Arrival, The Download (1997 Adventure Game)

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The Arrival is based on a movie of the same name. I vaguely remember hearing of the movie The Arrival, but I never saw it. No matter, the game stands alone quite nicely. The Arrival, the game, begins with the nameless hero standing in a field observing some kind of strange activity, and then he is abducted by aliens. Then some aliens are about to perform some invasive medical procedure on him when suddenly the ship shakes and the power flickers; the aliens all drop what they are doing and run off. The hero comes to in a prison cell. This is where the game begins. The cell has no bars, just an impenetrable green force field. The hero (the player) looks around a bit and finds a disk left behind by the previous inhabitant of the cell, another human. The prisoner on the disk, Jenkins, talks about a plot the aliens have for terraforming the Earth to suit their needs, meanwhile destroying all current life forms. Jenkins talks about a couple of things he managed to discover, thereby setting your first tasks. You are to escape from the prison and destroy the alien space station, meanwhile making sure you are able to escape so you can return to Earth and tell about your experiences.

A sidebar: Early in the game, you must assume the form of an alien so that you are not instantly killed when you encounter the real aliens or their robots. When I try to imagine what aliens would look like, I can't. I always conclude that their appearance would be so far outside the realm of human experience that we might not even recognize them as life forms were we to encounter them. And so I always get a laugh out of aliens in movies or games - they seem to almost always have a head with two eyes, one nose, one mouth, a torso, two arms, two legs - in fact they look positively humanoid. The aliens in this game are no exception. The quirky thing about these ones is that their knee joints bend in the back, like a grasshopper's. Too bad they weren't green and didn't have feelers and compound eyes - they would have been ever so much more icky! Plus they could've leaped about 1,000 times their body length in a single bound.

Perspective is first-person, with third-person cutscenes and the occasional overhead view of yourself a la Sanitarium. A couple of times I was confused by this last - it took me (more than) a second to realize that was me standing there, not some other alien. The interface is standard point-and-click using the left mouse button; right-clicking brings up your inventory, a "look" feature, and the options interface.

Throughout the game you must solve puzzles to gain access to new areas or get inventory items. (This is one of those games where you have a bottomless inventory in the form of a backpack that you are never shown actually wearing. Very improbable, what? But a device that's employed in many a game besides this one.) The door- or cabinet-opening puzzles are not unique - they are basically just standard brain-teasers overlaid with a thin visual veneer to make them appear to be alien technology. One great thing about this game is that when you are doing one of these types of puzzles, you can get three "instructions" and then you are offered the chance to skip the whole thing. For the most part, I did not take advantage of this because I like puzzles, but I did skip two puzzles, once on a switch-the-colors-to-the-other-side peg (quivering plasma blob, I mean) jumping puzzle and once on a jump-on-each-chessboard-square-once-and-only-once-using-knight-moves puzzle (using an alien fetus in a jar), both types of puzzles that which I just hate.

The inventory puzzles, on the other hand, are unique and fun. For the most part, even though you pick up some mysterious stuff along the way, you know where to use it when you see it. This is a very nonlinear game - except for the very beginning and the very end, you don't really have to do anything in any particular order. The only times I got confused were when I had an inventory item that I didn't know what to do with, but every time it turned out that I hadn't gotten to that point yet. There are no tricky puzzles like those in Monkey Island - they're all very straightforward, and you get something good every time you do something right. There are some red herring inventory items, a shiny turd, for instance, that never get used.

There is occasional dying in The Arrival, and you don't get any do-overs, so you'd best save often. Some of the death scenes are spectacularly gruesome, usually involving some part of your body splattering all over the place, followed by a laughing Death's-head. This game is rated for mature audiences only because of these scenes and because there are a couple of rotting corpses or body parts of one species or another that you must retrieve items from. I let my eight-year-old son watch it but only after I gave him the speech about "it's only pretend, they can put whatever they want in a [insert here: video game, TV show, movie] blah blah blah." (He always says "I knooow, Mom, I'm not a baby!")

The graphics are simply fantastic. The whole game environment is photorealistic, and the cut scenes are almost movie-quality. Stands to reason since this game is based on a movie. The space station and other places you visit are very richly imagined and lushly detailed. The flying-through-space scenes are breathtaking. There was one thing that I and my junior scientist son were wondering about, though - sometimes when your spaceship takes off, the jets (or thrusters or whatever they're called) spurt flames. Our question was, would this actually happen in space? How can there be flames in a vacuum? Well, whatever the case, it looked nice - we just suspended our disbelief and enjoyed the game. There are plenty of sound effects, all very well-done. There is a little bit of voice acting, and it's fine - not good, not bad - just there.

The Arrival is a fun, compelling game experience ... wait, I forgot to tell you about ... the dreaded maze! Yes, I'm afraid so. About two-thirds of the way through the game, in the form of a mine. This is a great big one, too, but at least it's logically laid out and easy to map. What a pisser, though. In my opinion, there is no surer way to leech the fun out of any adventure game. Well, maybe arcade sequences ... no, I'm not going to get into a discussion of my pet peeves here. Back to the topic at hand: this whole huge maze added about ten stinking hours to the game just to map the maze and find the measly three things in there. However, since I am such a big-hearted person, I will let you look at my map for free. Armed with the map ahead of time, the maze part should only take about half an hour or so, and the game will be much more fun for those of you (you know who you are) who also hate mazes.

So, as I was saying, The Arrival is a fun, compelling game experience. It's a big, juicy game you can really sink your teeth into. The story is exciting, there is a real you-are-here feel to it, it's challenging but not so hard that you need a walkthrough (one of the few games I can say that about), and the puzzle-skip feature is a real bonus for those of us, all of us, I'd guess, who have certain puzzles we just can't bear, because this game has about every type of puzzle (except sliding tiles - hooray!) ever invented.


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