04/02/2021

๐Ÿ‘ฝ๐Ÿ–ฅ️ Alien Function | PC | Review | "Vance Baryn might not have an eye for visuals but the guy can certainly put together a juicy set of adventure game puzzles!" ๐Ÿ‘ฝ๐Ÿ–ฅ️ @PixelHunted @StandOffGameDev #GameDev #IndieGames

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Let’s get it out of the way: Alien Function looks like crap. Stand Off Software’s latest is a car crash of pre-made assets, outright ugly character models and fonts that should be prohibited under the Geneva Convention. 

The game puts its worst foot forward on the title screen, showing a badly animated alien pursuing what seems to be an NPC from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.

I’m not obsessed with graphics, but at minimum, a game should have a coherent aesthetic and not be actively painful to look at. As it stands Alien Function is so unattractive I genuinely think it’d have been better as a text adventure, or at least with presented graphics so minimal that the player’s imaginations could fill in the blanks.

I’m only so critical because I imagine most people will take one look at this and write it off as shovelware. But, and you’re going to have to trust me on this, Alien Function is actually worth playing. Its charms take a while to reveal themselves and it’s never going to be on any “best of” lists, but underneath the godawful presentation is a smart, imaginative and devious puzzle adventure.

Again, first impressions aren’t great. The initial set of puzzles you’ll have to solve involves your character at his tedious space desk job calculating the pH of the soil in a spaceship’s rutabaga farm. There’s a very thin line between being intentionally boring and just-plain-boring and this game dances right along the edge. But the more you dig into the brainteasers the more you sense the care with which they were assembled.

By far the best part is the in-game computer, which broadly simulates Windows 3.1 (complete with Minesweeper clone!). Securing network access and poking through the hidden files feels rewarding, especially when you learn how to ‘hack’. This part of the game takes place in a text terminal and working out passwords, fiddling with admin privileges and copying files around goes a long way to making you feel like a bona fide Jonny Lee Miller (or Angeline Jolie).

About mid-way through the game, I got accustomed to the bad visuals and appreciated the speed I could zip around the ship and the clever way the puzzles were constructed. I got stuck a couple of times and felt the first tinglings of frustration, but some lateral thought and doublechecking what was interactable saved the day.

Sadly, just as the game heads towards the finish line it stumbles. The final section involves navigating a spherical robot around a series of corridors. Up until this point, you can warp between places instantly, which encourages experimentation with what’s in each location. In this segment you have to physically travel there… and your robot moves paaaaainfully slowly.

Want to try something in the locker room? Spend a minute trundling over here. Realise you’ve forgotten an item in the canister storage room? Another minute of your life down the drain as you inch back around copy-pasted corridors. Experimenting with solutions here comes with a built-in patience tax and there are few things more infuriating than a game needlessly wasting your time.

But even though Alien Function is undeniably flawed, it’s easy to forgive (what appears to be) a one-man development studio. Stand Off Software’s Vance Baryn might not have an eye for visuals but the guy can certainly put together a juicy set of adventure game puzzles. But in Alien Function Baryn’s talents are spread too thinly - I’d love to see what he could turn out if he could focus on game design while others take on graphics and sound work.

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