatches: Another World, Part Two; Or: The Exterminating Alien

Well, pleasant dreamers, I didn’t think I’d be coming back to write this follow-up so soon. When I returned to Another World after the extended sabbatical I’d taken during the finals, I fully expected the process of finishing the game to be long, hard and brutally taxing to my finely developed cerebral muscle. Instead, only a few days after describing to you, my faithful audience (I’m sorry, but does anyone else hear an echo?) of the trials and tribulations of Eric Chahi’s clever, but sometimes too-clever-for-its-own-good cinematic platformer, here I am arriving on our solemn little roadside attraction on the information super-highway to tell you all (I shall tell you all!) that I have beaten the game. I have climbed to the top of the mountain, ladies and gentlemen, and seen what I had to see. After it all, how would I say this ending compares to all the other games I’ve pontificated about so far? Rather well, I must say, except for one tiny thing:

It doesn’t really have an ending.

Now, this isn’t entirely the ambiguous no-real-sense-of-narrative-closure ending I’m talking about– that’s actually kind of nice, effectively leaving the player in the same kind of cliffhanger limbo the rest of the game’s mechanics of pitfalls is based on, stranding them in uncertainty of destiny just as the main character was stranded in an alternate dimension. No, instead I’m mostly talking about the lack of any real progressive movement in the series of events and actions the player takes part in, seeing as none of them really build-up to anything in the way of gameplay. Great games, the ones I love to play and analyze at least, are usually ones that teach you a skill-set during the course of its run and then save its final test for the end– in a sense, everything trains you for the last boss-battle, whatever shape that might take. MGS3 puts you up against the Boss, testing all the gameplay of stealth, sniping and CQC within the agonizingly short space of ten minutes, effectively asking the player to speed-run, as well. God of War puts the player up against Ares, testing all the pitch-perfect timing and pattern-recognition you’ve learned up until now in order to get as many hits in without getting hit yourself. Ico uses endless puzzle-after-puzzle throughout its dungeon castle to train you in fighting the Queen, the battle with whom pretty much takes the form of a giant puzzle. Even Zelda games require you to use almost every item in your inventory in order to beat Ganon at the end.

As such, it would seem logical that, as the great game Another World is, you’d expect to find yourself exercising the laser shield-and-gun timing which has formed the backbone of the title, being its only constant throughout a game dominated by excruciatingly individual puzzles, most of which have nothing at all to do with one another on the basis of mechanical similarities– that is, one puzzle doesn’t teach you how to solve the next one, except for that it shows you the next one will probably be just as different as the last one was. If there is a skill-set that Chahi prepares you to use throughout this game, it is resourcefulness, but the end’s puzzle doesn’t require the player to act any more resourcefully than they already have throughout, but merely just the same. Consistent creative solutions are encouraged and required, so while we may have satisfying problems from here to the end, we don’t have a truly satisfying conclusion, since the gameplay itself has not come to the same kind of climactic crescendo as in other titles. There’s no rising action here– it’s just a long, steady plateau of uniform difficulty throughout, for the most part.

Still, Chahi does keep things steadily challenging, and the presentation is remarkable enough that it doesn’t feel tedious. I was particularly impressed by the way controls became expressively non-responsive at the end– from what I’ve heard of an early “death” portion from God of War II, it sounds as if Jaffe/Balrog might’ve cribbed from Chahi’s finale. Furthermore, timing is excellently parceled out in the game, both in each level-cell and throughout, especially in the relationship the player has with the alien ally, which definitely looks like it was an influence on Ueda’s Yorda and Argo companions. On a narrative level, the bond created between the gamer and the principal NPC becomes the most valuable link present in the ending, and it’s one I won’t bother to spoil here outright, no matter how much it’s been hinted at here already.

Frankly, all I can say from this point is that Another World is a game that we owe ourselves to play, both from the perspectives of audience and creators, as players and designers. I’m not sure how well this game will hold up for me on the grounds of replaying it, but that’s something I’ll save for another post, possibly for my probably-just-around-the-corner ending for Link’s Awakening. Let’s just say that most of Chahi’s game is based on planning, rather than performance, and while that’s great for a first play-through, it might turn out to be less than ideal for another go-around.

Until that time, however, I’ll just say good-night, pleasant dreamers, and hope that all your slumber’s reveries end with a bit more closure than this particular vision-quest has…

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