Written by: Stoo

Date posted: April 7, 2015

Hello everyone, here’s another of our discussion reviews. Today’s title, originally released in 1992, is the cinematic platform game Another World. It’s from a subgenre of platformers that set themselves aside from the likes of Mario with features such as relatively realistic character movement, rotoscoped animation. Given control of a vulnerable, limited hero, you have to deduce your way past a number of dangerous situations. Probably dying a lot in the process. (It’s a good thing you have unlimited lives).

Another World saw a couple of re-releases over the years. The 15th Anniversary version ran natively on windows, added more checkpoints and higher resolution graphics with new backgrounds. We’ve been playing the 20th Anniversary version with a few further new features including three difficulty modes.

We were both too young and dumb to appreciate this in 1991

Your first major challenge. Took me a few tries.

The first major challenge – get past the wolf-panther thing. Took me a few tries.

Stoo: Okay so, our usual first question is: what inspired this choice for our latest discussion?

Rik: Well, as someone who spends a lot of time playing old sports and racing games that no-one cares about, I kind of thought we should make more of an effort to play some of the classics. I say ‘we’ – I mean ‘I should’. Also The J Man requested this review in about 2009 or so and a discussion is always a good way to get it to happen. You can’t just ignore it and get distracted by something else.

Stoo: It does seem to be one of those acclaimed titles of the early 90s that is fondly remembered by gamers of a certain age. That is, our age.

Rik: But not, it seems, by us. Well, I can’t speak for you. But I never played it back in the day.

Stoo: Me neither. I largely missed out on those cinematic platformers.

Rik: It wasn’t the kind of thing that appealed to me at the time. I think it was possibly a little bit too subtle and arty.

Stoo: Right. It didn’t have the bright colours and instant over-the-top action of a blue hedgehog doing loop the loops.

Rik: Or the jokes of a Monkey Island.

Stoo: Also it’s pretty challenging from the start.

Rik: Yes, I noticed! I guess I never even got as far as playing it back then. It just looked ‘a bit weird’. There were all kinds of technically accomplished and highly rated games that I never played, for whatever reason.

Stoo: A bit weird and not instantly engaging.

Rik: I suppose the more you try and setup what happens, the less effective the game will be. So there’s not much of that. You go to another world. ‘ANOTHER WORLD’.

Stoo: A great intro but then you’re left standing there thinking okay, now what?

Rik: Yes, the intro is great. Definitely iconic. And very cinematic for the time. But then you face instant death!

Stoo: You’re playing as basically an ordinary human. With ordinary human jumping abilities and no weapons. You hit fire and he does this sort of useless kick, that’s just for dealing with worms. And that’s it.

Rik: DEADLY WORMS.

Stoo: Then a panther-thing kills you. That’s your first try over in about a minute.

Panthers, lasers and game design

Rik: Yes, it’s pretty effective to have you and the character both flung into this world without a clue what’s going on. All you know is he’s a scientist whose experiment has gone a bit wrong.

Stoo: It was possibly an offputting start to us as kids. But definitely effective now we sit and observe properly. You’re lost and confused on an alien world, entirely full of stuff that wants to kill you. And you’re not some hero, either cartoony or musclebound, equipped to deal with the situation. Just some nerd, basically. Here are some alien soldiers! They’re shooting at you! Good luck with that, nerd!

Rik: He’s not a scientist who happens to be musclebound and good at fighting. Or a scientist ON THE EDGE. I suppose these days, now that we’re used to having games where absolutely everything is explained to you, the merits of a different approach (show, not tell) are all the more obvious. A worm kills you so you kill them next time. But some text doesn’t drop down and say ‘these are worms, and they will kill you – use ‘kick’ to kick them.’

Stoo: There is a lot of trial and error involved. I sort of didn’t mind it, because it was part of the learning process of the game, rather than it being pointless repetition. Something doesn’t work, try something else. Die and have another go. Definitely from a time games were less forgiving. It took me four tries just to get past that panther. Although the answer is pretty satisfying when you figure it out.

Rik: I suppose games were shorter. So you kind of had to ramp up the difficulty.

Stoo: That’s a good point. A lot of old games can look pretty short if you know exactly what to do (adventures) or play perfectly (action stuff).

Rik: I’d still take Another World‘s trial and repeat system over, say, a Sierra adventure. I don’t think it lets you get too far along a wrong path. You tend to die in the bit you’re doing wrong, with one or two exceptions.

Stoo: Well yes. The prospect of going wrong and then not find out for two hours is pretty much my biggest fear now whenever playing an old Sierra game.

Rik: Sierra didn’t give you any help with the game, but they don’t have a problem with an animated head telling you something obvious, i.e. ‘You died’. Well, yes, I noticed that – how about not letting me get so far without a crucial bit of inventory’?

Stoo: What AW will make you do, possibly, is repeat some tricky sections to get back to where you died. Although less so if you play on easy – I think that has more checkpoints?

Rik: Yes, I meant to check how much help you have with the original release. I suspect the checkpoints are an Anniversary Edition addition? I guess it’s a balance. If you could quicksave after every tough bit it’d be over in no time. [Edit: subsequent research suggests that there were some checkpoints in the original, but significantly more were added for the 15th Anniversary Edition.]

Stoo: That’s true.

Shootouts can be tricky,

Shootouts can be tricky,

Rik: But it is annoying to have to go back if you’ve only just scraped through a hard section, and sometimes you don’t know if you’ve just taken the wrong approach or you’re being crap at the right approach.

Stoo: There can be some moments of going one way, dying, and wondering if you should just go another way, or try another tunnel. But playing on easy mode I wasn’t generally too frustrated.

Rik: There are a number of challenges: running/jumping, working something out, and combat. To be honest I generally enjoyed the first two. There was something very enjoyable about reacting to a situation on instinct. Like running away from enemy fire, or a room filling with water. But combat…there were some tough moments.

Stoo: There’s one memorable fight scene against three guys at once, two on one side, one on the other. That took me several tries. Your gun has three operations – shield, break shield, regular shot, and you have to make use of all three.

Rik: The combat is quite clever. It’s an innovative way around the one-button joysticks of the day. Firefights sometimes involve a particular strategy involving multiple shields, shield breaks and hammering the regular shot.

Stoo: You can’t just spam shield breaker as it takes too long to charge.

Rik: And you pretty much die after one shot, right?

Stoo: I think so, yep. And regular shots either don’t affect shields, or at least take too long to break them down.

Rik: It’s after those bits you don’t want to die on the next screen.

Stoo: After a difficult fight I was creeping through the next screen like a timid little mouse. If anything had killed me then I might have ragequit in a spectacular manner.

Rik: I guess it does all add to the sense of adventure. I’d rate the balance of it all roughly ok. Some rage moments but I didn’t mind redoing some bits. Too many checkpoints would have felt cheap.

Stoo: You have to work a bit for your checkpoint, and that’s probably a good thing.

Rik: You can fluke the odd moment but not through the whole game.

Stoo: There are some environmental puzzles as well. I recall one bit was about stopping up a waterfall, and draining some caves? That took a bit of deducing.

Rik: Yep. As I mentioned, I quite liked those instinctive ‘RUN AWAY!’ moments. But yes, you could get stuck there.

Stoo: Fleeing a torrent of water and avoiding the bitey-worm things. Also there’s the odd clever moment like, shooting a light fitting to drop on a guard’s head, out of sight. You look for him in the reflection.

Rik: Yes. It reminds me of these modern indie puzzlers. Not that I’ve played a lot of them, but even something like Nightsky. A combination of a bit of thought, and some dexterity (both of which I generally lack) will get you through. All without a complex control scheme.

Stoo: Right, just a matter of figuring out how you can interact with the environment, and being precise about your actions. (And again maybe some trial and error).

Rik: Having simple controls reduces the number of ways you could be wrong, down to ‘you’re probably just being shit’.

Another World of Vector People

Our hero in a cutscene. The use of vectors for characters was quite novel.

The cutscenes are still quite striking.

Stoo: We should probably also talk about the graphics, as they were one of the standout features. Also, we’re playing the 20th Anniversary version, which lets you freely switch between HD graphics and the originals.

Rik: I thought the update was pretty effective. The old graphics are perfectly fine, although I’d run it in a window if I was going to use them. I don’t mind blocky graphics, but not stretched out to 1400 x 900.

Stoo: The vectors (basically 2D polygons) for the characters were revolutionary for the time. Lots of fluid, convincing looking animation, since they weren’t limited to pre-drawn sprites

Rik: Impressive, although again part of the reason I didn’t take notice as a kid. All the games that were progressive graphically didn’t appeal. From those early 8-bit 3D efforts – Driller and Castle Master etc. – to ST games like Damocles, I just thought, nah, give me cartoony sprites anytime. Another World has aged rather well, and the sharpened graphics don’t just look like a quick job. (Whether they were or not, I don’t know). But it looks better than when you put filters on an emulator to smooth everything out.

Stoo: The new backgrounds look wonderful – atmospheric and evocative. Helps bring across that sense of being in an alien world.

Rik: It could be a modern indie title as far as I’m concerned.

Stoo: Whether or not sharpening up the character model aids them, I’m actually unsure. It makes the lack of detail more obvious.

Rik: I think it works stylistically. I mean, I’d rather it was abstract, than someone decided to overhaul the graphics and give them a lot of detail. It adds to the arty vibe.

Stoo: That’s true. The remastering does maintain a certain sparse, harsh aesthetic. I like it more than, say, the Monkey Island remasters. Also, yes, I can see modern indie devs making games that look a lot like this remastered version. They probably already have! Seeing as about 874 new indie games seem to be announced every month.

Rik: Even though they’re not alike really, I was reminded of NightSky. I haven’t played Limbo, but you have…?

Stoo:  Ah yes, I have. Thoroughly depressing game. It’s meant to be, but still.

Rik: Any similarities?

Stoo: No real combat in that, just avoiding stuff and interacting with environment. It’s got some common ground, for sure.

Rik: The lack of HUD, clues, other visual indicators. It’s the kind of thing that’s fashionable again. It must mean Another World was ahead of its time a little. I think the sound and music was also very effective.

Stoo: I seem to recall hearing shooting offscreen sometimes? To let you know bad guys were around.

Rik: It’s great to notice clever little touches like that…

Stoo: Possibly because Buddy was in trouble. Oh man, we should probably mention Buddy! Your one ally. His part in the game is very effective given the lack of dialogue.

Rik: A wordless friendship. Another example of how everything doesn’t have to be spelled out for you to get it.

Stoo: There’s a guy alongside you, not trying to kill you. So you should probably work alongside him.

Rounding up

Rik: Going back to the 20th anniversary port, I thought it was all great, except the controls kept messing up for me. Did you have any issues?

Stoo: I don’t recall any serious glitches… I was on keyboard, I don’t know if that makes a difference.

Rik: The controls would just stop working at various points for me on keyboard. Not a big deal, a restart of your save should sort it. But definitely annoying.

Stoo: You got further in the game than me, so I’ll have to leave it to you to say, what are the last few levels like? Does it get super-tough?

Rik: There are some very hard bits. One combat bit where I was seriously wondering how it was possible.

Stoo: Also does Buddy live!!!?!

Rik: I think it’s best we don’t spoil the game too much. I’m sure you’ll get to the end. It’s worth it.

I meant to do that. I think?

I meant to do that. I think?

Stoo: Yes, I will have to actually finish this one. I’m quite keen to. Unless I have a ragequit moment but hopefully on easy it’s doable for hamfisted incompetents like me.

Rik: There’s a bit where you have to work out how to pilot a ship, and you’re just mashing the controls to work it all out. I thought that was very effective. It reminded me of the much derided QTEs of the modern era. To use another dreaded term, but from the 90s, the words ‘interactive movie’ did cross my mind too. Here, you’re in a situation, press some buttons.

Stoo: Press up at the right time to not die?

Rik: Press X to feel sad.

Stoo: I tend to not be a huge QTE fan – they’re too abstracted from what your character is actually doing. But I should probably experience this first-hand before making a judgement.

Rik: I think here it’s quite effective. You’re flailing about trying to work how to make an alien spaceship fly. What you’re doing on the keyboard mirrors what you’d be doing if you were Lester. Playing Another World, you realise it’s ok not to be in control of absolutely everything. As long as you feel involved enough. Pressing left or right at the appropriate time can be effective too.

Stoo: It does sound like the right context for that sort of control setup.

Rik: Am looking down my notes. Was there anything else you wanted to mention before we come to overall verdict?

Stoo: I think that’s everything on my list.

Rik: I only have one thing – I must admit to getting this mixed up with Flashback.

Stoo: Same! I was reading Flashback reviews on Mobygames for 10 minutes before I realised my error.

Rik:  *Hands in retro gamer ID* “Sir, this was revoked long ago, when you slagged off Sensible Soccer and Speedball 2.” I’d like to give Flashback a go some time, but who knows if it’ll ever happen.

Stoo: Same for me and Prince of Persia. Anyway, I can see why this game was so well thought of at the time and it definitely warranted a re-release.

Rik:  Absolutely. Also, I think it gets easier once you’ve finished it once, and for those who know what they’re doing, it’s over in a hour or two, which I think makes it an easy one for fans to revisit and enjoy. What do you reckon about an overall score?

Stoo: 8/10?

Rik: I was going to go with 7. But I’m a bit harsh I guess. I’ve decided to try and be a bit more generous this year.

Stoo: Well you played more extensively than myself so I can defer to you!

Rik: Let’s round up, why not.

Stoo: Okay. So we reckon: It’s atmospheric and compelling, with a mix of reflexes and using your brain. Definitely worth playing, or returning to.

Rik: Agreed.