“Another world exists that I must experience. A genus of people exists who I must meet. I must inhale the air they breathe–share their world at all costs.”
Known as Out of this World in North America and Outer World in Japan, Another World is an action-adventure platformer designed by French computer game designer Eric Chahi and released on the Amiga, Atari, DOS and many others. I personally played it on the Super Nintendo as a child and again as an adult upon its 20th Anniversary edition on the PS3.
Another World has earned its place in history as the game you’ve probably never played directly even though it has influenced later games that you certainly have. I hope you’re as delighted as I was to learn that Fumito Ueda cited it as inspiring Ico, and that the legendary Hideo Kojima, creator of Metal Gear Solid, listed Another World as one of the five games that influenced him the most.
If you’ve played through Another World, it’s clear just why both Ueda and Kojima, heads of definitive cinematic projects in gaming, refer to it. Another World is one of the earliest games to put innovative cutscenes and real-time cinematic effects at the forefront of its storytelling. It does not play like a typical platformer nor does it present its fantasy world through text like an average RPG. Instead, it leaves off with an ambiguous ending, it carries itself without dialogue, it creates a mood that is atmospheric, disturbing, uncomfortable, and finally, it stirs up primal emotion through simple touches, impressionistic graphics and short sequences of intense mortal danger. It is running for your life to nowhere. That conjures up themes of survival and self-preservation, fear and hope.
The title screen text scrawl (the game’s only dialogue) reads from an entry in the diary of Lester Knight Chaykin. The diary explains how Lester is lost in underground corridors, wandering, separated from his companion. The diary entry ends abruptly. Next, the game opens with a cutscene that is still surprisingly engrossing given how old it is, which builds up this pervasive sense of forboding as we watch a man pull up to some kind of facility in his car and make his way down to a basement laboratory. The would-be scientist is a theoretical physicist identified by his computer system as “Professor”. This is Lester. He sits down at his workstation and begins to operate a particle accelerator. Just as the machine has begun to operate, a lightning strike from the thunderstorm outside fuses with the particle and causes an accident that rips into Professor Lester and half of his desk and the floor, transporting him across space and possibly time and abandoning him on a barren alien world.
He immediately encounters hostile indigenous animals: a multi-armed creature that tries to pull him underwater, a group of black worms with poisonous fangs and a large bear-like monster that chases him. He is eventually “rescued” from the beast by humanoid aliens, who shoot him and throw him in their prison camp. Unable to communicate with your captors, the player must use their wits and the game’s limited controls to escape and navigate Lester through obstacles, alien facilities and armed guards until the poignant and eventual conclusion. Trial and error will be your motto as you try to come to grips with your varying situations, get stuck, get unstuck and figure out just what the heck is going on. But that’s okay. Dying in Another World is of little consequence. You press the action button and re-continue right where you left off. Too bad everything kills you. The focus again, though, is upon the cinematic presentation, not upon difficulty.
Though gameplay is at first limited to jumping, running and kicks (all of which are far from a gladiatorial level of prowess, remember this is a theoretical physicist here), the ante is upped when Lester appropriates a firearm from one of the guards. You’ll have to figure out how to use its shields and offensive capabilities yourself but it will be your best defense against the aliens in your path. Also, your escape freed another alien convict and you must learn to work together with him without the ability to communicate, if you expect to get through this adventure. Over time, your relationship with your alien “friend” proves to be the one light in an otherwise bleak world where everything is out to get you. And I mean, everything: aliens, venus flytraps, monsters, slugs, machines, doors. Playing through Another World I’ve been shot, kicked, crippled, mauled, incarcerated, incinerated, choked, punched, slapped, impaled, brutalized, crushed, smashed, drowned, vaporized, blown up, beaten up, and poisoned.
Another World becomes more impressive when you consider that it was all designed by one man over the course of two years. Exhausted by the experience, perhaps his life is mirrored in the journey of his game’s protagonist: dropped into the strange world of the burgeoning gaming industry and worked almost to death. Yet what he produced stands as a visual triumph that took the tools of the time and refined them and utilized them to dramatic effect. Most triumphant of all, in my opinion, is the fact that Another World doesn’t “feel” like any other pre-existing world. In the arena of fantasy fiction and sci-fi, that becomes truly remarkable considering the plethora of examples that exist. But what this game created is something that exists just for the short span of its own interests, something that belongs just to itself (lame spin-off sequel disregarded). Mr. Chahi has refused to design a direct sequel himself, wisely.
If there is a complaint to be made it is the one that contemporary critics put forth while simultaneously praising the game’s aesthetics, mood, imagery and gameplay: it’s that Another World is just too short. It won’t feel that way on your first playthrough trying to figure out what to do with this thing. But ultimately, the journey is too brief. Yet, perhaps it’s this brevity that makes Another World the gem that it is. It is too brief to get tired of.
The 8-Bit Review
Visuals: 9/10Another World is masterful in its use of visuals. Its presentation is evocative of surrealist imagery and impressionist paintings. This gives all of its environments the tangible loneliness and moodiness built into the game’s themes. The 20th Anniversary port streamlined and polished the original graphics to a crisp. Eric Chahi himself returned to his project for the retouches:
“Retouching the background in such high resolutions was not so easy. I had to find the equilibrium between details and vectorial design. Recently I’ve been impressed by the visual art of Sword and Sworcery by Capybara Games — how very soft shades of colour can work in pixel art. Finally, I decided to use subtler shades of light than before with some very crisp detail and razor edge polygons.”
The game has never looked better and it still feels visceral and fundamental. It still feels cinematic.
Besides for the loud and energetic booming of the orchestrated sequence with the text crawl before the game begins, Another World has a very limited soundtrack designed explicitly for tension and suspense rather than for musical beauty. The sound effects are terse and abrupt to match Lester’s harsh foreign surroundings. The alien dialogue is mumbled gibberish but it sounds real enough to seem intimidating. The sample below is all 11 minutes of the Super Nintendo version’s soundtrack, beginning with the bombastic and seemingly out of place title sequence followed by the more appropriate muted tracks.
You never feel like you’re playing an action hero while at the same time the controls aren’t abusive for that reason. Slow handling and reaction times seem to be because you are controlling a theoretical physicist fighting for his life and using his wits, and not a warrior accustomed to the use of his weapon. The gameplay, as it should be, is slave to the presentation. It’s a part of it. It seamlessly helps the whole sense of the game and what it’s about. I’d call that a success.
Though I think the opening text crawl detracts from the game, the rest of it boils down to some kind of survival horror. You hardly understand why Lester is experimenting with particle acceleration. You don’t understand at all where he is or why the aliens are attacking him. But it hardly matters. The story is carried by Lester’s vague hope for escape, escape from his captors and from this strange outer world. That one human drive is accentuated by all of the music and cinematics and gameplay to push you on past every obstacle. It’s more than enough in its raw simplicity.
Another World’s controls are easy to use and indeed intuitive. It will take a few tries to learn how to use the gun but that’s not because it’s difficult. It’s because it is an alien device and the game will not tell you how it works. You’re a human trying to use a piece of equipment that no human has never interacted with before. Of course there would need to be some trial and error, but the timing of the shields and lasers aren’t difficult to pick up on. Another World’s focus isn’t on complicated controls and what limited options you have available to you are easy enough to learn so that the focus is on surmounting the challenges ahead and getting Lester through his terrible predicament.
To my knowledge, getting through each area in Another World requires pretty much one solution. Whatever puzzles or obstacles present themselves to you can be overcome in one way and no matter how many times you play the game, there will still only be that one way out. This means that you can only really play through Another World after you’ve forgotten about most of it. I can still remember how to escape that huge lion-bear thing quite easily. I don’t suppose that’ll ever go away. The replay value would be even lower if it weren’t for the cinematic feel of the game that makes it more like watching a movie than just a platformer, and the replay value is strengthened by the 20th Anniversary re-release, of course.
Good luck finding something more unique than Another World from among its contemporaries. While other titles were fussing around with points and high scores and cartoon characters, Another World was providing a frightening science fiction experience for adults. It’s lack of much dialogue, surrealism, focus on survival and its atmospheric settings push it high up the list of unique games from the beginning of the 90’s decade.
My Personal Grade: 8/10
Creepy and unsettling, stark and striking, Another World is a grim and dreamlike gaming experience that is brief enough for me to recommend it for everyone to enjoy. Whether you like platformers or not doesn’t matter. Whether you’re into so-called “retro” games or not is irrelevant. Another World is one of the earliest games to pioneer gameplay driven by cinematic cutscenes and a sense of film viewing rather than just plain gameplay. If you haven’t played through this title before, you need to look it up and get a hold of it. It is utterly unlike anything else from the time and it cast a long shadow of influence over similarly artful games since. Even if you don’t enjoy it so much as I did, the one thing Another World cannot be is merely average.
Aggregated Score: 7.6
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