Impressions: Alpha Polaris

Alpha Polaris is a 2011 point and click horror game. Being a huge fan of horror and a massive lover of the point and click genre, I was excited to give this game a go. Now before anyone feels the need to start thinking it, yes I know point and click horror games tend to not be as “scary” as say your Outlasts, Resident Evils, etc. What they can bring though is a strong sense of atmosphere, creepy stories, and a decent amount of mystery and suspense. I may never jump out of my chair while playing a point and click horror game (at least not as of yet), but I can still get a sense of unease and an unsettled feeling that follows me, something that I personally appreciate.

Alpha Polaris attempts to do just this by putting you in the shoes of Rune, a biologist living in a research station in Greenland. It attempts to capture the feeling of isolation and chill that movies like The Thing and games like Distrust go for. While Rune is working on his thesis, the Americans from the group (oil drillers) stumble upon not only oil but bones and parchment from an ancient tribe. As Rune investigates the finds strange things start to happen on the base including shared nightmares, ion storms, and other unsettling and creepy things. You (as Rune) must work to uncover the mystery and try to save the other people on the base.

Alpha Polaris is actually on the edge of being a damn good game. Most of what is in the game is either good or okay with very few low points. The problem is nothing seems to really hit the “great” mark. I am getting ahead of myself, though.

To get it out of the way, one of the worst aspects of this game is the cut scenes. It has to be pointed out because it is impossible to play the game without noticing. It is not to say the entire game looks terrible; in fact, it doesn’t, the cut scenes are just a major sore spot. They over-rely on bad CGI while the rest of the game takes a more artistic approach that looks much better. It becomes a rather glaring fault that is hard to ignore when the cut scenes are the worst part of the game. The rest of the game looks nice enough. The backgrounds are spot on, and while walking through the base is not the best looking, it is not bad either. The art for the characters themselves is well done, and while static is decent looking.

There is little else to call “bad” in this game, and I would even hesitate to use that word overall. Everything else is at the very least fine if not good. The voice acting is well done, if not the best I have ever heard. The music for the game is great but notable in its absence. I would have loved the soundtrack to be more consistent and noticeable, especially since it adds so much to the atmosphere of the game when utilized well.

What this game excels at is the atmosphere. As mentioned, you are in an Arctic base, which is one of my favorite settings for a horror game, movie, etc. The isolation, dark, and cold work so well, and it is an advantage that helps in creating the unsettling feeling you want from horror. In addition to the base itself, the game also uses the setting in developing a solid story.

Without giving too much away (in the hopes that some people might play the game), Alpha Polaris is about the Wendigo, which is one of my favorite myths/legends. As you play through the game as Rune, you slowly start to uncover the myth, why it is that you have brought this horror on the base, and how to stop it. It is a compelling story, and I enjoyed it. I only wish it had been more fleshed out. It is extremely rushed, which doesn’t help with the mystery/suspense department that is so needed in a horror game.

Overall that is my biggest issue with the game. It is a good game, but it is right on the edge of being a great game if it had fleshed out a few things a little more. The story itself would be my top focus on what could have had just a touch more, second being the characters. I understand the rushed nature because it is meant to be a shorter game, but there is a lack of involved character development. And we all know how much I love great characters. Once again, I can’t say either of these two aspects are bad though. They are good, just a little lacking.

The gameplay is also pretty decent. I am a lover of point and click adventure games, and this one is fairly well done. Most of the puzzles are cool and do help to progress the story. If I did have to point to a problem, it’s that it does the grand “confusing puzzle” thing that all point and clicks sometimes feel the need to do. Even with hints, there are a few that can get a bit difficult to work out, but nothing so out of hand that it should chase people off.

Honestly, at the end of the day, I feel like most of what I have to say about this game comes down to this- It is a good game that was so close to being a great game. With just a bit more work on a few aspects, it really could have pushed the experience over the edge. I was sad to find out that in looking into this game more I could not find any follow up from the developers because I genuinely thought after playing this that they could have easily made a follow-up attempt that would have knocked it out of the park.

As it stands, I would actually recommend this game for point and click fans, just with the warning that you might want to wait to find it on sale and expect to be slightly underwhelmed. If you aren’t a fan of point and clicks generally, I don’t know that this would be the game to make a believer out of you. I would say put it on the wishlist and keep an eye out because it often goes on sale and is a pleasant experience.

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